TOKYO — For non-Japanese music artists, Japan has been obsessed with physical media for decades, so appearing on major Japanese TV shows is the way to get noticed in the world’s second-largest market. Or, CDs at major brick-and-mortar retailers.
Now, new digital opportunities are emerging that could make it easier. Launched three years ago, the YouTube channel The First Take is at the forefront of cultivating new artists in Japan and pushing a long-time internet-allergic market toward digital music consumption. The channel has featured a handful of big Western artists in 2022, including Harry Styles, who appeared in June and sang “Daughters” this year. harry’s houseand Avril Lavigne, who delivered a simplified version of “Complex” in September.
Launched in late 2019, The First Take now boasts over 7 million subscribers.Landed its first viral video in five episodes featuring singer-songwriter LiSA, who sang the opening theme of the anime series demon slayerHowever, like other digital entertainment in Japan, it was in the early months of the pandemic that the channel’s popularity skyrocketed.
Digital music sales in Japan, which has been growing for eight years in a row, will reach 89.54 billion yen ($660.3 million) in 2021, up 13% from 2020, but physical Music consumption has declined over the past three years, falling only 0.4% to ¥193.64 billion ($1.43 billion), according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan. (Physical sales still accounted for 68.4% of total sales, the highest level among the major music markets.)
Emerging artists—including Yoasobi, Yuuri, and DISH//—showing their skills into the microphone on The First Take have produced videos that have climbed to the top of the Billboard Japan Hot 100 and have over 100 million views. They do this primarily through digital and streaming channels, reflecting the shift in how listeners receive her J-pop in the country.
When the team started work on the channel in 2019, “What we wanted to create was something you don’t see on TV or more detailed than you see on a weekly music show,” said the channel’s producer. says. Makoto UchidaThey took inspiration from NPR tiny desk concert series and German colour“I chose to shoot from the side instead of the front, so I felt like I was in the studio and got a glimpse of the artist’s work.”
They leaned into this sense of intimacy by positioning the first take as the first take, capturing everything the artist sang into the microphone and displaying errors and emotions on full display.channel director Naoko Furukawa Communicating this to the participating artists early on proved to be the most difficult, as many came in thinking they would have the opportunity to redo the performance.
The First Take saw a significant increase in views, with uploads featuring young creators such as DISH// and Yoasobi rising from fledgling J-pop names to the top of the charts, especially on subscription services like Spotify.
The First Take is one of the first major musical acts in Japan to use streaming data to target the show’s key demographics of 20s and 30s to determine when artists should perform. . Kazuto Fushimi.
“The data show that Japanese people listen to music seasonally,” says Fushimi. “I used it to cast the right songs for this project at certain times of the year.”
Even after Japan eased COVID-19 restrictions in late 2020, First Take morphed into an internet-age version of weekly TV shows like: Music Station, A music program featuring live performances that began airing in Japan in 1986. We added news platforms, podcasts, live concerts, and tried to bring in artists from other markets such as China and other Southeast Asian countries.
“We used anime songs and anime songs to get the attention of the market,” says Fushimi. “It wasn’t made explicitly for a foreign audience, but I always tried to put in subtitles and other stuff so everyone could understand.”
K-pop group Stray Kids became the first non-Japanese artists to perform at The First Take in the spring of 2020. Fushimi said many new viewers accessed the clip via his Twitter and his community of fans shared it and explained The First Take. was. Since then, the Korean artist has made two more appearances on the channel and has even more video views on YouTube. “The more appearances you have, the more likely you are to appear in the ‘Related Videos’ list, which increases fan engagement,” says Fushimi.
Other K-pop acts have recently appeared on the channel since burgeoning girl group Kep1er, as have acts from other parts of the continent, including a recent turn by Taiwanese artist WeiBird.
The team’s focus didn’t move beyond the region until last summer, when they landed in Styles in June and began looking west outside of Asia. The team put together an English-language promotional material for Twitter, knowing they could get a new look from abroad. Fushimi said Styles’ appearance generated the most tweets about any First Take artist to date. (The First Take producer declined to share how the Styles collaboration specifically came together.)
“Compared to Japanese artists, foreign artists are really quick to record,” says Furukawa. “Once Harry Styles came to the studio, the actual recording took him 10 minutes.”
Lavigne’s video continued months later, attracting more than seven million viewers (boosted by the domestic love for her music that she’s endured over the decades) and giving The First Take a Western It provided another opportunity for attention.
“It is difficult to export J-pop to the world, but I would like to use The First Take as a bridge to introduce great Japanese artists to the world,” says Fushimi.