Game Music

Comic Con 2009: Square Enix Music Division Interview With Izumi Tsukushi and Akio Shiraishi

July 26, 2009 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook Comic Con 2009: Square Enix Music Division Interview With Izumi Tsukushi and Akio Shiraishion Twitter

I can’t believe it’s already been a year. We met Izumi Tsukushi, the manager of Square Enix’s music licensing division, at last year’s Comic Con, and we were fortunate to get to see him again this year’s show and ask some questions about the state of things at Square Enix. As an additional bonus, Akio Shiriaishi, the promotions and marketing manager for the music division was also on hand to discuss music.

So, what did we find out? First of all, Square Enix is going to be bringing their music in full force to events in both North America and Europe. That’s good news. They also have their sights on Yasunori Mitsuda for their next orchestral drammatica-like “best of” album. Other topics include the SaGa soundtrack box, Blood of Bahamut, Chrono Trigger DS, Shota Shimizu’s Chrono Trigger single, and Square Enix’s Tokyo Game Show sampler which will feature music from both Final Fantasy Gaiden and an unannounced music project. It’s certainly an interesting discussion, so check it out!

Read our interview with the Square Enix music licensing team after the jump

OSV: Alright, we’re here with Tsukushi-san, the music licensing manager at Square Enix Japan. We talked to you last year, so it’s good to see you’re back. It looks like you’ve been working the floor with the iPod, so I was hoping you could tell us what was new with the Square Enix music department this year since last year.

Tsukushi: One thing that’s really new is that the music department has finally started selling music CDs at American and European events, like we have here at Comic Con.

OSV: So what other events are CDs being sold at other than Comic Con?

Tsukushi: Well, actually, this Comic Con is the firs time we’ve challenged ourselves to sell CDs at events, but we’re going to be making CDs available at other events from now on.

OSV: So that leads into my next question. Since we have some news CDs here today that aren’t on the online store yet, like the drammatica CD, the Kingdom Hearts Piano Collections, and the Dissidia soundtrack, does this mean they’ll eventually be available on the US online store?

Tsukushi: Yes.

OSV: Great, we’ll look forward to that. There were recently some changes to the online music store. It went down for a very short period of time, so what was going on with that, and is there something new with the online store?

Tsukushi: So basically it was a switch of the store on the retailer side. The vendor who was handling all the CD sales and such, we switched from one company to another so that transition took a little bit of time and the site was down for a little bit.

OSV: So it is still external, or is it in-house?

Tsukushi: No, it’s still external, but just a different company that’s doing it.

OSV: Okay. So last year, I had asked you about the EP for Nanashi no Geemu, and I ended up buying it from iTunes Japan and it has some amazing music. So I’m curious now that Nanashi no Geemu 2 has been announced for Japan, are there any plans to bring the music stateside?

Tsukushi: We are preparing for iTunes, of course. So if our fans download a lot from iTunes, we’re thinking we might be able to make a CD.

OSV: Well, I hope it comes out here. Since the games never came to the States, having the music would be a nice consolation prize.

So another topic we discussed last year was Suzuki-san’s solo album. At the time, it was In My Own Backyard. And so recently, he released Neurovision, and it’s an amazing album, probably one of my favorites of the year so far. So I’m curious, the day it was released, it was posted to the US and Japanese iTunes store simultaneously, but 6-7 hours later, it was removed from the US iTunes store. So I wanted to know if this was an accident, and if we’ll see a US release of Neurovision in the future?

Tsukushi: It’s available on the US iTunes store now, isn’t it?

OSV: Not that I’m aware. I know there were some problems after it was released, but I could be mistaken. [Editor’s Note: We’ve confirmed that Neurovision is indeed available on the iTunes US store now. Go download it!]

Tsukushi: Well, that’s new to us. We’ll have to look into this. It wasn’t intentional, as it was meant to be a simultaneous worldwide release.

OSV: On this topic, on the Japanese website, there’s a special interview and special behind-the-scenes making of videos. I’m wondering, since there is no US website for Neurovision yet, are there plans to add in subtitles for the interviews? US fans would love to see these videos.

Tsukushi: We understand that we need to put subtitles in there. We’re considering it. [plays the videos on his laptop].

OSV: It’s such a good CD. It’d be a great physical.

Tsukushi: Right.

OSV: The video is produced so well that it seems like it’d be a shame not to bring it here. The subtitles are easy. The hard part, the video, is already so well put together.

Tsukushi: Oh, Mitsuto-san’s friends made these videos, actually.

OSV: Oh, really? They’re very talented. Maybe you guy should hire his friends!

Tsukushi: Since Mitsuto-san was the creator, his friend made the jacket and the website.

