Game Music

Comic Con 08: Interview with Square Enix Music Manager Tsukushi Izumi

July 27, 2008 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook Comic Con 08: Interview with Square Enix Music Manager Tsukushi Izumion Twitter

Photo ©2005 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

Square Enix has quite a presence of Comic Con. While there aren’t any games available to demo on the floor, Square Enix is showing off its wares from the North American merchandise store. Items include plushies, figurines, and keychains, and the booth has been consitently busy all week.

While soundtracks are not available for purchase, Square Enix’s general manager of copyright licensing and music publishing, Tsukushi Izumi, was on hand and took some time to speak with us regarding the recent addition of music to the Square Enix North American Store. We discuss what goes into producing soundtrack albums at Square Enix, touching on problems at former distributor Digicube and a the possiblity of a US soundtrack release for Nanashi no Game.

Hit the jump for a full transcript of the interview.

OSV: So we’re here with Tsukushi Izumi, the general manager for Square Enix’s copyright licensing and music publishing devisions, and I was hoping you could first introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Square Enix.

Izumi: I take care of two divisions right now. The first is that I’m the general manager of the copyright licensing division, and this entails taking care of titles such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and manga properties that Square Enix publishes and other products that Square Enix publishes. The second division is the music publishing division which mainly revolves around the Final Fantasy titles but basically that’s taking the soundtrack and working with iTunes to get it out.

OSV: So the Square Enix North American Store was opened awhile ago, but they just opened the music section. We’re all really excited. A lot of the game fans in the United States are happy that game soundtracks are now available in the United States. So I just wanted to ask, what took so long?

Izumi: So you’re aware that we began this process in the United States. We do have a music presence on the North American website. The main reason it took so long was that there was nobody that was in charge of the music at that time who was aware of how to market properly in the United States and to North American audiences, so it took awhile to set it up. I came into this department in October. I also worked with character goods previously so I knew there was an audience in North America for these products. But again, the person who was in charge of music previously was not very keen about the fanbase in the United States.

We actually began providing music for the North American audience on iTunes right after E3 2006 but realized that many of the fans actually wanted the CDs and they were importing them or finding pirated versions. They knew they weren’t supposed to get those, but it is all they can get their hands on, so that’s why they’re doing that. So we wanted to provide actual CDs to everyone through the merchandise store, and we launched last summer, and with that, we were finally able to create a line for music.

OSV: On behalf of fans, I want to say thank you very much. Like you said, it was a challenge to get the music, and some people turned to these other companies that produce the pirated copies, and they confuse people because they think they’re buying the real thing and it’s not.

I’m kind of curious, actually, because there’s a mixture of old and new soundtracks available at the store right now. I’m wondering about what goes into the decision of selecting a soundtrack from the Square Enix library to sell at the store.

Izumi: Basically we choose the lineup by discussing with the Los Angeles branch of Square Enix and the music department and people at the company that are aware of our soundtrack selections to choose what American fans like, and we come up with a lineup from there.

OSV: We’ve also noticed an increase in iTunes releases, and I know it all began there. I’m wondering if there are more plans to put more stuff out on iTunes in the future? Will there still be physical CDs? What do you feel the mix will be in the future?

Izumi: We definitely want to expand the iTunes branch and deliver it that way. We actually have our soundtracks available on iTunes in North America, Europe, and Japan, but the North American audience is actually the most in-tune. Most of our sales come from North America. Close to 70%. In Europe not so much, and in Japan as well. We could definitely expand there, but the flipside of that is that we want to be able to provide hard copies of the soundtracks from Square Enix because fans want to keep those as more of a collectible item. We actually put a lot of thought into packaging and design and we discuss with the creators of the games to make sure the packaging is in sync with the game or in context with it. We’d like to approach it with the idea of creating collectible CDs as well. If there’s anything that fans want to see, like they want a soundtrack like this, we’d definitely like to hear your feedback.

OSV: Well, we’ll definitely put the word out. We’ll let you know if we hear anything because there are a lot of fans out there, or you wouldn’t be able to make a site like this, so we’re really excited about what you guys are doing over there.

So I know last week in Japan they released the Nanashi no Game EP, and I’ve been so excited about that game, and we’ve posted about it a few times with the trailers. The music actually sounds like Sugiyama-san. I’m wondering if there’s any chance—and I’m doubting the game will make it to the United States and I know you can’t say anything regarding that, but I’m wondering if the EP could be released on iTunes in the US.

