Kansai Music Conference (KMC) Interview w/KMC Executive Chairman, Duane Levi
▼Kansai Music ConferenceHP


●What type of work do you do here in Japan?

Levi:I set up a music company in the US in 1993 and ran that for about 10 years while also playing in a band as a pro drummer. During that time, I visited Japan in ‘97, ‘98 & 2000 and really could see myself moving here to live. So I moved and after working for a while teaching English, I moved to Kansai and decided to restart my company., Shalestone Music.

●Why Kansai, why not Tokyo?

Levi:There are too many people in Tokyo. (laugh) Osaka is perfect for me. Also, personality-wise, I feel like I’m a Kansai native. (laugh)

●(laugh) So, Shalestone Music works with musicians from all over the world, right?

Levi:Yes. I soon found that the world of PA and recording in Japan is fairly hard to get into, so I decided to head in a different direction.

●Japan can be a difficult place to break ground, I suppose.

Levi:Exactly, and as the world’s second largest music market, that doesn’t make sense because lots of musicians from overseas want to see what the market here is all about.

●So, Shalestone Music isn’t really a production company but something like a promoter?

Levi:Actually more like a booking agency. There are tons of booking companies in the US, but in my case, we make money representing artists, booking their tours and charging either the artist or venue for our services. We do artist promotion using printed flyers, internet sites, etc. as well as complete tour management.

●How do you get in contact with artists from overseas?

Levi:I get mail from at least 20 artists per month interested in performing in Japan. My company is set up to work with artists, regardless of musical genre, who either live here, have never been to Japan before or have no music for sale to the Japanese market. No other company in Japan is doing this.

●Something like the only door to the Japanese music scene.

Levi:There are other companies that do something close, but often they work only with rock bands, or jazz artists, or musicians from Australia, etc. There aren’t any around that can cover all genres.

●So now, moving on, what is the main purpose of Kansai Music Conference (KMC)?

Levi:First, to support independent musicians and promote international exchange. Supporting the many artists out there, looking to become professional musicians that aren’t interested in getting a “record deal” is one goal. The second is to introduce the Japanese music scene to indie musicians from overseas. But first, the term “indie” needs to be clearly defined for the Japanese market.

As a word coined in the west “indie” means “independent artist,” not “amateur artist” or “non-professional artist” as it has come to be defined in Japan. For example, a few years ago, Paul McCartney left his contract with his long time label and decided to sign a deal with Starbuck’s label to release his CD with them. Of course he’s a professional musician, but he did this as an independent artist. This is what needs to be understood in Japan.

●This year makes year number 2. How was the first one?

Levi:Overall it was a success, but there were a whole lot of mistakes made. (laugh). The biggest being the use of 16 live venues around the city of Osaka. Many of those venues charged a rental fee which ended up coming out of the KMC budget. So because of that, the key word for this year is “cooperation.” In order to get everything done in a manner that will benefit everyone involved, there must be cooperation.

●So it will be held at the Osaka Museum of History this year, right?

Levi:Yes. Conveniently located across the street from the historic Osaka Castle as well as being an exhibition center for the many historic artifacts of the city, the museum was a great choice for the conference. We were not able to have much live music in the venue we used last year, so we had to use 16 venues around the city. But this year the museum has a 300 capacity concert hall as well as 2 conference rooms all on the 4th floor that will be used simultaneously for live performances, workshops and presentations.

●What’s the total capacity of the areas you’ll be using at the museum?

Levi:We’ll be using all the rooms on the 4th floor: concert hall seats 300, room 1 seats 60, and room 2 seats 30. So about 400. But we will also be setting up a stage in the Atrium on the first floor of the main building that can fit a few hundred.

●…And you’ve set all this up by yourself?

Levi:Well when I came up with the idea of KMC in Dec. 2008, from that point until late July, 2009, I was doing almost everything on my own. Then in July, after seeing that the event was actually going to happen, people started volunteering to help out. Now we have a fully functioning KMC Executive Committee with 2 reps in Tokyo, an Osaka native who represents KMC in Toronto as well as members volunteering to design flyers and posters. They’ve really been a big help.

●To see a foreigner come to Japan and undertake such an enormous endeavor is quite impressive.

Levi:It takes enthusiasm and drive, without which a project like this can’t be sustained. The first time I visited Japan in ’97, I stayed at a Japanese inn in Fukushima Prefecture and after a lady who worked there found out that I played in a band, she wanted an autographed cd. At that point I realized that the Japanese culture had little exposure or knowledge of what was really happening in other countries and that realization has had a strong influence on me ever since. So much so, that I decided to create something to help improve international communication and cultural understanding for those that are interested. KMC has become my way of fulfilling my own dream in Japan. There’s no way I won’t see it through.

●But is this what you envisioned when you came to Japan 10 years ago?

Levi:No, not at all. But seeing that music can be a bridge across all cultures, I intended to do something music related.