So You Want To: Become A Visual Kei Musician
So, you want to become a Visual Kei
artist yourself? Are you absolutely insane? Do you have any idea of what you will sacrifice to pursue this as an artistic style? Please, consider everything that you will read here and, more importantly, elsewhere before you do. It really is a serious life decision and one that will restrict your opportunities and lead to potential mockery and discrimination.
Or are you a fan who wants to begin attending live shows in the US or in Japan and/or becoming more involved in the fandom side? While this is far less of a life-changing, intentionally marginalizing decision (especially if you don't do major appearance changes, you do
keep your fandom as a not Serious Business
hobby, and do not ever
become a groupie or connected to a bandperson), the fandom side does have its own issues and problems, which will be addressed later on.
This page will be split into two sections - one for beginning artists and one for new fans. You are expected to check out this link
for definitions of terms and to have read the definition of types of Visual Kei
on the main page - those will not be reiterated here in their entirety, though some things have been copied over.
Aspiring Visual Kei Artists - Getting started
This section for artists is specifically aimed at non-Japanese Visual Kei
artists - there are far better resources than this for native Japanese speakers and readers, including the scene in Japan itself. This is kind of a rough outline at going from "I really like Visual Kei
" to "I want to be a Visual Kei artist for myself," for those who like the style but are not native Japanese speakers (yet or who don't plan on intensive language study at least at the time)
- Understand what Visual Kei is. Assuming that you have gotten to the point of wanting to become an artist in the genre, you should know the basics about it: the major bands that began it and continued it, where it differs and is the same as the Western Punk Rock and Heavy Metal scenes that inspired and continue to inspire it - and that now draw inspiration back from it for themselves, major terms in Japanese and English and their meaning. You should also have an understanding of Japanese culture and Visual Kei subculture both, if not the language (though language is very important too, language issues have fairly simple workarounds. Major cultural faux pas, not so much.)
- Learn Japanese and/or trust your translations/translator. Visual Kei originally developed in Japan and language learning will be very helpful for you, especially if you ever plan to play gigs there or write lyrics in the language. That said, it is not essential to being a Visual Kei artist to speak Japanese fluently - if you do not, do be sure to have trusted friends that do (ideally including native-level speakers) and to use valid sources. If you don't speak Japanese, you must show your work on doing the research re culture and keeping up with translations - and if someone who is a native speaker corrects you or even teases you, accept that and fix your mistake with proper apologies.
- Do not use "fangirl Japanese." If you can't speak it, don't try to write lyrics in it. Yes, Japanese Visual Kei artists often use "Blind Idiot" Translation and Gratuitous English. That said, as a non-Japanese Visual Kei artist writing in Gratuitous Japanese, you won't come across as the mirror image of this and be embraced by the Japanese - you will instead be seen as not having done your homework and at the very best an insulting parody of real Visual Kei, as well as a Fan Boy or Fangirl. This is arguably one of the worst mistakes you can make as an artist. In short, if your lyrics contain "sakura," "kawaii," "baka," or anything similar, this is bad writing and you need to rewrite.
- Androgyny is an important part of Visual Kei. See what I said above about potentially opening oneself to discrimination and mockery above? This is one point (there are more) where Visual Kei severely differs from most mainstream societies as a subculture, at least as of the point of this writing. In Visual Kei, androgyny in dress and mannerisms is affected by pretty much everyone - male, female, non-binary, gay, bisexual, and straight. It is not seen as, in and of itself, an expression of one's sexuality underneath the makeup and clothes and costuming - what one is is not necessarily what one acts and dresses as, though it can actually be as well. That said, mainstream society may well act out in a homophobic manner toward you for being androgynous - even if you are straight so you need to understand that this is sadly a possibility and prepare for it - as well as understand that it is an assumed risk of being a Visual Kei artist.
- An even more important part of Visual Kei is individual and personal freedom. By choosing to identify with the genre, you are making a statement - much as those who identify as punks and metal artists are doing. The statement you are making in Visual Kei is that you are using your appearance and style as an intentionally constructed and intentionally over the top artistic creation in order to express your view that you are free to create your own self and be yourself. You must keep this in mind, especially when choosing a genre or instrument and deciding whether or not to stay in or go with its conventions entirely or not and in quite a few other situations. This also brings up another point...
- You should decide at this point, before you pick a genre or instrument or anything, as a matter of fact, before you do anything else, whether you will choose to split your stage persona and Real Life, or you will not split persona and Real Life. Both are equally valid choices and have pros and cons connected to them. Whatever anyone may say, this is not a decision that makes anyone on either side of the decision a better or worse person or artist - it is strictly a personal preference of how you choose to live your own life, and the first way of expressing yourself.
