LDH – it stands for Love + Dream + Happiness, since you ask – is a Japanese creative artist management group, which has been striking some interesting deals with brands.

At the Cannes Lions conference today, some of its key figures – including artists Afrojack and Verbal as well as Beats Electronics president Luke Wood – talked about its strategy. Tetsuya Honda, CEO of BlueCurrent Japan, moderated.

LDH was founded by a dancer called Hiro, who is now the chairman and chief creative officer of the company, explained Verbal. He and some collaborators came up with a concept of a singing and dancing group called Exile, which started in 2001 as a six-person group, before ultimately expanding to 19. In 2008, they launched Exile The Second, then the J Soul Brothers III as a third generation in 2010, and Jr. Exile in 2011.

“When you’re in Exile, you keep that name: it’s like ASAP Rocky And when you do, you don’t necessarily dance forever, but you take that name and do other crafts, and the company actually helps you develop different ideas,” he said. “And at some point you graduate from the group.”

LDH puts on more than 200 live shows a year, selling more than 2m tickets: J. Soul Brothers alone sold more than 1.8m tickets in Japan in 2017. LDH now has 1.5 million paying fan-club subscribers: “500,000 of which pay approximately 40 bucks a year, and then the million pay about three to five dollars,” said Verbal, before outlining LDH’s business covering music, merchandise, films, television, magazines, books through to dancing schools, restaurants and fitness gyms.

“Recently they did a project where they had a drama which evolved into a movie, where all the cast members, or the majority, are LDH artists. And they went on to do a soundtrack based on the movie, and that soundtrack then became a tour, and that obviously then became merch,” said Verbal.

“It’s a little different in Japan than in the rest of the world,” he added. “Japan to this day still sells a million copies of physical CDs. There’s artists like that. We still have Tower Records in Tokyo where they sell CDs and cassettes and vinyl… That made Japan a very unique culture on its own… Japan created its own sound. It’s very exclusive and very catered towards the Japanese audiences. But it doesn’t necessarily work outside Japan. So LDH is developing new acts and new content to try to venture out overseas.”

He reiterated that the structure of J-Pop songs is very unique. “There’s a certain trigger to the Japanese audiences… There’s no nuances: it’s about the hooks and the melody in Japan, and there’s a certain sequence to a song that people feel comfortable with. You can push envelopes, but there’s that format that people feel comfortable with.”

Afrojack talked about how he works with LDH, praising the company’s ability to sell tickets to its domestic audience. “They sell 2.4m tickets just in Japan. Most people don’t sell 2.4m tickets around the world!” he said, before criticising the music industry in the west. “Everyone’s so focused on the corporate stuff, the business side and the finance side. The major-label culture has completely taken over Europe, America and even South America. But I think implementing this structure [LDH’s way of doing things] into our system is going to make a lot of artists happier.”

Wood talked about how Beats Electronics worked with LDH in 2017 on a specific campaign, called ‘Show Your Color’ featuring the members of an LDH group called E-girls.

“If you did a campaign with Lil Wayne in the west for Beats, you would assume maybe you would translate that to doing a campaign with a rapper in Japan, but it wouldn’t have the same effect. It’s a different market, hip-hop’s not as big in Japan as it is in the United States. It’s a different audience,” said Verbal.  Hence choosing a J-Pop girl group for this campaign.

“I’ve been with Beats for a decade… and we come from the music business. We look at it like going in the studio. You work with producers and talent that you connect with and have chemistry with. And we had chemistry with LDH,” said Wood. “They focus on the slow building [careers of the stars] and it’s a very specific pedagogy: it’s as much about education as it’s about entertainment.”

The conversation moved on to LDH’s methodologies, and its ‘spiral’ model of developing creative concepts (and, indeed, talent), testing them live and then reacting to feedback to improve. “It’s  a very simple system not just for artist development but for product development, everything,” said Afrojack.

“When you help develop someone’s dream, and you’re always there as a mentor, you’re not doing it for efficiency. You’re doing it to make magic happen,” added Verbal. “It’s kinda like a gamble, but I feel with LDH this investment of time and energy for everyone to be able to do what they want to do has been successful to this point. We’ve been able to develop artists with unique characteristics… It’s been working for us.” In other words: it may not seem ‘efficient’, but it works.

“Being successful is always about two things: being really good and being lucky. LDH has been really good, and now it’s also being lucky,” added Wood. “If you can harness creative culture in a real way… then you’re going to have success. It is traditionally inefficient, but what it is efficient for is how people now move and operate within the world.”

The session ended with one of LDH’s dance teams – the Samurais – showing off the kind of live experience that the company likes to put on:

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