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Lessons from Japan - Think Bigger

During my time in Japan, I was privileged enough to have the chance to work with Norihiko Hibino, a composer and saxophonist best known for his work on the Metal Gear Solid series and the Bayonetta games. His studio, Gem Impact, creates audio from everything ranging from games to toys, but now he mainly works in the field of music therapy through Hibino Sound Therapy Lab, which he founded. Recently, he started holding weekend retreats in Niigata, where his company is currently headquartered, in an effort to help people better connect with themselves and feel better both physically and mentally. It was on one of these retreats that I learned a few lessons about how to be a better composer.

Out of the City

It started with an invitation. Norihiko asked me if I’d like to come to one of the retreats he was holding, partially so I could get a better idea of what the music therapy work he was doing was like, and partially because I was getting ready to leave Japan and needed a bit of a break. Er, a bit more of the second than the first, really. Turns out leaving is a lot harder than arriving. So I took the shinkansen up from Tokyo, met up with the doctor that would be leading some of the sessions during the retreat and off to the inn we went!

Picture of the Inn

I do have to say, the scenery around the area of Niigata I was in was absolutely beautiful. There was a nearby museum that includes a hall on the top floor where you can see the surrounding lagoon. The inn we stayed at was within walking distance of the museum.

The activities planned for us included:

  • A nature walk through the lagoon led by the doctor.

  • Breakfast and dinner made entirely from local ingredients (including this amazing chocolate-tasting dessert made entirely out of fruit – I may or may not have eaten 7 too many of them)

  • A boat ride through the lagoon, guided by people that have been out on the lagoon their entire lives

  • A concert

  • A meditation session

The highlight of the trip, though, was when I went with two of the people helping to run the retreat to make courtesy calls to a few of the local businesses. We met a chef who worked at a local onsen (hot spring). We went to a small tofu shop, run by the same family for generations, where we were able to try multi-colored tofu that I mistook for some kind of dessert at first. Each place we went to, we brought a small gift. Each place we went to had helped with the retreat in some way. It’s not very often that you get to meet all of the people involved in putting something like this together, but getting to see all of the smaller pieces of the event made me realize that the retreat Norihiko put together was doing more than just helping the people that signed up for it.

Think Bigger

Through this retreat, Norihiko wasn’t just promoting his own music in an interesting way, he was also helping to bring attention to his community and the local culture. The more he succeeds, the more he brings others up with him. Because I’ve had a lot of help getting to where I am now, something that I believe strongly in is finding a way to give back to others. The way he was able to help so many different people by doing something based in his skills as a musician was something I was genuinely impressed by. Looking at it from a business perspective, I thought it was a smart way of marketing by including his music as part of a product that is much easier to sell to people than a CD alone. Which got me thinking – what else can I be doing with my skills as a musician?

I wrote a bit before about taking the time to think about what skills you already have and brainstorming all of the different ways you can use them; that was mostly inspired by this experience. It can be easy to get caught up in the roles that we define for ourselves - for example, “I am a sound designer for games, therefore I can only do sound for games.” While it’s important to have a niche and know what makes us stand out, it can also be good to think occasionally about what we can do outside of that. Not to mention that it can also help direct more attention towards your main gig, as well! Whatever helps get your name out in front of other people and helps establish you as an expert in your field is definitely worth doing. This includes helping others, of course! Making a living from music or sound design is certainly challenging, but challenging ourselves and thinking bigger, we can find opportunities in the field we may never have dreamed of.

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