Foreigners in business in Japan: Syn

November 21st, 2011By Category: Events, Work Tips

Nick Wood, CEO/Creative Director of Syn

When songwriter Nick Wood came to Japan for a month in 1988, he had no idea that his musical talents would quickly find a niche in Japan and that he would soon establish one of the first international music production companies in Japan.

Originally from Liverpool, Wood and good friend Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran fame had talked about starting a music company together (Wood was a roommate of Le Bon’s future wife-to-be Yasmin at that time). In 1991, their plan became a reality when Syn was formed.

Today, Syn is a full service creative studio with four divisions that produce and manage a variety of innovative projects and events. Clients range from fashion to phones, cars to candy bars. Syn has created manga for Apple, composed music for Coca-Cola and produced a pop-up store for G-Star Raw.

Japan Today visits Wood at the Syn office in Harajuku to hear more.

Take us back a bit to your pre-Japan days.

I studied music in Liverpool and went to London at 19. I first worked in a recording studio and got signed to Virgin Records as a songwriter. I had a band in those days. We had Ringo Starr’s son on drums. It was lots of fun. We had access to high-end recording studios and that helped me in terms of learning the high-end sound production approach. However, the band disbanded soon after.

What brought you to Japan?

I was dating a model who was invited to Japan for a month, so I came along. That was in 1988. I was still signed to Virgin, so I contacted the Virgin office here and said I could write songs and had demo tapes. I went to see them and played them my music and they were really impressed. They asked me to write a song and loaned me a keyboard and recorder. They placed one of my songs with a big singer named Koji Kikkawa. My girlfriend left and I stayed for another 3 months because I was encouraged by the opportunities presented to me. During those three months, I did music for a movie, wrote songs, and was offered all kinds of interesting things.

How did the idea to start your own company come about?

I went back to London and was there for two months, but nothing was happening. I went to see Simon Le Bon and said I was thinking of going back to Japan. I had known Simon since 1984 when his wife Yasmin was my roommate. We’ve been very good friends ever since. He suggested we do something together and we came up with the idea of forming a music company called Syn (Simon Yasmin Nick).

So I returned to Japan in early 1989. The song I had written was being used for a KDD commercial and I had two major artists using my songs. I went to a company that produces music for TV commercials and presented my work and they gave me a contract to be their in-house composer. Syn was formed in 1991.

What does Syn currently do?

We still do music – that is our DNA and focus. In 1999, I started to take an interest in other creative areas. We were asked to do an event for the launch of a Ford concept car. We did an elaborate production – the creative concept, music, live entertainment, location. I really enjoyed putting it together. So after that, we expanded our roster of services. We continue to do events to this day.

About five years ago, we started to get involved in brand work. People recognized that we had expertise in production, creative knowhow, knew about youth culture in Japan. A fashion brand called G-Star (denim clothing) asked me if I would start consulting for them about trends. They asked us to do launch events. So we were essentially acting as an agency for them.

How is the company organized?

We now have four divisions. Syn Studios is the original music production content recording division. Syn Songs is a music publishing record label and offers a whole host of services around music. Syn Entertainment basically does events and live entertainment for 5-star hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La and Conrad. We hire live entertainment for their bars, lobbies. The fourth division, Syn Create, which is probably the fastest-growing, does branding, marketing, graphic design, public relations and concept development.

Who are your clients?

There are so many. We’ve done work for Apple, Aston Martin, au/KDDI, Cartier, Chanel, the 5-star hotels I mentioned, Dom Perignon, Ford, G-Star Raw, Louis Vuitton, Marc Newson, Moët & Chandon, Moët Hennessy Diageo, Nike, Panasonic, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Shiseido, Sony, Starbucks Coffee, Universal Pictures, Victor Entertainment and many more. A lot of our clients are repeat and long-time customers.

Do you have much non-music work?

We are starting to get more. We recently won a contract for TRIA Beauty which is a hair laser removal device. That will be for a 30-minute shopping TV channel campaign.

Tell us about your team.

There are 15 of us. Depending on the event, we bring in experts for lighting, video, security, etc. Our core team includes account managers, line producers, creative producers, live entertainment specialists, including two full-time staff who manage the hotel accounts for live entertainment bookings.

Are you a hands-on CEO?

When I hire someone, I want them to do their job. I don’t want to micromanage them. I support them along the way.

What are you working on now?

I am in the middle of producing the anthem for Sydney’s New Year Eve countdown event. A company in Sydney called Imagination, whom we have worked with for 10 years, asked me to put together a creative team to help them win the business. And we won.

Do you travel much?

Every six weeks, I go to Los Angeles. We’re trying to make inroads into the TV and film business. As a songwriter, I want to do more of that. I have just finished the music for a Japanese film to be released on Dec 3, called “Railways 2.” I did the whole score, about an hour of music.

How did the March 11 disaster affect your business?

It pretty much wiped everything that was on our books. All the hotels stopped live music, many artists left town. There were not many TV commercials running for quite a few weeks. A lot of contracts were cancelled. We were booked to do live events and they got cancelled.

However, after August, things picked up. People want to move forward. We have won some new business and I think the year won’t end too badly for us.

What is a typical day for you?

I come here for meetings, then work at home in my own composing room at home. Other times, I will be visiting clients and attend launch events, if need be.

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

Related articles that may interest you


Search the Largest English Job Board in Japan.

Find a Job Now!

Find Your
in Japan

10,000’s of properties available today!