“Current feeling is that ‘Self-help’ and ‘Mutual help’are impossible.” （Kato）
Tokyo is under its 4th state of emergency since July 12th, so how has it been for the live music clubs?
Kato: It’s like ‘Oh, that again’. The second state of emergency was between January 8th and March 21st, and the third one was between April 25th and June 20th, so it’s pretty much been a state of emergency since the start of the year.
We haven’t developed immunity for Coronavirus, but we have developed one for the state of emergency, haven’t we? (a wry smile)
Kato: I agree. (a wry smile) In this situation, we need to prepare oneself to survive.
Since we are under the state of emergency, we cannot serve alcoholic beverages, right?
Kato: Yes, it’s a huge blow, not being able to serve alcohol. Semi-emergency measures (happened from June 21st to July 11th in Tokyo) allowed us to serve alcohol with limitation (up to two people can stay for 90 minutes, until 7pm) which helped, but it went back to the state of emergency again after 2 weeks.
2021 live music clubs looks like it’s in the Prohibition-era.
Kato: Yes, and it’s also tough that we have to close the venue at 8 pm. If we want to finish by 8 pm, we have to start at 6 pm, so that makes it difficult for working people to come and it affects the ticket sales.
KIYOHARU-san, also held live concerts in Osaka yesterday at venue other than Loft, how are the other live clubs doing?
KIYOHARU: Everywhere seems to be having tough times, such as the live venues I have played before or others that I like a lot. I guess it’s OK for those live venues run by companies as a hobby, but those run by individuals or independent groups are having a really hard time. The rent is the toughest thing.
Kato: It costs three million yen a month for Shinjuku Loft. We have 10 venues in total. It’s not three-million-yen times 10, but we have to pay about 12 million yen a month just for the rent, so including labor, it costs at least 30 million yen per month.
Are you receiving compensation?
Kato: I receive a subsidy for cooperation*1, but it’s not nearly enough. Last year, 2020 was a very bad year for the entertainment industry. It is said that the restaurants and hotels also suffered, yet the fall in income was 27% for restaurants and 37% for hotels. For the entertainment industry, especially in the popular music category, it was minus 79%, about 80% less income*2, throughout the whole year.
In that state, even if you are told “please do your best”, you’d say “can’t do”, right?
Kato: It’s true. Japanese prime minister Suga supports his political motto ‘Self-help, Mutual help, Public help’, however ‘Self-help’ and ‘Mutual help’ are impossible, that is what I really feel.
*1 Subsidy for cooperation (Infection spread prevention cooperation fund)……It is compensation paid by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to restaurants and other stores who followed the guidance such as shorter opening hours during the state of emergency .
*2 source……Art and Culture Forum
“Lots of people said ‘it was good to write a business plan for the subsidy application.’ ”（Murakami）
‘We pay taxes, so can we get tax subsidies from the government in these difficult times?’ with that, I searched for subsidies for live music clubs, but there is no such system in this country. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Small and Medium Enterprise Agency came up with the plan in the name of〈Business Restructuring Subsidy〉and budgeted 1 trillion yen. This money is not for ‘giving away money to business owners in need’ but a system for ‘subsidizing new business owners’ isn’t it?
Murakami: Yes. In addition, even during Coronavirus, 23% of businesses are actually making more money compared to the previous year（*3）
Murakami: Indeed, logistics industries like shipping is profitable. However, about half of the people say ‘It’s harder than last year.’ and 10 to 20% of people lost income by 60 to 80%. Such people are trying to change their business format, but when they actually do change their format, they lack the funding. It is impossible to start anew from there, so the government started subsidy funding of 2/3 and up to 60 million yen and the rest (1/3) to be borne by the business owner to change the way of doing business or attracting customers.
This is Business Restructuring Subsidy and is budgeted at 1 trillion yen. This subsidy is open to the public, so please tell us the current status.
Murakami: In total there are 5 public offerings and the second offering finished on July 2nd. It will end with the fifth offering which will be closed sometime between January to February of 2022.
