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Comics & Games Retailer

Music to Your Ears

By Oliver Chin

What makes animation special in comparison to comics? The moving image is brought to life with sound. By filling the audience's ears, a creator can immerse them more fully into his or her world.

Though often taken for granted, audio has revolutionized mass communications in the 20th century with the advent of telephone, radio, film, and television. Sound remains at the forefront of 21st century technological advancements, such as computer voice-recognition and artificial speech synthesizing. By itself, music has become a $40 billion global entertainment industry ($14.3 billion in the US).

However this industry has matured like its mass media peers and faces stagnant sales growth. The average music buyer has gotten older in the past decade, shadowing the baby boom generation. According to a 2000 study by the Recording Industries Association of America (RIAA), the age groups 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, and 35-39 continued each to hold approximately 10% of the market. However the "45 and over segment…doubled its share of the market since 1990, rounding out the decade with a 23.8% share." Therefore the industry's priority remains basic: drive technical innovation to resell content into new formats. Over 40 years, consumers have switched from 8 tracks and cassette tapes to CDs, minidisks, and now the Internet.

Unsurprisingly, in 2001 the RIAA pulled out every legal maneuver to stop Napster, which had grown to over 70 million registered users overnight. As Napster flounders, hamstrung by court rulings, other corporations aim to seize the growing audience for web-enabled music. Three of the five major record labels, BMG (whose corporate parent is Bertelsmann, itself the new owner of Napster), EMI and Warner, already allied with the streaming audio/video company RealNetworks to operate a rival system called MusicNet.

Regardless of how this drama plays out, one thing remains constant. In her hit title track "Music", the savvy Madonna confirmed, "Music makes the people come together, (never gonna stop), music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel."

This all relates to anime. As its video and DVD have become mainstream, they've paved the way for anime soundtracks to become a dependable sales category. Hollywood has perfected how to marry film and music, actors with singers, and directors with composers for the greater glories of cross-promotion. Similarly, anime and soundtracks go together like peanut butter and jelly. More interestingly, the anime audience is growing and its buyers are younger than ever.

Face the Music

Video games increase demand for anime soundtracks. As stated before, the synergies between interactive games and anime are enormous. In Japan, video game soundtracks routinely rank among the best-selling albums, and its composers are coddled like celebrities. However, the US is beginning to recognize this market. Starting in 2000, the Grammys permitted video games to participate for award consideration. Now the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) allows a composer to submit work in one of three categories: Best Soundtrack Album, Best Song, and Best Instrumental Composition for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media.

Even as entertainment becomes more interactive experience (with 3D CGI and force-feedback controllers), sound remains a prominent selling point. Recently, Sony heavily promoted the soundtrack for its North American release of Gran Turismo: 3 A-spec for Playstation 2. To push the pedal of realism, the game developers recorded engine, muffler and tire sounds from racing arenas worldwide for more than 150 vehicles, including 30 new models. But from a more high-profile perspective, SCEA's director of product marketing Ami Blaire suggested, "The music on this soundtrack will deliver the same sensation as driving in your car with your favorite tunes blaring on the radio."

To rev up enthusiasm for its latest lap, Gran Turismo raised expectations by playing songs from 20 popular bands and 12 different music publishers. Serving up hits from Jimi Hendrix and Mötley Crüe to modern rock, it even bragged custom-made tracks from Lenny Kravitz (remixed version of Are You Gonna Go My Way?) and Snoop Dog ("Dogg's Turismo III"). Likewise, anime ups the ante by hiring the talents of top teen idols to croon their way into viewers' hearts.

Listen Up

Even in America, composers for video games have become millionaires. The goal is to create the atmosphere to enable 60 hours of game-play and avoid fouling the mood with grating repetition. Similarly, to establish a franchise, anime titles also must provide "repeat" enjoyment by employing bite-sized jingles, theme variations, and memorable melodies. It's pure music association: think Evangelion and you'll start humming its tune.

Up till now, most anime fans have had to purchase imported music online since domestic releases have been hard to come by. Licensed steady sellers include Ranma (Viz), Sailor Moon (Rhino Records, Kid Rhino), compilations (Banzai Anime), Dragon Ball and Gigantor (Supertracks)and soundtracks to video games such as Capcom's Resident Evil and Street Fighter (Viz, Mars Colony).

This field is becoming increasingly competitive, as new entrants stake their claims such as Tokyo Pop. National Sales Manager Kara Redmon stated, "Final Fantasy IX is the best selling video game soundtrack of the four titles released to date", which includes Tekken Tag Team, Parasite Eve II, and The Bouncer. But she expects the new offerings of Resident Evil Code: Veronica X and Final Fantasy X to surpass the typical sales of 10,000 units.

Their fall will be busy with new game soundtracks, CDs Final Fantasy IV and X and Chrono Trigger, and anime music, Vampire Princess Miyu, Bubblegum Crisis 2040 and Trigun, which Redmon expects to be their most popular title ever. To encourage comic retailers to start supplying music CDs, Redmon summarized, "The anime customer is already in their store and until now has had to search on-line and buy imports at triple the price!"

The web has allowed legions of listeners to widen their horizons beyond traditional genres and while frustrating entrenched publishers. But it has also allowed anime fans to demonstrate their unwavering devotion to music while encouraging the growth of domestic music licensing. In both cases, listeners have been empowered to expand their interests and tastes. In the case of anime, Madonna characterized the opportunity this way, "It's like riding on the wind and it never goes away, Touches everything I'm in, Got to have it everyday."

Magazines

Comics Buyer's Guide is the USA's longest running magazine about comic books. Every month it features new comic reviews, nostalgic retroviews, interviews and a price guide. Oliver Chin reviews anime, manga, movies, videos, graphic novels, comics, and books.

Comics & Games Retailer provides news to comic and games retailers about practical how-to tips on selling comics and keeping up with industry and market trends. Monthly issues include Oliver Chin's column "Going Global" and other articles that give a national overview of the market.