OSV: Well, all the artwork is so fitting. The music is so pure and minimal, and the jacket is so simple, I like it a lot. It even looks like it’d be physical.

So, I mentioned the drammatica CD that you’re selling here today. And this album was an amazing album, taking a best of collection and recording it with a live orchestra. So we’d love to see this idea applied to other great Square Enix composers like Uematsu-san and Mitsuda-san. So is there any chance of this happening?

Tsukushi: Yeah. This was a very, very challenging title. Recording an orchestra for one composer. But this CD sold very well in Japan, so we’re trying to expand.

Shiraishi: Maybe next will be Mitsuda-san of Chrono Trigger.

OSV: So Mitsuda-san would be the next one to do?

Tsukushi: Well, maybe.

OSV: So what went into the decision to choose Shimomura-san as the first artist to do this project with?

Tsukushi: So, we basically started up this project because Shimomura-san had been working on some Kingdom Hearts compositions and Final Fantasy Versus XIII.  She had created some trailer music for that, and it was being received really well. So we wanted to create a project that was focused around her works, and after speaking with her, we decided we wanted to do a live orchestral version of the music, and we recorded it in Germany.

OSV: Right, with Thomas Boecker.

Tsukushi: Yeah, Thomas arranged the orchestra for us.

OSV: It’s a great CD.

Tsukushi: Thank you.

OSV: And we’d love to see it applied to Mitsuda-san, Uematsu-san, Sakimoto-san, everyone.

Tsukushi: Thank you so much.

OSV: My next question is that there have been a lot of Square Enix iTunes releases lately. There was the My Life as a King and My Life as a Dark Lord, and the Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Mini-EP, so what thought went into these smaller releases, and have you seen an increase in digital sales since we talked last year?

Tsukushi: We’ve been putting lots of effort into iTunes and the mobile downloads for cellphones in Japan because we’ve really noticed lately that for the Japanese audience, it’s really hard on their wallets to buy the CDs to show that they appreciate the music. So not as many people have been able to access out music as before, so digital distribution was the best way to go about it. We just want as many people as possible to get in touch with the music we have to offer, and maybe that will lead to future CD sales if they really like it. So it’s going well so far, and Japanese fans appreciate it being available on iTunes.

OSV: So these releases in particular are like mini-releases instead of full soundtrack releases. So do you think this is a better format? A more bite-sized portion of music, and that’s why you’re doing these shorter releases rather than extended versions?

Shiraishi: We definitely want fans to ultimately purchase the CDs. That’s the goal. We put a lot of effort into these CDs, especially with the packaging, and it’s something we want the fans to be glad that they purchased. Like, “Oh, I’m glad that it’s such a great product, and I’m glad to have the actual physical product.” So there’s a lot of effort that goes into that. And like you said, the iTunes releases are bite-sized portions so fans can get to know the music a little bit, and maybe they’ll be more interested in getting the full soundtrack release that’s out there as well. We’ve seen the US releases of film soundtracks, and they usually go for $8.99 or $9.99, you know, reasonably priced, but if we tried to make something like this for that price, we could only put a one-sheet in the jacket or something, and that’s not what we want. Our goal is to ultimately get to CD sales.

OSV: Well, the packaging for Dissidia is amazing, so thank you. So, for both digital and physical, which album has been the top seller on iTunes and the US CD store?

Tsukushi: Final Fantasy VII.

Shiraishi: And “One Winged Angel.”

OSV: Oh yeah, “One Winged Angel” on iTunes? And then the Final Fantasy VII entire soundtrack on iTunes. And this already sold out here at Comic Con. And what about physical in the US CD store?

Shiraishi: Hm… The World Ends With You.

OSV: Oh, really. Very good. There were two CDs, and I noticed both are sold out on the store. What do you make of the continued popularity of Final Fantasy VII?

Tsukushi: It’s not just the music, but it’s the merchandise, the game. There’s Advent Children, the movie. It just goes to show that this game is such a great product in so many ways. The music, the story, the characters, they’re all really well put together, so that’s why I think these products continue to sell.

[Izumi Tsukushi (right) was wandering around the Square Enix booth with an iPod, letting potential customers preview the soundtracks that were being sold, with backup from Akio Shiraishi (back left)]

OSV: I’m going to jump into some upcoming releases. I want to ask about the 20-disc SaGa box. Why are you making this collection, and how much work is going into this? And when are we going to get the 50-disc Final Fantasy box?

Tsukushi: [Laughs] This is an item for the 20th anniversary of SaGa. The series has such a history, that if you go back to the early days, the soundtracks were published by NTT Publishing, so we wanted to use this 20th anniversary as an opportunity to bring all of this music together so that fans who want the old music don’t have to search everywhere to get all the music. So that’s the reason why this project came about.