How much subsidies of the 1 trillion yet budget was spent for those two offerings?
Murakami: We just closed applications for the second offering and selection is yet to be done. A little over 200 billion yen was spent on the first offering, and it is progressing at around one-fifth each.
At the first public offering, what types of business applied, and what kind of people’s ideas were selected?
Murakami: Results, including an overview are available on the website (*4). Looking at industries, mostly manufacturing industries, followed by service industries including restaurants and live music clubs, which were just under 20%.
Were there any applicants from the music industry?
Murakami: Yes, but not many, they might be preparing for next year’s offering. Specifically, 22 applications related to music live clubs and 8 were selected in the first offering. There were 144 music-related business participants and 52 including the 8 were selected. For the second offering, there are 20 live music clubs and 126 music-related business participants.
Has Loft applied?
Kato: No, not as Loft company.
For Loft, what do you think about this Business Restructuring Subsidy? Is it easy to use? Also, do you think this would actually work for restructuring the music industry?
Kato: I cannot say, since I haven’t applied yet and I don’t know how many applicants will be selected from the music industry. But 1 trillion yen is a huge amount, isn’t it? By way of comparison, grants made by the Agency for Cultural Affairs for cultural arts in the second supplementary budget last year（Continuation support project for cultural and artistic activities）was 50 billion, so it’s 20 times that. It’s massive, and I think there might be a chance. So, I would like to apply. However, it’s impossible to save all the live music clubs… There are a lot of really small live venues and they will need capacity to produce huge number of documents to make a convincing business plan.
KIYOHARU: For a small music venue, I think there are problems such as not knowing how to apply or even if they apply, it takes time to receive the money. A month passes quicker than you think, and soon it’s time to pay the rent. I own a bar in Roppongi, but it’s been closed for more than half a year. I’m receiving some money as Rent Subsidy, but until the money comes, I had to pay for it myself. So, like Kato-san, if I had to pay 30 million yen for monthly fixed expense alone, I would be shocked. Moreover, music loving owners of a live clubs, run their clubs less like a business, which is why they attract musicians and music lovers. I think it’s difficult for those people to think about things other than music. What could we do with that?
Murakami: From the government’s point of view, last year alone, they have prepared and supported a budget of more than 6 trillion yen with Sustainability Subsidy and Rent Subsidy. It’s really hard to make sure that this money goes to those who really need it, as well as not to give too much to those who don’t need it.”
We talked about that at the last talk, didn’t we?
Murakami: To be honest we didn’t know what would happen in the first year. So, we prioritized paying quickly, rather than scrutinizing the amount of money. However, if we continue the same for the second year, we will make unnecessary debts for future generations. After a year, we learned who’s making money and who’s not. This time, we prepared 1 trillion yen and came up with the system plan that selects people who knows it’s tough but have an idea to try new ways of doing business.
Murakami: With that, writing a plan on ‘what is difficult about their business and how it needs to change’ is crucial for us to decide who really needs the money and who doesn’t. Inevitably, the burden of that work remains.
KIYOHARU: I see.
Murakami: In the first offering, we received 22,000 applications and we chose 8,000. We spent less than a month from application to selection to give the funds quickly before it was too late for the applicants. We had to read all the applications, furthermore, if one person judges, it will be unfair, so multiple judges cross-checking and made the selection. Applicants have to write business plans and the judges had to read them all, so it was really hard work. But lots of people told me ‘Writing a business plan was good.’
What do you mean?
Murakami: There were many people who never wrote a business plan, or estimated their customer size. Until now, it was OK to wait for orders from fixed business partner. Of course, it must have been very hard work to meet that order, but now that the population is declining and the domestic market is shrinking, if you don’t go looking for new orders, your business will become smaller and smaller. We asked them to submit 15-page business plan, at first, people said that ‘15 pages were too many!’ But it’s actually quite easy to fill 15 pages worth of a business plan. If you don’t narrow down to what you really want to do and summarize it, it will not fit within 15 pages. I received a lot of feedback that ‘It was good to write it.’; it allowed them to organize their thoughts on what they want to do moving forward, not what they have done.
