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 collector’s edition for a soundtrack CD or they’ll put in a redemption code where you can go to a website and get a digital version of the sound. Has Square Enix ever considered a distribution model like this to try to get more people interested?

Izumi: In Japan we’ve had similar packaging deals where as a pre-sale bonus you get a sort of digest version of the soundtrack, but one of the major problems is that the game and music distribution take separate roots, so if we stick the soundtrack with the game, then it’s kind of like we lose the music sales. We’re constantly trying to figure out what would be the advantage. We’d love to provide the music to fans as well, but we need to find a way to get the music itself out to people and not see it as just sort of a side thing that comes secondary to the game. The distribution system in Japan is the complication there.

OSV: And that’s sort of debate in the United States as well. People feel that giving the music away for free sort of devalues the music, so that’s why I was wondering. So moving forward , should we expect only new soundtracks from Square Enix on the Square Enix Store or will we see older releases as well?

Izumi: The answer to that is yes, we’ll be providing a mixture of CDs. In Japan, we have a series where we bring back classic soundtracks, called the Legendary Series. Right now we have the LIVE A LIVE soundtrack on iTunes. So we’re trying to bring back CDs that were released in the past that are not available anymore and fans want to hear them. So we’ll definitely have a mixture in the future.

OSV: I had seen that announcement. Will we see physical releases of this stuff?

Izumi: We’re probably going to look at how well the soundtrack is going to do at first. If there are soundtracks that we’re pretty sure that are okay to have on-hand, then we’ll probably create CDs, but for others that we’re not too sure about we’ll probably put on iTunes first and see the reaction, and from there change to CD.

OSV: I want to say that in the United States, it seems that game companies don’t get it when it comes to using the music in a game to promote the IP. In Japan, the soundtrack is released a month or so before the game is released, so fans who are excited about the game can go and purchase the soundtrack and listen to it. I was wondering about your feelings about the market in the United States and if you feel that we have a lot of catching up to do in terms of using game music to promote the game it’s coming from.

Izumi: So in the past when we’ve released Final Fantasy soundtracks, the soundtrack will include all the music including the last boss fights and the ending, so it might be considered a spoiler, so we had tried to release the soundtrack a couple months after the game had been released, but since then we’ve been trying to provide the CD at the same time as the release or a bit earlier.

In America these past three or four years, we feel that the music and game relationship has changed a lot. For instance, an example from a Square Enix title, we’ve been able to hold a concert called Distant Worlds conducted by Arnie Roth which was last December in Stockholm and in February in Chicago. For the Chicago concert, 5,000 people actually showed up, showing that music is a very significant part of gamers’ experience, so I feel that America is catching up.

The thing about game music is that there are not vocals or words so it’s a very universal experience among fans. There’s no barrier there. We’d like to be able to provide as many options for fans around the world, and when they hear music and don’t necessarily know the game, but feel it’s just a really good track, that they be able to access it on iTunes or any other route. We’d like to provide as many options as possible for people to enjoy the music.

OSV: I was wondering if you had a favorite Square Enix composer.

Izumi: There are a lot of composers with talent, and they all have their own unique style. I have to mention Nobuo Uematsu of the Final Fantasy series. While he’s moved on from Square Enix, he created so many memorable tracks. I also wanted to mention Takeharu Ishimoto who worked on the score for Before Crisis which is a mobile title. Tetsuya Nomura picked him out for that game, and he has a very distinct style with a lot of pop and rock influence. Finally, there’s Yoko Shimomura who worked on the Kingdom Heart series. She’s created so many soundtracks that so many people that played the games remember, a lot of people in the company are inspired by her as well.

OSV: To comment on that, it’s great for fans to see these composers still doing projects with Square Enix although they’ve moved on. There’s Final Fantasy Remix for Uematsu-san and drammatica for Shimomura-san. It’s great to see the composers have such a great relationship with Square Enix after they move on. As an aside, are there plans for Square Enix to do anything similar to drammatica with other composerse?

Izumi: I’d like to consider this in the future. I just have to think of the costs to create an actual album and to orchestrate the representative signature soundtrack, and considering that, it is definitely a challenge that we’d like to try again.

OSV: As far as what’s available on the North American Store, for somebody who’s new to game music, which album would you recommend?

Izumi: Hmm…

OSV: Maybe More Friends?

Izumi: Definitely that’s a top choice because it has all the best music from the Final Fantasy series. Also, people who have a view of game music as being orchestrated and being a certain way, we definitely recommend The World Ends With You because it’s very different and should be enjoyable for people who aren’t necessarily fans of game music.

OSV: We had the pleasure of checking out The World Ends With You recently.  It definitely is good.  Do you have a final message to fans in North America who have been waiting a long time to buy these soundtracks?

Izumi: Thank you all for waiting this long. Thank you for your patience. We’re definitely going to bringing over many soundtracks via iTunes and also in CD form so please enjoy all that we’ll be offering.

OSV: Well, thank you so much. We really appreciate your time.

Izumi: Thank you.

[Special thanks to Amelia Cantlay for translating]

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