Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Musical Accompaniment

Late last night on NHK I was watching a documentary on ninja. Entitled "The Last Ninja" (Rasuto Ninja -- yes, it was in katakana), it was exploration of a series of texts from the later 18th century purporting to reveal the secrets of the ninja and the historical use of irregular warriors in the period stretching from the late Sengoku to the Shimabara Rebellion. Most of the program was dedicated to trying to find out if the weirdest weapons described in the texts could actually be manufactured.

Fine...but why did the entire program have to be scored with music by Pink Floyd, drawn from Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here?

OK, sure, Pink Floyd's music is oft moody and ominous, with a driving drum beat. As a sound editor, you get to put in musical jokes, like having the section of the documentary on the payment of ninja scored with, of course, "Money" from Dark Side of the Moon*.

But did NHK pay even a yen's worth of royalties for an hour's worth of Pink Floyd? You have got to wonder...and you have got to worry for NHK. OK, sure, Syd Barrett and Richard Wright are no longer with us...but Roger Waters and David Gilmour are very much alive and VERY litiginous.

Which points up a possible reason (other than "it's better") for the near ubiquity of American and British music in public use. The music used in exercise classes, the ambient music in local government offices...all drawn from the English-language canon, even where the persons being served could not possibly identify the songs being played...all because no one is there to protect the rights of the original performers and composers. Play nothing but Frank Sinatra in your coffee shop? Fine. Play 15 seconds of an EXILE song (if you do not know about EXILE, count yourself lucky) and JASRAC comes around to make your life miserable -- or at least that is my understanding.

Which begs the question as to whether commercial Japanese music would be of better quality -- by which I mean more exportable to a global audience -- if those who spend all their time protecting the rights of Japanese music producers would just lay off a little and let folks use the music as the beat of their daily lives.

Of course, to find out anything about the Japan music business and rights issues one would have to query W. David Marx, now with YouTube Asia.


* My all-time favorite sound engineer's joke? The TV Asahi's New Station breaking news report on Kanemaru Shin and the Sagawa Kyubin scandal, backed up in its entirety by "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits.


Marx said...

My understanding of this is that the TV stations pay a blanket fee every year to JASRAC to use any songs they want as incidental music. (As opposed to synchronized , which means they use it in the same way linked to the same video repeatedly.)

Then JASRAC takes the money and distributes it however they want. Which seems crazy. What I have heard is that instead of figuring out which songs were actually used, they distribute it based on record sales. So every time Pizzicato Five is played on TV, that money goes to Hamasaki Ayumi instead.

In this case, the producers just wanted to use Pink Floyd. I don't think there were economic incentives for them to do otherwise.

MTC said...

Marx -

So, if I understand you correctly, NHK uses an hour of Pink Floyd, and EXILE gets paid.


redfish said...

A similar principle is used by many collecting societies, for example the "cassette tax" in several Scandinavian countries is distributed on a similar basis (though granted it would be probably easier to track what's getting played on TV than what's getting "pirated" on "cassettes").

However, another reason might be that foreign bands probably don't really care how their music gets used as long as they get the cash. Meanwhile many Japanese bands tend toward obsessive-compulsive regarding their image. So it's probably easier to pick something foreign rather than risk angering band management or fans by playing something in an "incorrect" context.

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