Murakami: Another subsidy gave an interesting data. There wasn’t much difference to the business whether they received the subsidy or not, but there was a big difference whether they actually applied or not. Those who wrote their business plans to apply for the subsidy had good results in their business with or without receiving the money. People who put in the effort to write the business plans must have created better chances for themselves.
Could you tell us any interesting ideas that was selected for our reference?
Murakami: I’m not sure if this is interesting, but these days newspaper shops which deliver papers don’t have many advertisement leaflets to insert in the newspapers. This resulted in not being able to pay for employees, however, using their detail knowledge of the local area, people want to start a new logistics business.
*3 source……TOKYO SHOKO RESEARCH ‘The 9th questionnaire survey on the new Coronavirus’（October 20th 2020）、‘The 11th questionnaire survey on the new Coronavirus’（December 17th 2020）
*4 reference……Business Restructuring Subsidy result
“I don’t want to ruin live music clubs, my origin.”（KIYOHARU）
Loft group is going to apply for the subsidy, what kind of plans are you thinking about?
Kato: Lots of live music clubs are streaming live concerts these days. In June, KIYOHARU-san gave a live-stream concert at Shinjuku Loft without audience; he used the floor to perform, rather than the stage with wonderful camera works. It was an amazing live, which could only be done by live streaming. I think there is a great potential there, as well as the combination of a live concert with audience and streaming is a sustainable opportunity for restructuring of the live music clubs in general, not just for the Loft.
Murakami: Actually, of the 8 live music clubs selected from the first offer, the ideas which the judges liked the most was new streaming business plan.
KIYOHARU: It’s been a year and a half to two years, since the spread of Coronavirus, but I think, everyone still has resistance to live-streaming concerts without audience. On the other hand, people came to see us play in the mountains. So, the live music clubs, could organize these outdoor concerts alongside indoor, no audience streaming concerts with popular artists in the same month, which will help the venues and the staff. Event at Loft with 50% audience, you only charge 50% for the venue, don’t you?
Kato: That’s true.
KIYOHARU: But if you do it on streaming you can pay 100% for the venue. So instead of doing real live concert and streaming at the same time, I am starting to think it’s best for popular artists to do streaming and live concert on different days.
Streaming can gather viewer from all over the country by doing things only streaming can do, while keeping real live concerts at 50% occupancy is the best option.
KIYOHARU: In that way, young and popular artists should fill up the schedule and perform more at live music clubs rather than festivals. It’s okay for amateur bands to do it, but for the next 1 to 2 years, unless they have help on the rent of the live music club, they will not make it. In addition, I think it’s best to reinforce with Business Restructuring Subsidy.”
Kato: Thank you very much for saying that.
KIYOHARU: Also, the number of live music club’s staff will decrease, which is hard. I’m planning a streaming concert at Loft in November. I think now is the time for popular artist to do more at the live music clubs. If artists who can attract audience can book 5 days in a month, it would mean that the venue will be fully booked with 6 artists of the same caliber. The 5 days can be divided into real live and streaming.
Kato: I would be really happy if that happens. I am grateful that KIYOHARU-san regularly uses Loft to support us.
KIYOHARU: Ah, I also made Loft T-shirts.
Kato: I’m wearing one today. It will be available for purchase at the Loft in the near future.
KIYOHARU: Using Kato-san’s message〈LIVEHOUSE NEVER DIE〉on the back and the front is printed with the old Loft’s signboard. I did the designed and production, but all the profits will go to Loft.
Kato: I really appreciate it.
