This is Tak from Imari Tones, a Japanese Christian rock band.
Summer vacation will soon be over. So, before that, I want to write one more story here.
Earlier this year, Lady Gaga came to Japan and she was on every TV show in Japan.
Usually I don't watch TV but the other day my sister showed me some of the TV programs she recorded on her video recorder.
And I understood one thing. Lady Gaga, re-defined the definition of Pop Star in this 21st century. She re-invented "Pop Star". Am I right?
Hopefully, we are trying to re-define the meaning of "Rock Musician" too. (It's just Lady Gaga is doing it far better than us.)
Maybe we are not so good at it, because it's taking so long time and we are still not as big as Lady Gaga. But it's true we have been trying to "re-invent" the meaning of Rock Musician.
So, today, let me tell you about the policy of Imari Tones.
Again, this may be a boring story for you, but these our policies are so much important for us. So let me share it with you, so that you can see why we are doing this. Why we are doing things in this way. A policy of an independent rock band from Japan.
"It's all about Priority"
First of all, I want you to understand, it's all about Priority and making choices.
For an independent band like us, resource is always limitted. Mostly, time, money, money, time, budget, and money.
So you have to think about "Priority".
Some bands put their focus on putting fabulous shows.
Some bands put their focus on making a perfect record.
Some bands put their focus on creating a buzz on internet.
Priority issue, what to focus on, it's very important and critical issue for any band.
But let me tell you. We have seen so many fellow bands in our journey. So many of them disbanded and gone. Playing in a rock band is not easy. But we have survived for years now, making music independently. Here is the reason; Priority and Policy.
Resource is always limited. Nobody can do it perfect (unless you are U2 or Radiohead).
But here is our policy and I want you to understand it.
Probably this is our First Priority.
Like I always say, I never really believed in Music Business.
If you take a look at our website, you soon will notice we have so many songs/albums on our catalog. That's because we give our first priority to CREATIVITY.
If we were a major band signed to a major label, probably we could not have made so many songs/records. I think we made a choice, not to be signed to a major company, but to make as many records independently. When did we make that choice? I guess, it was before we started. Probably before we were born. It may sound funny but I believe, most important choices of life, many of them, we made those choices before we were born.
As you know, famous major bands make a record only once in several years nowadays. That's because of business reasons of music industry (I guess).
On the other hand, some indie bands, they make a record and after that they don't make next one for years.
There is always a budget issue. In Japan, indie band like us usually doesn't make a record so often. They don't make a full album. They usually record, just 2 or 3 songs, or possibly 4-5 songs. That's because recording takes so much money, at least in Japan. So how do we record so many songs, while other bands record only 2 songs per year?
It's easy. We learned how to make a record by ourselves. We learned how to record, how to use EQs, how to use Compressor and Reverb. And most importantly, we have our sound policy. We use our lap-top computer and music software, and we can take a good care of our sound.
Probably our sound is different from commercial sound quality of modern age, perfected by ProTools and digital editing. (Yes we use computers too, but we do our recording in very old way. We are not good at editing.) We love 1970s and early 1980s sound and we want to make a record sounds that way. Handcrafted, warm, human sound, even if it's not perfect. Some people may not like it, but that's our choice.
Some artists make a record for external reason, or social reason. They don't make a record if nobody will listen to it. They don't make a record if business is not ready. They do market research and make music based on that. That's okay, because that's the way of business in this real world.
However, we have a different plan.
I'm a type of musician who writes so many songs. I wanna be true to my inner artist. I want to give him a chance as much as possible. God gives me so many songs in my life. How can I walk away from those songs? I want to create music even if nobody will listen to it. We make records simply because we want to. I want to be an artist, before being famous. If I can live as an artist and die as an artist, then my goal is achieved. There is nothing other than that.
That is why we are making so many music, sacrificing all other things.
"Our time plan"
Okay, now that we told you about our creativity policy, I need to tell you this.
Let's face it. Our time plan is so much different than other band's time plan.
What do you think you need to be a Rock Star?
Probably, you will need so many things.
You have to be musically gifted, off course.
You have to find good fellow band members, or you have to have friends who happen to be good musicians. It's very hard to find a right band.