OSV: Well, thank you for that. The early SaGa soundtracks were really good. With Uematsu-san and Sasai-san. A lot of that stuff is hard to find. On this topic, the Japanese website has hundreds of samples for every track from the collection. Why did you take the time to do this? Is it just a marketing thing? Do you think this is mostly to turn on news fans to the music, or is it for old fans?

Tsukushi: It would be great if newcomers came to the site and listened to it and they liked the music, but that was done mostly for fans of the series that were already existing. As we mentioned earlier, it has a long history, and this is not a cheap project, this box set, so we wanted to make sure that people who played the game a long time ago, maybe they’re thinking about buying the set, but they don’t really remember all the songs. We wanted to make everything available for them to listen and say, “Oh yeah, I remember this song!” We want them to be sure they want to buy this product, as it is risky given the cost. And we know there are a lot of fans of this music, because we re-released the music from SaGa Frontier, and we keep getting lots of orders for this music, so we know there are people out there who will really appreciate the effort we put into this website.

OSV: Well, I feel really bad for the person who had to make these samples.

Shiraishi: That was me. [Laughs]

Tsukushi: He worked so hard! [Laughs]

OSV: [Laughs] How long did that take you?

Shiraishi: Three weeks!

OSV: So, any chance this will come to the US store?

Tsukushi: Yeaaaah… so what do you think of the price? About $200?

OSV: So, it’s about $200, and there are 20 CDs, so it’s like $10 per CD. So everyone I’ve talked to says it’s an amazing deal, but the issue is, would they have bought these CDs anyway? Honestly, the SaGa series is old, but it’s not as popular in the United States as say Final Fantasy or the Seiken Densetsu series, so I can’t imagine there’d be a huge market for it, but for the hardcore fans like us, of course we’re excited about it. It’s quite amazing.

Tsukushi: Ah, I see.

OSV: So do the two of you have a favorite soundtrack from the series?

Both: Hm…

OSV: Shiraishi-san, you should be very familiar with the series now. [Laughs]

Shiraishi: [Laughs] I like the first SaGa game.

OSV: Uematsu-san, right?

Shiraishi: Yeah, because I played SaGa. At 6 years old, I played SaGa. I played a lot of Gameboy games.

OSV: And you, Tsukushi-san?

Tsukushi: Probably SaGa Frontier because when I started working at Square about 10 years ago, that’s when SaGa Frontier 2 was coming out, so I knew it really well.

OSV: Very good. I have a question about Blood of Bahamut. It looks like Mizuta-san is finally breaking out of Final Fantasy XI and doing his own soundtrack. So I’m wondering if you’ve listened to the music yet, and if you could give us a preview or tell us what to expect from the music?

Shiraishi: The website just went up last Friday, actually. In Japan, there are these historical dramas, you know, people wearing kimonos. He wanted to give the soundtrack this intense grand-scale feel to it, so that’s the start of this soundtrack.

OSV: So there are 10 samples available now on the Japanese website. It sounds great.

Shiraishi: The concept behind Mizuta-san’s compositions for Blood of Bahamut is creating game music that really goes back to the roots of oldschool gaming. So it’s not really something that’s new and modern sounding like the Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack, but he just wanted to create music that people who have been playing games for a long time would say, “Oh, that’s the stuff that I really liked back in the day.” That’s the concept behind it.

OSV: Well, we’re really looking forward to it, and we’ve been curious because Mizuta-san has always been associated with Final Fantasy XI, so we’ve been waiting to see how this turns out.

My next question is about the Chrono Trigger DS soundtrack. So it seems that essentially it’s similar to the Super Nintendo soundtrack, but, correct me if I’m wrong, it seems like you’ve added the Orchestra Extra tracks, the PlayStation version tracks, and the bonus DVD. What went into the decision to kind of re-release a soundtrack that Square Enix has already released, and are we going to see this on the US CD store?

Tsukushi: Well, the PlayStation version of the soundtrack only had 20 tracks or so, so it was very limited. And the original soundtrack was published by NTT Publishing, which is no longer available, so we wanted to make a more complete soundtrack and release it for the fans.

OSV: Was there a Digicube version?

Tsukushi: The Digicube version was the PlayStation album.

OSV: Ah, okay. I know that the PlayStation version had tracks created for the movie sequence, but there were also some in-game tracks that I think Sekito-san had created for the Omake Mode. So are those on this CD?

Tsukushi: Oh, yes. It’s a really complete version.

OSV: And will it come to the US store?

Tsukushi: We’d like to. But there’s the issue of the region-blocked DVD. That’s the problem.

OSV: Make a US version of the DVD!

