With all the misery and insecurity in the world caused primarily by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s hard not to despair at times. And many have turned to art and especially music to cure the soul in the darkest of times. The music scene in Tokyo took a pandemic hit, but there’s an up-and-coming community brewing a much-needed revival. TW recently sat down with the American-born director of the More Than Music (MTM) community, Justin Sachs, to discuss his business in Japan. Everything from motivation and music to how the ongoing pandemic has affected his burgeoning venture.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to create More Than Music?
I love to cook, practice martial arts and spend time with genuine people. It’s these hobbies that carried me to where I am today, as I never planned to build a company in the music industry.
I fell into the scene through the people I met at home parties my brother and I used to host. Our parties, centered around cooking international food, grew quickly into a regular forty-plus gathering through our networking and focus on inclusivity and great conversations with our guests. I met people from all walks of life including a number of musicians. Wanting to help them out on the organizational side I decided to put on an event.
My first ever show was one of the most stressful moments in my life. But everything worked out in the end and other musicians started to ask me to help them with events. This is what kicked off my love for the live music scene in Tokyo and everything grew from there.
What does the “More Than” pertain to in More Than Music?
I believe it represents community, care for all elements in the industry and an open-ended sense of possibilities.
Apart from the music, we focus on the experience that each person has and how everyone interacts with each other. The community and lasting friendships are strong elements of the company I want to make.
MTM is great for people looking to plug into an interesting and engaging diverse community. The inclusive atmosphere means you can come by yourself, make friends and engage our community.
We are also pushing other activities into our events, namely, Craft Beer Unplugged and Dinner and Show to enhance and vary the experiences we provide. We want to build a musical ecosystem and take care to balance the needs of artists, audiences, venues and support staff on an international scale.
More Than Music has a membership system that makes it stand out from other event organizers. Can you explain it in more detail?
Quite simply, people pay a monthly fee of ¥5,000 and then they can use codes to enter events for free or at a significant discount rate. It’s an event pass to all MTM’s events.
We curate our own events under a few different series names and have also been securing partnerships with venues and artists to add their events into the MTM event pass system. We are currently in our beta testing and have been operating weekly events which we organized. The membership is at ¥3,500 a month for anyone who signs on before the testing is finished in February 2022. Once testing concludes, we’ll be adding events put on by artists and venue partners to increase the value and opportunities for those who join by having two to three events a week to pick from.
What kind of music genre and artists perform in your events?
MTM has a taste-diverse quality assurance team that scouts new bands for the shows, the gates are open to any genre of music and artists of any size. We are looking for people who have a message to give and a great vibe that we can pass on to our guests.
We try to plan each show around good sound “pairing” in which the artists work well off each other with a complementary sound. We’ve worked with musical genres including folk, rock, blues, funk, electro and with artists such as Robert Taira Wilson, Yowamushi Club, TOW, The Shamisenists, MAKISOUL, Yellow Studs, Shamanz, LITE, Tokyo Sapiens, Josiah Hawley and Demsky.
Why did you choose Japan to start your company?
There is a plethora of incredible music in Tokyo and with one thousand venues operating nightly. Too many in fact, so they struggle to build a scene and rent out to those willing to pay, making it difficult for most people to find the music they enjoy.
One day they might have hard rock, the next, a wannabe-idol’s amateur performance for the sake of their parents. There is no consistent scene or character for any of these venues.
By curating a music-first mentality, we want to build an audience by being the guide for those in search of quality music and events, and then put that audience in front of the bands that deserve to be seen.
What kind of effect has the pandemic had on your company? And what did you do to work with and around it?
Simply put, the pandemic was soul-crushing. At the end of 2019, I had just finished my previous employment to go all-in on More Than Music. But we had to stop all events and lost nearly all of our income from the last eighteen months. The twenty-four event relaunch scheme from January to March was canceled in its entirety.
On top of that, our European tour was canceled. The final nail in the coffin was when, despite our efforts, aid from lawyers and accountants and legitimate standing, the Japanese government chose not to accept our application for financial aid for businesses. We made decisions based on the expectation we were receiving those funds.
Our momentum suffered greatly and it decimated my savings. And while things are looking promising now, we are walking a very fine line to avoid bankruptcy.
Not to be defeated by bad news, I set to work using that time to do some serious admin for the company and the visas. I also managed to get a website up which helped to structure future plans.
What keeps you motivated to keep going with this project?
The company you keep is more important than the job that you do and that is especially true in my case. I’m surrounded by such hardworking and great people from all walks of life.
When I take a step back and look around and see a room full of people enjoying themselves, connecting to new people, dancing, and laughing, I feel good for playing my part in making that happen and knowing that their joy fuels the artist’s ability to grow. It’s my dream to have More Than Music be the reason some of them go pro.
MTM has catalyzed band reunions, friendships and even marriages and I am proud of the part I played in that.
What’s next for More Than Music in 2022?
We’re excited for what’s to come in 2022. As I mentioned, we’re planning to increase event options to two to three events a week. I’m also looking to add a monthly dinner and show event to our repertoire, returning to our roots in cooking and music social events.
We are planning to host our very first festival in September at Baird Beer Brewery. The scene is in a wooded area overlooking a beautiful river.
Eventually, we hope to diversify our venues to planetariums, museums, and more.
All photos by Wahei Nakamura, courtesy of More Than Music