We’ve entered an era where anyone has the chance to go viral online and gain international fame. It’s outdated to believe that one needs the expertise and rigorous discipline to make music.
21-year-old artist imase taught himself how to make music from scratch in just a year, and his original songs on TikTok, which he made in his bedroom at home, has continued to do numbers. In December of 2021, imase released “Have a nice day” through a major label, marking his debut. His second release, “Touhikou,” became a number one hit on TikTok Hot Song Weekly Ranking on Billboard Japan. His songs are also doing the rounds on music streaming services. Who is imase, and what kind of thoughts are behind the artist who continues to put out melodies made to go viral? We asked him about how he came to debut on a major label and how he makes music.
The initial impetus to make viral songs
——You’ve only released two songs officially, but you’ve already garnered a big audience. I also heard that you began making music just a year ago.
imase: That’s correct. I started making music around November 2020. Until then, I couldn’t play any instruments, and it’s not like I studied music academically. At most, I liked to sing karaoke (laughs).
——Being in that situation, what made you want to make music?
imase: Many people on TikTok post their music. As I began watching them, I started to want to make my own too. I felt like even a beginner like myself could make music as shorts on TikTok. That’s how I got started.
——Even still, is music something you can make right away? I can’t help but feel like it must be arduous.
imase: At first, I would look up “Cool chord progressions” online (laughs). I made music by imitating the way producers made it. So in the early stages, I composed songs with just the piano and bass, very simple, and sang a melody I came up with on top of that.
——I see that you also post videos of yourself singing while playing your keyboard on TikTok. Did you learn to play it from scratch?
imase: I couldn’t play it at all at first, but I studied it on my own, and now I understand how chords work, too. I can’t play it that smoothly, but you can say I play the keyboard!
——What sort of software do you use to produce music?
imase: Logic. I started studying how to use it once I decided to do it.
——Isn’t it hard to use Logic?
imase: It was at first! I was like, “Where’s the piano?” I got a hang of it as I began using it.
——So you tried your best.
imase: I tried so hard (laughs). I looked into it online and found an article saying you should keep at it every day, even if it’s just for an hour. I didn’t know anything, but I stuck to it every day, little by little, and expanded my arsenal.
——Why did you decide to post your videos onto TikTok? I’m sure there were other platforms for you to pick, such as YouTube.
imase: For one, I got inspired to make music from TikTok, and I figured if my shorts did well, then a lot of people that could help me out would watch them. The bar’s too high for an amateur to come up with a full-length song right off the bat, and it’s not easy to arrange it on your own. TikTok’s characteristic is that it’s easy to gain views and reach an audience. So, I wanted to gather people that could help me out by being active on TikTok.
——Out of the people that did help you, is there anyone that’s closely involved in your work today?
imase: Kopaku-san, who draws the cover art and music videos for me, is one of them. Back when I only posted shorts, she liked them. I also enjoy the world that Kopaku-san’s illustrations live in, so I approached her upon releasing a full-length song. But we only met in person recently. I was glad I could talk to her at her solo exhibition.
——Your shorts went viral, and you were able to debut on a major label in December 2021, thanks to many people wanting to work with you. Do you have a strong desire to live your life as an artist?
imase: Until recently, I only focused on making music, so I didn’t have a strong desire to become an artist. My impulse back then might’ve been to make a song and go viral.
——I see, and you were able to make that happen. Did you envision yourself to be in the position you’re in now?
imase: No. Honestly, I was surprised that “Have a nice day” got so many views. I was like, “This many views?” I thought it would have a reasonable number of views, so I was shocked (laughs).
If you want to do something, do it right away
——I heard you explore how to make a viral melody upon producing music. Could you expand on that?
imase: I first posted a song called “n1ght,” which went viral. I sat down and thought about how that song did so well. The BPM of that song is about 90, so I did some research on my own, thinking that I could make a good song in that tempo with six to eight words in four bars. Of course, the conclusion I came to isn’t the definite answer, and some songs made with that formula don’t get views, so I continue studying what makes a song go viral daily. But I still have much to learn about what goes viral. It’s tough (laughs).
——Your lyrics speak to one’s emotions, just as much as your melodies, if not more. How do you write lyrics?
imase: In my case, I first solidify the melody and then add the lyrics later. When I try to write the words first, I can’t think of any interesting phrases. I think you can create a newer expression if you write lyrics like a haiku or tanka. I can put down more interesting words when I decide on the number of words in a melody, like eight.
——Where do you get inspiration for your lyrics?
imase: I’m not sure. But I watch many movies, so subtitles might be influential for me.
——What movies do you like?
imase: Whiplash and Interstellar were interesting. Everyone likes these, but I also like Léon: The Professional and The Shawshank Redemption. Maybe I get inspiration for lyrics from movies I enjoy.
——What about music? What are you into right now?
imase: Right now, I’d say “not ur friend” by Jeremy Zucker. It has that excitement in Whiplash. This song goes up and up toward the end and explodes. I like things that have hills and valleys. In that sense, I also love “FAMILIA” by millennium parade.
——Do you think those songs will influence the music you make?
imase: I think I’m influenced by them, fundamentally, but my goal this year is to create songs in many different genres. I recently got into alternative rock music like No Buses. I want to make songs that aren’t only chill.
——Do you have any other goals in terms of your music career?
imase: I make music because I want to go viral. So in terms of streaming stats, I want to get to 100 million!
——Lastly, who do you want your music to reach?
imase: This isn’t the same as reaching people, but many people who want to make music don’t do it because they lack experience like me. I want to tell them that they could do it too if they keep at it for a year! This applies to not just music. You might be able to do what you want if you try, regardless of your age. That’s what I want to say through my music.