Tsukushi: Yeaah. We want to.

OSV: So, I wanted to ask about the J-pop artist, Shota Shimizu, who has recently recorded a version of “Wind Scene” from the Chrono Trigger. When fans found this, they thought that perhaps Square Enix didn’t even know about it, but it seems you do. Please tell us how this project came about.

Tsukushi: This whole thing for started because Shimizu-san is a big fan of Square Enix games and he actually approached the company asking if he could record a song using the Chrono Trigger soundtrack, and that’s how it got started. He prepared a demo for Mitsuda-san, and it was a really well-made demo, and they decided to move forward. So Sony Music Entertainment Japan and Shimizu-san’s team came into the picture and put together this product.

OSV: So was Mitsuda-san involved at all with the project?

Tsukushi: Not directly. He just listened to the demo and gave it his approval.

OSV: It’s a really popular song from the game, and he did a really good job with it. Are we going to see more stuff like this in the future? Square Enix music being used to reach the mainstream?

Tsukushi: It may happen. You never know.

OSV: Depends on their interest, I guess?

Tsukushi: We’ve been receiving a lot of requests lately to use Square Enix music in movies and dramas, and we tend to that on a case-by-case basis, giving the okay to some and not to others. I think it’s a result of all these people who grew up playing games, and they’re in these positions now, all grown up, and fond of game music. It’s a really great thing.

OSV: Okay, so the Tokyo Game Show is coming up, and it’s become somewhat of a tradition for you to release a music sampler disc. Has this been an effective marketing tool for you, and do you have any ideas of what will appear on the disc this year?

Shiraishi: We’re planning the CD right now. It should have Final Fantasy Gaiden, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers, and maybe some other upcoming titles of ours. We don’t want to say quite yet! There will be a new CD announcement at the show, and a sample from that may appear on the CD.

OSV: We’ll look forward to it. So I have to ask this interesting question. The company Nihon Falcom in Japan has implemented a free-use policy with their music so that people can stream, broadcast, remix or do whatever they want with the entire catalog of their music as long as they don’t sell it. What do you think about this? Do you think it devalues the music, or is it an effective marketing strategy?

Tsukushi: We definitely think it’s a useful marketing tool for Nihon Falcom since they have a lot of dated soundtracks out there. It’s a good way to re-introduce everything to users out there. But at Square Enix, it’s a company policy thing, but we don’t think it’s something we would get into. We are approached by a lot of people asking if they can use our music for their projects, and maybe from the outside perspective, Square Enix is a little bit more strict about use of its music. We definitely think it’s a great marketing idea, but we probably won’t go into that direction.

OSV: So I have a question for you, Tsukushi-san. I wanted to know a little about your background. You’ve been at Square Enix for 10 years, and I’m wondering how you’ve made your way into your current position?

Tsukushi: To give the history of how I’ve been involved, when we first got started, we licensed out to Bandai who created products for us. It started with Final Fantasy VII, but we started making things in-house like posters and card cases and selling them at TGS and things like that. That started taking off, so we started doing more and more in-house starting with Final Fantasy IX. I was involved with what was the beginning of the merchandising department today. And around the time Final Fantasy X-2 came out, Square and Enix merged, and there was already a toy and hobby division from Enix that had been creating Dragon Quest pencils and things like that, and there was the merchandising and licensing division from Square, so my first job was to bring those two together and create a real department for merchandising. And when that took off, we realized we needed to take care of more licensing issues for these products, so I created the licensing division. After I laid down the foundation for the merchandising division, I handed things over to Matsuzuka-san who is now in charge of the merchandising division, and I took over the rights and property division. Then the whole music thing came up. So right now, I’m putting together a music division because it’s not a set division at the moment. So right now, I’m heading the rights and licensing division, and creating the music division. That’s where I’m at today in a nutshell.

OSV: So are you big a gamer or a big music fan?

Tsukushi: I’m a big fan of games, music, and of character merchandise, actually.

OSV: So what’s coming up from Square Enix other than what we talked about? Can you give us any exclusive announcements?

Tsukushi: So something that we’d like for you to look forward to is the Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Complete Reunion Soundtrack that has some additional compositions on there. And it’s coming to North America as well. So, Advent Children Complete just came out in North America as well to, so it will be great timing for fans who are enjoying the DVD version right now. As far as exclusive announcements, we can’t give any details at the moment, but we’re working on some stuff for iTunes, so keep an eye out for that.

OSV: Well, we’ll look forward to it. And thank you so much for your time. Great seeing you again, and great meeting you Shiraishi-san. Thanks again.

Tsukushi: Thank you.

[Special thanks to Square Enix’s Amelia Cantlay for translating.]

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