Mark Joseph Headshot

Dispatch From Tokyo: The Economy, Music Biz & Google

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Japan is about to wrap its second decade of being in a seemingly unrelenting economic funk. Tim Geithner is supposed to be a student of what Japan did wrong, but I can't help but shake the feeling that he's making the same mistakes they made.

The trains are full of people who are either texting or sleeping. Outside of one train I ride, another Japanese has committed suicide on the tracks-delaying us for 20 minutes while the difficult job of cleaning up is done by a railway employee. Japanese do this on average, 100 times per day, every day of the year.

I-Tunes is irrelevant here where 90% of consumers get their digital music delivered straight to their cell phones, bypassing the PC. Yet, finding a wireless connection isn't as easy as it should be. I stopped at a fast food burger joint called Lotteria and was promised a free 15-minute wireless connection. When I couldn't connect, the guy selling burgers couldn't help me and said there was nobody else in the store who could either. Up the street at McDonald's they promised me unlimited access in the basement, but there was no signal there either. I dropped by the Cerullian, a swank mid-town high-rise hotel and was told that there was no wireless available in the hotel. Moving to the bar, a waiter gave me a knowing glance and promised me wireless. Turns out Google Japan is headquartered in the same building and they're kind enough to make their wireless connection available to strangers just passing through. God bless Google. They may be trying to take over the world, but maybe they deserve to.

My longtime friends in the music biz here all lament what has happened to the business of music. One, a long time employee of one of the largest record labels in the world, laments the layoffs and predicts they'll soon have to move from their cool, expensive offices to more modest digs. I'm looking for the silver lining though: maybe as the music business becomes less and less lucrative, those who were just in it for the money and don't actually love music will leave and find something else to do. I'll never forget the conversation I had with Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk Music Group and our JV partner for our label, Bully! Pulpit Records. When I was deciding which artist to sign first to our new venture, Terry stopped me and simply said "Sign the artist whose music you love" or something like that. He caught me off guard. It was nice to talk to a music executive who loved music for a change.

We are in an era of upheaval where people can't seem to shake a general sense of unease that their best days may be behind them. The best days are definitely behind my friend Koji Ubukata who passed away last month in his sleep, of an aneurysm. He was only 46. For the last 15 years Koji and I produced the music for TV commercials together. I saw him last in December and I will miss him. It's just another reminder that life is short and tomorrow isn't promised to any of us.