You have to be good looking, at least one way or another. (Off course you know the reason, right?)
You have to be in a right place. If you are living in a jungle somewhere in Africa, you have less chance to be a rockstar. If you are living in Los Angels or New York, probably you will have a better chance.
You have to be in a right time. If you are playing style of music that is outdated decades ago, you have much less chance to be successful. You have to be "Cutting Edge".
You have to be young to be a rockstar. You have to start early. If you start playing at the age of 5 and start your first band at the age of 10, then you probably have better chance than others.
You have to be a good business person, a communicator, or an actor, as well as a musician.
You need support from your family, and you need support from your friends. Not many people can have this kind of support, I think.
In short, you have to be VERY LUCKY to be a rockstar.
How many people trying to be a musician?
How many of them actually be successful?
I knew I didn't have these things in the first place.
Also, I saw whole music industry going down, getting smaller and smaller. Maybe rock music is already dead for a long time.
So, I GAVE UP my hope to be a rockstar at the starting point.
Instead, I came up with another plan.
It's about timeline.
Here is an ordinary (or dreamy) Rock Star timeline of life.
Age18 Start your super rock band
Age22 Get signed to a big record company
Age24 Your album becomes a Gold Record
Age27 Married to a beautiful actress
Age30 Quit the band and start solo career
Age34 Die from drug overdose or something
(Okay, I'm joking.)
Well, it looks so easy and it's pretty quick.
However, I knew this Rockstar timeline wouldn't work for me. Never.
So, I decided to live another time line.
It's not Rockstar timeline.
But it was more like a timeline of Novelists, Painter, or Sculptor.
If you are a Rockstar and you are 40 years old, people say you are OLD.
However, if you are a Painter and you are 40 years old, in many cases, people say you are YOUNG.
This is a big difference.
Music industry changing. Rock Stars don't die young no more.
Rock music is not a new thing any more. It's becoming more and more like a traditional art form.
So maybe it's time you can start your "Painter" timeline as a rock musician.
10 years before, it was impossible, because recording your own music was something not everybody can do. (I started this around year 2000.) But now, thanks to the computer and digital recording system, we can make our music, just like painting a picture on a canvas!
So we tried to live a "Painter" timeline.
Probably, we are the first generation who can do that.
There was no Rock Musician who lived this "Painter" timeline before. Because it was simply impossible.
It's a new thing. There was no rock musician who kept making music and stayed independent for his/her whole life. Our generation is first to do that.
Yes it takes time. But when we do that, we will change the definition of "Rock Musician". And, hopefully, Rock Music now will be a real art form, just like Painting and Writing.
This "Painter" timeline looked very good to us.
Decades ago, you have to be famous to keep making music.
But now, you don't have to be famous.
Learning from our history, we all know fame can be harmful. Once you get on the train, there is no way back. You will lose your freedom, you will lose your ordinary life.
With this "Painter" timeline, you can have your ordinary human life as much as you want.
So why don't you make music you want to make, without getting famous?
You don't have to hurry.
You can delay your fame 10 years, 30 years, or even after you die.
Or you may never be famous after all, but who cares?
Most important purpose of ART is, to touch the life of people around you.
I know many artists who can do that, even without fame.
So that is the reason.
That is the reason we are doing this crazy stuff with our own time plan.
Some people may think we are too slow.
But in our time plan, it's always "on time".
"Human Life First"
Now that you see our whole time plan, I can tell you, it's very important for us to have a decent human life. After all, ART comes from LIFE. Musician's art is an reflection of his/her actuall life. So we put our focus on make our actual life better.
Better doesn't mean rich in money. We try to make our actuall life spiritually better, emotionally better, and we try to be better human beings.
Spending time with your family, spending time with your loved ones, trying to be nice to your friends, and always trying to do a right thing. Those things we are trying to do, because we want to make our life better. As an artist, we have to make our life beautiful, as much as we make our art beautiful. That is the TRUE art, we believe. We sing what we believe in. And we LIVE what we believe in.
We want to make a TRUE art, which means, it makes your life better and it makes you happy. Even if music sounds good, if there is nothing to learn from it, then it has no meaning. Even if music sounds cool, if it doesn't make your life better, then it has no meaning. So we want to play POSITIVE music, with healthy message, which makes you HAPPY!
