Distribution in Japan
In 2011, the flagship HMV store in Shibuya, Tokyo closed its doors forever as the vast majority of music consumers in Japan now purchase and listen to digital music via mobile devices and computers. In today's music business, distribution means getting your digital music products into the main download and streaming services in Japan, such as Spotify, Apple Music , Amazon Music, YouTube Music, AWA, Line Music, kkbox, etc.
78.2 billion YEN's worth (over US$700 million) in digital music sales were made in Japan in 2020.
As a foreign indie label or artist, you can easily get your music on Spotify Japan, Apple Music Japan , Amazon Music Japan, YouTube Music Japan and other Japanese music platforms by using a digital distributor such as CDBaby, TuneCore, Distrokid, SongCast, Ditto, etc. Of course you can use a Japanese digital distributor like the ones found here that can get your music to some more Japanese music platforms, but it is not absolutely necessary as most Japanese people get their music from the top platforms aforementioned.
* In regards to distributors for foreign indie artists, we have found that CDBaby gets your music quicker to a wider selection of Japanese platforms such as Spotify Japan, LINE Music, AWA, kkbox, Apple Music Japan, and Amazon Music Japan. It is up to you which distributor you choose. You can always ask which Japanese platforms each one distributes to before using them.
Release a "Japan Edition" Digital Album or Single on Spotify, Apple Music, etc.
When submitting your "Japan Edition" album to your digital distributor, use an album cover with Japanese text on it. It should be a different album than previously released (i.e. new songs, remixes, arrangements, bonus tracks, greatest hits, new titles). You can add the words "(Japan Edition)" to the title of your album. Example: My Best Hits Album (Japan Edition)
If you have used CDBaby, Tunecore or another digital distributor, chances are your music is already available on the main Japanese platforms like Spotify Japan, Apple Music Japan , Amazon Music Japan, and YouTube Music Japan.
If not, ask your digital distributor if they can add your music to them. Then make sure to add the links to your Japanese website to start earning revenues from Japan. If you create a Japanese website at TopMusic.jp, they will search for your music at the main Japanese music platforms and add the links for you.
Of course there are other digital music platforms in Japan. If you really want your music available at all the digital music platforms in Japan, you can contract with a Japanese indie record label or use a Japanese digital music distributor. In either case, the label or distributor will take 30-50% of your sales and may also charge you other fees and taxes. For many foreign indies, Spotify Japan, Apple Music Japan , Amazon Music Japan, and YouTube Music Japan are sufficient.
The sales of CD's in Japan has decreased steadily year by year. Most Japanese music consumers under age 40 do not purchase CD's or own a CD player. Nowadays, it is not necessary for foreign artists/labels to contract with a Japanese record label or distributor to sell CD's in Japan. Music sales and listening are primarily digital and made online or via mobile carrier.
However, there are still music fans and collectors in Japan who purchase unique CD's and vinyl records. That is why there are still small record shops still operating in Japan today. Compared to the revenue earned from 1 stream of your music (e.g. $0.004 on Spotify), the sale of 1 vinly record (e.g. $20) is 5,000 times more. That is why bands, artists and labels focus on selling physical music products and merch even though it involves initial production costs.
If you have physical products such as CD's, vinyl records, and other merch such as T-shirts, you can sell them directly to Japanese consumers from your Japanese website (or Bandcamp which has a Japanese language interface, or CDBaby which can get your CD/record into Amazon Music Japan).
Make a "Japan Limited Edition" or "Japan Special Edition" CD or vinly record for collectors and music fans.
* An obi strip is a paper sash (sleeve) printed with info in Japanese and is wrapped around the CD or vinyl record packaging. For decades, this technique was used to "Japanify" foreign import products so they could be sold in Japan. See examples below.
Other ways to "Japanify" your product is to put a sticker printed with Japanese text on the packaging or directly adding the Japanese to the packaging design for printing. Your CD or record manufacturing/printing company should provide you with some options for packaging, printing and labeling. You can also enhance your product by including collector stickers, posters or liner notes in Japanese as well.