KIYOHARU: No, the money is not my savings, but the money from everyone who buys the T-shirts. (LOL)
KIYOHARU: Afterall, I don’t want live music clubs to die. Until last year, there was a movement to save live music clubs, but this year it’s about festivals. I debuted when I was 25 and now, I’m in my 50s, live music clubs were the staple for me when I was young. Loft is the legendary live venue. I wanted to do my first solo concert in Tokyo on the checkered pattern floor, and I made it. At that time, there was a tradition of making a major debut first at Loft, then CLUB CITTA (Kawasaki), then at Shibuya Public Hall. There seems to be a pattern to skip that kind of thing now. When I think about ‘Where do we go back to in the end?’, I think ‘isn’t live music club the only place to go back.’
KIYOHARU: It’s not about looking back, but there is always a moment when you return to the origin. It’s hard not to have a place when you want to go back.
“It could be a great chance to rearrange when everyone is in trouble”（Murakami）
In our last session, we talked about another purpose of the Business Reconstructing Subsidies, which is to connect business horizontally within the industry or with other businesses outside the industry.
KIYOHARU: Within the music industry, I think live music club owner Umezo-san should organize profitable outdoor music festivals. Meanwhile, use live music club for streaming and do it in the truest sense of hybrid.”
I agree. From Umezo-san’s point of view, have you felt changes in the live music clubs or the music industry because of Coronavirus crisis?
Kato: We have increase connections with other live music clubs. Fundamentally the industry is full of lone wolves and it’s been difficult to coordinate with others. It was great to be able to work together, it has been a year in which I have asked myself about the meaning of live music clubs.
Business Reconstruction Subsidies have not spread to the music industry and live music clubs, and although the predicament continues, it seems that signs of change are emerging.
Murakami: I think so. Not point panicking in my place alone, it is good to cooperate with others. For example, this event is held in the daytime, it’s not really a live music club atmosphere, but there is a bigger audience with their children.
Kato: That’s right.
Murakami: I think it’s easier to attend live music concerts outdoors in the daytime. I remember there was an idea from the cemetery that they would like to manage a park in the application for the business reconstruction.
What do you mean?
Murakami: Nowadays, joint burial has become popular and there are many cases where they create a space like public square in the cemetery. ‘Can we make a play area for children using that space?’ is the idea.
KIYOHARU: Sounds interesting.
Murakami: Right now, cemetery, nature park, live music club and Rakugoka (Japanese comic story,Rakugo teller) are all facing hard time together. This seldom happens, everyone having a bad time at the same time. That’s why I think it is good to come up with the idea ‘if done well, we could share the space for live music and Rakugo.’ If the audiences react to each other and cause a new sensation, it would be interesting. Under normal circumstances, people in all industries being in trouble simultaneously hardly ever happens. It’s strange to say, but it’s a great opportunity to involve people from various industries to start rearranging. So, I’m hoping they take their time to come up with great plans.
The keyword DX was mentioned in our previous talk, but it is interesting for people from different industries to share ideas, wisdom, and places. What did you think by taking part in this ‘Solarism’, Umezo-san?”
Kato: Musicians now need place to perform the most. Musicians are people who would love to perform every day, it would be great to have more easy-to-use places, and it’s even better if it’s in Tokyo and I want more outdoor venues where live music can be performed. For example, live concerts take place in Central Park in New York, so it would be great if more places, including urban parks in Japanese cities can be used to perform live music.
What kind of possibilities or challenges do you expect from ‘Solarism’, Murakami-san?
Murakami: It’s important to ‘mix’ and ‘bundle’. For example, there are lots of music venues in New Orleans where you can get a drink for 7 or 8 dollars and listen to top artists singing. I’m wondering if we could create such city in Japan, so I went to Atami which has been suffering from a landslide disaster. Atami is not too far from Tokyo, and they can go back to Tokyo on the same day. I think it would be really fascinating if we could create a space for live music amongst the hot spring town and it’s shopping street, creating a New Orleans with hot spring.
Project Atami music town!
Murakami: Yes. It can only come true when ‘old shopping street’, ‘live music clubs’ and ‘true music lovers’ – all three must come together with one goal. It’s impossible under normal circumstances. However, everyone is facing hard times together under Coronavirus, so it might really happen. In a way, I think Coronavirus is an opportunity that God has given us.