Even if it's outdated, even if it's not so cool, we want to play pure music from our heart.
So now does it make sense to you why we became a Christian band?
It's not because we wanted to do something funny.
It's because we wanted to make our life better with God's LOVE.
Because we knew we can be better musicians with God's LOVE.
Because now we live our life with MORE LOVE, we can play our music with MORE LOVE!!
That is the reason.
So, I believe, true success is not measured by the number of CDs/Records you sold. It's measured only by how truely you lived your life. That's the art we believe in.
After all, that's why I named this band "Imari Tones". It's all about your personal love. (Well, if you still don't know why it was named like this, please check our history page on our website....)
This is a project trying to make a personal love into universal love.
So let me say this.
If we have to make a choice between business success and personal life, we will choose "personal life". Off course, it's always hard to balance between these two things....
Like I just said, it's always hard to balance life and music.
But hey, life is all about balance. Play, study, work, business, money, and love. We all try to have a good balance between these things.
It's the same for a band like us.
We don't put our goal on short term success.
Just like I said, we have a long time plan. In order to fulfill that long term plan, we have to keep going for a long time. We have a long way ahead.
Some rock bands put their goals on short term success. And when they don't reach that goal, they disband and quit. Off course it's case-by-case, but I often feel it's not a serious attitude about music.
Keep doing it for a long time.
Yes it's easy to say.
However, it's not that easy to actually do.
You need a real passion for music.
And you need to be really gifted.
And off course you need God's help.
But we believe we are one of few artists who can do that, who have Spirit, Faith, and Love for music.
Sometimes we don't chase the chance in front of us, because we choose this "Sustainability" over short term success.
Some of you may think it's frustrating, but I want you to understand it's all about balance and strategy.
We put our priority on Sustainability.
That's because we want to have as much fun as possible in a long run!
We don't put our goal on Money or Success. You know that very well.
So what are we doing all these crazy stuff for?
It's, I think, probably, for Adventure.
Remember your childhood dream. Remember the dream you had when you were a little kid. Did you love to go to Disney World? Or you still love POKEMON?
What every little boy wants....that is ADVENTURE.
Playing in an independent rock band, in my opinion, that is one of the greatest adventures man can have.
Probably that is why we do everything by ourselves independently.
Making records, making tour plans, booking gigs, all by ourselves.
For us, every gig, every tour, it's an adventure.
I tell you, that's what makes boys happy. (We are still little boys, I guess.)
When you really want something, God will give it to you.
When you really pray for something, God will give it to you.
So God gives us adventures, instead of money and fame.
I think that's the choice we made....and we are glad.
"Spiritual Prayer First"
Lastly, I tell you one very important secret of this band.
Why are we playing music in spite of all these tough things we have to face?
Are we doing it for fun?
Are we doing it for love?
Are we doing it for a success?
In a long run, yes.
But here is the truth.
We are playing our music to communicate with God.
Some people might say this is ridiculous, but we believe we can change something just by playing music.
When we play music, I often feel God's presence, watching from somewhere, somewhere in this universe.
I believe God is watching everything we do. And music and art is a tool to communicate with Him. That's why people play worship music at church, right?
So the reason we try to make our music beautiful is, to please God. We try to make our life beautiful, to please God. Our music is an offering to God. Our band is an offering to God. And our life is an offering to God.
We believe life is more than what we see. We believe this world is more than what we can see. We are just an unknown indie band from Japan, but we believe we can make a difference by playing our music for God. It's very difficult to explain, but we play our music for our country Japan, as well as for the entire world. Because God is watching everything. If we can communicate with God with our music, and our music is good enough to God's ears, He may do a good thing to Japan and the world. And this world becomes a better place.
For example, when we play a local gig in Tokyo, we think this way.
It may be a small local gig in Japan, but we can save the world by this single gig, if only God is watching.
Some people might say it's crazy, I know, but that's the way we think as a musician.
Basically, we believe in miracles. We believe in God's plan and His guidance.
Yes that's why we are doing this, after all.
We believe in MUSIC.
May God bless you all.
Tak "Tone" Nakamine / Imari Tones