This is a translation of an interview with ONE OK ROCK’s manager Yoshitaka Goto. It was originally published on the Ongaku Shugi website on March 15th, 2017. Some of the questions are a bit dated, but I think it still has some interesting information. The original article in Japanese can be found here.
With 80% hardship, the remaining 20% is inspiration and enjoyment
What got you into the music industry?
I originally attended university in Osaka. After graduating, I wondered what I should do and that’s when I came across the employment test for Sony Music in Osaka and I thought I’d give it a shot. After being hired as a promoter and working there for two and a half years, I spoke with a person from Amuse with whom I had worked with and joined that company.
What work did you do in Osaka?
As a promoter, I went around to radio stations bringing along with me samples of new music, and when music artists came to Osaka for promotion, I’d assist with attending to them, and other things like that. From this I learned how enjoyable it was to have music right next to me, and I was able to get a feel for the appeal that each unique artist brings to the table.
How did you meet the members of ONE OK ROCK?
At the time, I was managing a number of different people, such as those who wanted to get into music or dance, those who wanted to become actors, and other various artists. It was during this time that I just happened to meet two of the members. They were also part of a dance group at the time, but they mentioned that they wanted to take up instruments and perform at their high school’s school festival, so I told them, “Okay, I’ll come and watch,” and that’s how it started.
What was your first job with them?
At the time, I was a bit distanced from music and it was a period where I was experiencing many new things, so I really just helped with booking. It was after the first year they formed that I really started doing management for them, and I did things such as suggesting that they produce CD-Rs to sell as merchandise.
I’m sure there were a lot of difficulties at first.
It’s tough when things don’t go the way you imagined. But with 80% hardship, I believe the remaining 20% is inspiration and enjoyment.
They’ve been fighting prejudice since their formation so they’re used to it
There was a period where they had to cease activities, so as a manager, with what kind of feelings did you confront the band?
I only had thoughts of getting them to make a comeback in my mind.
It’s the band who are the ones who actually do the work, and it’s the band who creates the music, so your feelings must have been quite rushed.
But the one good thing is that the members were all positive. Once they calmed down and got into the mood of trying hard again, they created a lot of songs and were practicing. There were negative things all around them but they themselves were determined to move on positively.
There were also situations where they had to dispel the prejudices around them.
It’s been a fight against prejudice since they first formed, and they’ve been fighting against it for many years so they’re used to it. But there were a lot of huge frustrations. The reason they were able to perform at Nippon Budokan in 2010 was because they had feelings of wanting to dispel the prejudices. Back then, Budokan wasn’t a place that just anyone could perform at, so I really wanted to to get them onto that stage. I think once they overcame that then the prejudices began to fade away.
From 2013 they’ve also actively gone overseas, so for you as a manager, is English also necessary for you in order to work overseas?
I think it is necessary. No matter which country we go to, English is generally used, and it’s necessary to understand English in order to be aware of how the people in each country think. I can’t speak English so I have to rely on someone in between to translate, but of course I don’t think that is proper.
So if you want to work this kind of job in the future, you have to start studying now.
If you’re just going to study English in Japan, even if you study abroad early on and then come back, I think it’ll be a plus no matter what work you do in Japan.
I always plan the tour schedule ahead of time
With the band becoming large in scale, are there any aspects that you have a hard time keeping up with in your mind?
When you try out new things, there will of course be many things that you don’t understand, so you have to study every day. For example, you can read foreign magazines and such. I also want to learn about how things are done by domestic and foreign bands who do amazing things. Even if it’s not exactly the same, it’s not a mistake to try imitating them, and I think it’s important to learn from the actions of those pioneers.
What becomes your motivation for doing this job?
The upcoming tour is for a work that took two years to release, so seeing how audience react to it becomes the motivation for planning the next concert. I always plan the tour schedule ahead of time.
The schedule for several years in advance.
Yes. That’s why it becomes necessary to get into the mood of, “we’ve booked such a large venue like this so we’ve got to do our best with promotion.” It doesn’t matter how high we rank on the charts. What’s more important is how many people are listening. We’ve got to think about things like, “about this many people are listening, so there will probably be about this many people who come.”
So that means how you plan the next tour will be determined on the results of this time with “Ambitions.” And once you’ve planned the tour then you have to start producing the music that leads up to it.
We are also doing things overseas now so it adds another layer of difficulty. Things change quite a bit depending on whether you start the tour in Japan, in America, or in Europe. Planning those things is pretty fun, though.
A person who is flexible, an idea man, and who possesses marketing skills
Do you ever give suggestions regarding their music?
I believe in what the members create. But because I’ve got self-confidence in being the person who’s seen their concerts more than anyone, I sometimes give them advice regarding their setlist, such as, “I think it would be more exciting to perform this song at this time.”
What’s the thrill of being a manager?
Being one of the leading individuals who created the space where the artist stands on the stage and the audience is overcome with emotion, regardless of the scale. Before we get to that point it’s about 80% hardship though. (laugh) I don’t think you can do this job if you feel that is stressful.
Last year’s Nagisaen concert was on an incredible scale.
Not only creating the stage, but also how to arrange the venue, how to guide the audience, where the best place to have the buses parked… It was like creating an entire festival. We’re not involved with the production of the concert and of course there are many capable staff who take care of the specific details, but I make it a point to basically have a feeling for everything that’s going on. It’s tough, but I think it’s more interesting than just leaving it up to other people.
What’s an ideal manager like?
Someone who is flexible, an idea man, and who possesses marketing skills. I think someone who has all of these is amazing.
What are your objectives from now on?
This year we’re having them go on an arena tour throughout Japan, but it’s my dream for them to be able to tour on such a scale regardless of the country.