Izumi: When bringing a DS soundtrack to CD it’s actually a little bit more complicated than say for instance a PSP game that is already on disc. For a disc, you just rewrite that data for a CD soundtrack and then it will work out. The DS music is actually not created for a disc or soundtrack CD, so there are a few more steps involved with bringing that over, so the technical side is one complication.

There is, of course a business side also since it takes a little bit more time, it costs more to bring it over to a music CD. We have to make sure that when the game is received well that people actually want the soundtrack for that game. The game was just recently released in Japan, so we’ll have to see how it’s doing and that’s what we’d use in the decision to bring the soundtrack over.

Lastly, there’s a licensing issue. Sugiyama-san’s music is actually owned by him, so probably we’d have to negotiate there on the Square Enix’s side to bring it over. [Editor’s Note: I was commenting that the music sounded similar to Sugiyama, but Nanashi no Game’s music is actually written by Louise Noma. It’s interesting to learn about the process they go through when they work with Sugiyama.]

So there are three sides: the technical, the business, and the licensing issue that make it difficult to bring a soundtrack for the DS over and distributing it over iTunes and such. We’ll consider it for fans who are looking forward to it, but for the moment, it’s pretty difficult.

OSV: We understand that. I have another question that you might not be as familiar with since the releases were some time ago. Square Enix on the US website, they have the iTunes releases for the Official Bootleg series, and then Suzuki-san’s original album, In my Own Backyard

Izumi: Wow, you know a lot!

OSV: It’s very good music. I love what’s going on there. I was wondering what goes into putting out original music by Square Enix. What are some of the logistics? How does that work into what they’re doing for games?

Izumi: Well, for Suzuki-san’s album on iTunes, how it came to be is that while all the composers at Square Enix, their main job is to compose game music, and that’s what they’re busy with most of the time, Suzuki-san found time in between and picked things out that he wrote previously, and over a long period of time was able to put together an entire album.

There’s a site where a lot of music composers buy their music and… it’s kind of like DeviantArt for artists, but it’s a music site like that. He was able to put his music on there and had it available for streaming. The response there was really good, so we decided we’d try to see if fans would actually like this if we put it on iTunes. Square Enix is very open to new music from composers, and it’s a challenge that we’d like to continue for composers in the future, and putting out more CDs like this in the future.

There are also things called arranged CDs. For example, there’s The World Ends With You arranged soundtrack that will come out on July 30. What this is is a re-recording of the tracks in the game, and the vocals are very different. It has a very rock feel to it. Fans who might not know the game can pick up the CD and listen to some really cool music, so it’s creating music that reaches out to audiences beyond the game and pulling people in with great music.

OSV: You guys are definitely doing that. I don’t know if you can comment on this, but a few years back, the publisher for Square Enix was Digicube. Unfortunately the company went under, but I was wondering if that had a big impact on Square Enix. Did it set you back? How did it affect thing at in music licensing and publication at Square Enix?

Izumi: Digicube, as you mentioned, was created initially so that the many PS games we had at the time, we wanted to bring out soundtracks at convenience stores and make it available to everybody. We wanted to establish a new way to get people in touch with the soundtracks. But of course they’re convenience stores, and the main problem was that there are a lot of returns. When the game is doing very well, they sell very well, but when it calms down a bit, there were a lot of returns.

Two other functions that kind of balanced out this primary function was that they were strategy guide publishers and also the they were functioning as the recording company for the music CDs as well. These three elements we’re working to provide, but obviously the first one didn’t work out, so the most difficult part of resestablishing the music site is developing new contracts and setting up new distribution.

The one main thing was that fans were disappointed that all the sudden all the CDs and the Final Fantasy CDs weren’t going to be available anymore, so on our side, we had to work very quickly to establish new contracts, distribution, and set up new ads and make it available as soon as possible for fans everywhere. That was the most difficult part about re-establishing after Digicube went under.

OSV: Just to confirm, Digicube was a separate company, right? Or was it a subsidiary of Square Enix?

Izumi: It was a separate entity, but it was a group-owned company by Square Enix and convenience stores nationwide, so there was a connection there. The music and strategy guides that Square Enix was publishing, Square Enix would license that to them, and then give them permission to work on it.

OSV: Ah, okay. In the United States, especially among PC games, there’s kind of a tradition where they have a collector’s edition of the game, kind of like they did for Final Fantasy XII, and in the coll