Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Terms used in the Japanese music industry

I recently realized that I use a lot of term that may make a lot of sense to me but maybe not to all of my readers. So in a soucis for completion, here is a list of commonly used terms.
  • Single: This one you should all know, as singles have been around for over 100 years. It can refer to one of two things: two songs (A-side and B-side) packaged on the same media or a single song used to promote an upcoming album. While the latter is the form commonly used in North America these days, especially with internet-released singles, Japan stuck with the classical definition and this isn't about to change. Historically, singles were limited to two 3-minute long tracks on each side of the vinyl (hence A/B sides) but this archaic limit was of course shattered with the coming of compact discs. The conventional A/B tracks are still in place but they can be accompanied by remixes of older songs and bonus material. Those are called maxi-singles and the format enjoys tremendous success in Japan, particularly in the form of CD+DVD bundles.

  • Off-vocal tracks: No self-respecting Japanese single ships without off-vocal versions of the A/B tracks. Of course the Karaoke aspect is what drives this decision, but I can imagine that a number of budding seiyuus and singers learn the ropes by imitating their role-models. A variation of the off-vocal track is the instrumental track, which completely ditches the back vocals.

  • Official single: Artists can come up with a number of songs before joining a label, but only then will their releases become official. Material released before being signed is referred to as "demo". Of course, some artists will want to jump the hoops by starting their own label; but even then, when (and if) they actually get signed to a real label, they usually try to downplay or disown their previous releases.

  • Eroge/Galge/Visual Novel: I don't think I need to define "anime" here, but "eroge" and its derivations may not be as clear to everyone. Basically, the term is used to describe games that feature an awful lot of text and all share a common theme: get the girl. Naked, it goes without saying (hence the "ero" part) They play sort of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books, but with risqué consequences. Surprisingly, by North American standards, these erotic games enjoy a decent market in Japan, but I won't get into that. One of their strongest marketing ploy is to include elaborate introduction sequences that feature energetic songs. This is how MOSAIC.WAV/MOV, I've Sound and UNDER17 actually got together, writing exquisite music for the shady underbelly of the Japanese entertainment industry.

  • Denpa: I've already tried my best to define denpa (also called 'moe songs') in the past, but for completion's sake, let me give it another shot. At its most common denominator, denpa is nothing but a sub-product from the vast JPop family. The difference is that the songs are almost always energetic and never really take themselves seriously. There is a heavy focus on video games sound FX, the beats and vocals are often lightning fast and overall the arrangements are surprisingly complex if you are willing to dissect the songs into layers. Denpa is closely associated with eroge, but a number of anime theme songs can also be considered denpa. Note also that artists don't have to completely "label" themselves as denpa, as it is not uncommon for full-length albums to contain one or two denpa tracks, while the rest is serious business. Furthermore, a typical JPop song may also contain a denpa part, but it will remain JPop in the end. Basically, it is a song-writing style that you can either apply to parts of a track, or all of it.
  • Eroge single: Not to be confused with a demo, Eroge singles are different from official ones in the way that they are promoted. Look at how KOTOKO is currently sitting at 11 official singles (with a 12th on the way) but how many eroge singles has she been a part of? I'm thinking around 50, if not more! This is of course to draw a virtual line between general content and adult-specific stuff. While the songs on eroge singles may sound completely innocent, the material they promote is anything but.

  • Major album: See official single, replace single with full-length album. Note that, much to the dismay of many fans, major albums are often nothing more than a collection of remixed tracks pulled from popular singles, sometimes to unbearable extents.

  • Raibu/Live (ライブ): The cool Japanese way to say "concert", "show", "gig", "concert" etc. There seems to be no distinction between smaller or larger concerts, they're all ライブ. Alternately you can use コンサート (consaato) but that's mostly appropriate for large scale events.

  • Event (イベント): Events differ from Lives because they are held in-store or on the street, not in a convention center or a music hall. They are highly promotional in nature, but they also do bring the fans and community together. For instance, an event can be used to commemorate the availability of new merchandise or the launch of a new series (anime, video game, DVD, movie). In the case of an anime event, the voice actors, creator, staff, etc, will form a panel and answer questions from fans and press alike. Events are sometimes broadcast live on the internet/radio. In most cases, a related band will perform 2 or more songs, usually OP/ED themes. Fans can then ask the band some questions and obtain autographs. Most events are free!

  • Drama (ドラマ): 戯曲 tracks consist of vocalists telling a fictional story over some background music (BGM). This is often done to expand upon plots that exist within other songs. Of course, if the single is from an anime series or game, the original seiyuus will provide the vocals and the plot will come from the source material. CDs containing nothing but drama are also available, for true hardcore fans will eat those up. MOSAIC.WAV's latest album contains about as many drama tracks as music tracks.

  • Image/Character song: Similar to drama tracks, but these are full-blown songs instead of just telling a story over BGM. These are used to give extra insight into the life of a specific character and do little in terms of plot advancement. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has a single for each of their characters, so does Lucky Star. Again with the case of MOSAIC.WAV, they are masters at composing "Image Songs" for characters that they just pull out of thin air. A more tangible example would be the majority of songs composed by IOSYS, all of which were inspired by the Touhou Project, though in this case we're deep in "fan fiction" realm.

  • Insert song: Every once in a while, an anime show will feature an additional song or two that aren't the OP or ED themes. Mostly during the final moments, when the fate of humanity is at stake. Those are conveniently referred to as "Insert Songs" and are released on a single near the end of a license's lifecycle, as a final marketing push to get rid of excess merchandise. I suppose eroge "Insert Songs" work the same way, though I have no idea personally. Again, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya comes to mind with its three extremely popular Insert Songs, "God Knows...", "Koi no Mikuru Densetsu" and "Lost my Music".

  • PV: Promotional Video... brutally honest way to refer to a music video, or a videoclip, or a... you get the point. In case you're wondering, Japan does have its own MTV channel, however they mostly play the same crap that plagues America. Music Japan TV is better, but overall I don't care about run-of-the-mill pop; I love the wacky stuff, hence this blog...

  • Lucky Chance GET!: I'll have a whole entry on this one later...
Feel free to add to the list!


Anonymous said...

I was wondering as to if I could copy your "Terms used in the Japanese music industry" terms on my "I've Sound" page. Is this OK?

電波の世界 said...

I sure as hell don't mind, especially if you drop a link in there, but don't forget that most entries are laden with my own brand of humor.