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Tom Smith on a singer’s internet fame

The digital revolution has turned the music industry on its head. Information, distribution and power has shifted from the hands of giant corporations and been granted to anyone with an internet connection and a degree of talent (or some cute cats). Nothing demonstrates this better than YouTube, where regular people can achieve hundreds of thousands of views, subscribers and earn a living purely from uploading videos for free.

Japan has its own popular video sharing website called Nico Nico Douga, an online community which has been the breeding ground for memes, fandom and for independent musicians and artists to build a solid following. I had heard that the platform was crucial to online and underground pop culture in Japan, but I had no idea how much power it possessed until I visit the offices of one record label in Harajuku in November. This particular company was responsible for a number of high profile vocaloid acts – a digital music style with origins fundamental to Nico Nico – including a few releases from the biggest name in the scene; Miku Hatsune.

The managing director brought my attention to the newest release from one of their artists. ‘This guy, he makes music in his bedroom, drops videos on Nico Nico and then goes to doujinshi fairs and will shifts 10,000+ copies of his newest CD in a weekend. Major artists often struggle to achieve those kind of sales in a week! If those were sold through retail, he might have had a top-three chart position. We’ve had to diversify our business model, because if it was just down to CD sales alone, this new breed of music makers can handle it on their own. Why would they need us?’

One new star that built a career in a similar way is Eir Aoi, who made her major debut with SME Records with the single MEMORIA. While being able to sell X-amount of CDs without support from a corporation is admirable, indie artists lack the connections and business relationships to enable tie-ins with anime and the like. Thankfully for Eir, SME could sort her out with just that, and the single became the ending theme to the anime Fate/Zero, complementing the series’ opening from label-buddy LiSA. In the meantime Nico Nico was still used to promote her to a specific audience of anime, manga and indie-pop fans.

LiSA joined Eir again with another popular anime; Sword Art Online: LiSA supplying the first opening, Eir taking over from episode 15 with her song INNOCENCE. The single, at the time of writing, has been Eir Aoi’s biggest selling, awarding her a peak position of six in the weekly Oricon chart. The pair have continued to focus heavily on anime tie-ins, and their sound tailored to feature characteristics of otaku music, including high-energy beats and rhythms that induce wotagei.

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Eir Aoi’s debut album BLAU, featuring MEMORIA and INNOCENCE amongst 12 other tracks, is available now worldwide via iTunes along with her latest maxi-singles.

Eir Aoi’s song INNOCENCE is the opening theme for Sword of Art Online Part 3, available from 24 February on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga UK.

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