Murakami: I think it’s only now that these three are in need at the same time and all wanting to ‘do something about it’, so I hope such ideas will come out more and more. A collaboration of live music and nature, such as this ‘Solarism’ is one of them.
“I want to be connected regardless of genre both indoor and outdoor”（KIYOHARU）
How are you feeling about the potential of ‘Solarism’ and outdoor live music, KIYOHARU-san?
KIYOHARU: We cannot go out freely in Japan now because of the Coronavirus, I guess it’s peer pressure. Even on a sunny day it’s awkward to even go camping, but this atmosphere helps cancel that feeling (LOL). Also, my genre musicians don’t get invited much for these events and festivals. There is a gap between festivals and Visual-kei artists (known for use of make-up and elaborate hair types with flamboyant costumes), from our point of view, I think Japanese music festivals feature the same kind of musicians. That’s why I think if not only me, but if younger Visual-kei musicians take part in these events, then new fans will come to outdoor events. Fans of our genre rarely have the opportunity to attend outdoor music festivals.
KIYOHARU: Live music clubs are non-genre but Japanese music festivals are. I think it would be fantastic if the genre wall created by the organizer could change with Coronavirus.
Speaking of horizontal connections, now when we go to restaurants there are clear acrylic panel between people, and communications are shut down, but we don’t have to have acrylic panel between cultures. I hope everyone, including audiences, can be connected side-by-side and help enrich the music industry.
KIYOHARU: Speaking of the audiences, we have to appreciate them coming wearing facemasks, even in this heat, and we would like to connect beyond the genre for both indoor and outdoor concerts. If Murakami-san could float an idea like ‘how about this’ to the musicians, and if all of us chip in ideas and work together, then I feel like we can overcome various problems.
I agree. I think today’s event offers great hope. Finally, could you please tell us about the challenges for the music industry to survive in the true sense of the word?
Kato: Since the self-restrain request of events last March, the business hours and the number of people have been limited for over a year and a half, and not only the music but the entire cultural arts field is in a very difficult situation. I think it is necessary not only to support new projects and business, but also existing cultural facilities like live music clubs, theaters, and cinemas and direct support = benefits are needed for artists and technical staff. Also, I think it is necessary to conduct 100% capacity live concerts as public initiatives, as done in some European countries.
KIYOHARU: I’m in my 50s and I don’t have that much time as active artist, so honestly I think I’ll be able to manage in the future. The problem is younger generation of artists. They need to work for decades to come, in the world where new infectious diseases may spread. ‘Solarism’ is organized mainly by people in their 50s and it’s wonderful, but what younger generations do for even younger generations in the music industry, I think that is important.
I think there are still more problems, so from time to time, I would like to discuss the issues and progress of ‘Solarism’ in ‘KIMINITOU’.
Born in Gifu Prefecture in 1968. Debuted as Kuroyume in 1994. In 1999, after the de facto dissolution, re-debuted as sads in the same year. In 2003, he stopped band activities and made his third debuted as KIYOHARU. Active as singer and songwriter.
Umezo Kato（CEO of Loft Project ）
Born in Aichi Prefecture in 1967. Used to be a regular customer of the LOFT, left IT company and joined as a part timer. After working as manager of the talk live house “LOFT/PLUS ONE” in Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku, he’s been in his current position since April 2018.
Keisuke Murakami（Director General for Public Services, Digital Agency）
Born in Tokyo in 1967. In 1990, joined the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Contributed to IT policy and Cool Japan strategy. Since 2014, he has been engaged in regional revitalization work as the Cabinet Secretariat in the Cabinet office and since July 2020, became General Manager of Management Support Department, Small and Medium Business Administration. Incumbent since September 2021.
Text by the editorial staff of “KIMINITOU”
A part of the talk session 『Solarism Summer 2021』 held on July 18,2021, has been edited and posted.