- Keeping a firm line drawn between stage persona and Real Life is a decision that states that you are not bound to the lifestyle of Visual Kei any more than you are to any other system or lifestyle. You put it on when you go on stage, you take it off once you're out of the venue or done with the photoshoot or back in a Real Life situation. Depending on some stage personas, this is actually mandatory - if your stage persona is an Ax-Crazy murderer, being it in Real Life would not be cool. Also, this is done by most young men in Japanese VK for an obvious reason - it's easier to transition back into normal life if music doesn't work out for you. The downside is that those who take this path, for good or for ill, are often seen as "posers" or "temporary" by other artists as well as being seen as "living a double life" by mainstream society.
- Blending or entirely merging stage persona and Real Life is a decision that states that you are not bound to mainstream culture and have chosen to make yourself a statement of difference from it. It is saying "I do what I want, and if you don't like it, you know what you can do." It's a decision of intentional alienation, much as dressing punk is. It will restrict your employment (and possibly friendship and relationship possibilities) in Real Life - you will be seen as as much of a freak as you choose to make yourself, and some people may be very alarmed or upset by this - plus it is much harder to become "normal" again, especially after affecting behaviors for years or after getting tattoos, for example. That said, it is far easier to generate buzz and "celebrity" about yourself when your personality is "on" all of the time, you don't have to worry about being seen as living a double life, and you will possibly have more ready acceptance among other artists - though this is not a sure thing. Also, one other good point about blending or merging is that you have truly made your persona "you" and you are being what you desire.
Aspiring Visual Kei Artists - selecting subgenre
- Now that that's over with, it's time to pick your subgenre! Each has its own pros and cons, so this is just bare-bones suggestions and facts here - that can be disregarded if you don't agree with them, though it's probably a good idea to examine why you disagree - e.g. are you insisting on going ahead with Angura as your subgenre despite knowing no Japanese because you want to walk around in a stereotypical kimono, or do you really find inspiration in Angura and would you be willing to learn more and work harder at being less of a stereotype? These are listed alphabetically, not in any order of preference.
- Angura Kei: based on traditional Japanese culture in style and lyrics, but adapted to Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Tends to have a strong connection to Japanese conservatism and "the old ways," Non-Japanese Visual Kei artists attempting it may look like a stereotypical otaku Fan Boy or Fangirl practicing Gratuitous Japanese. To do it right costs a lot of money and requires a high level of Japanese language and cultural skill. To do it wrong ensures you'll be side gig at the local anime club.
- Eroguro Kei is short for "Erotic Grotesque." and is best compared to Alice Cooper + Marilyn Manson Up to Eleven and keeping on going to Crossing the Line Twice. Beyond that, it is unwelcome for discussion here.
- Advised if: You like one or all forms of extreme music i.e. extreme metal subgenres such as Black Metal, Death Metal, Metalcore / Deathcore, Grindcore, Thrash Metal, as well as extreme non-metal subgenres such as noise or Industrial but are willing to put a different spin on it. You aren't afraid and/or willing to take your musical skills Up to Eleven. You have a love for Gorn, Nightmare Fuel, and Nausea Fuel, and not many triggers (if any at all). You are very angry and hateful (or your stage personas are) and capable to take the hatred and anger of fans and society as well as able to dish out your own - you have a very thick skin. Your budget is fairly solid - props and staging will take far more than makeup and hair per se in this subgenre. You're either a manly, well-built Bishōnen / Bifauxnen, a sexy faux-lady / faux-dude or better yet, a straight-up Mr. Fanservice / Ms. Fanservice. You like bands like mid-career Dir En Grey, The Gazette and Nega.
- Probably not a good idea if: You are disgusted with any or all of the above, or even slightly reserved or prudish about sex/violence and doing sexual/violent things. You or your band people have triggers or would be tempted to act out in real sexual violence. You don't have a thick skin and can't deal with repeated online Flame War and lots and lots of haters from within and outside Visual Kei (concerned parents included). You aren't very good with stagecraft (props and such) and know no one who is and/or you don't have the budget for it.
- Kote Kei is generally characterised by incredibly striking clothing and hair. It comes in two forms, black kei which is about being harder, faster and darker, and white kei which is softer, more melodic and more structured. It's one of the oldest forms of Visual Kei, arguably the direct descendant of Visual Shock. Hard Rock and Heavy Metal are again the standards, but some softer rock bands can fit in here. Arguably the most accessible form both culturally and financially.
- Advised if: You have a limited budget (putting together an outfit that qualifies can be done for under $50 USD if you know when and where to shop). You like elaborate hair. You play or like any type of rock or metal at all, or you vary wildly in styles. You don't speak Japanese well or at all, or you do but don't want to go Angura for other reasons. You want the most latitude to work within without switching subgenres. You like bands like early Dir En Grey, Galneryus, hide's solo work, Luna Sea, early The Gazette, Matenrou Opera, or modern X Japan.
- Probably not a good idea if: A more specific genre would fit you or your band better. You have a happy, cheerful, generally poppy sound. You have an aversion to permanent hair dyes or a disinterest in doing different or elaborate hair styles. You see it as the "catch-all" of Visual Kei. You want to be seen as more specifically "Japanese" than be mistaken for a punk rocker or metalhead by people unaware of the subculture.
- Lolita Kei is a far more Gothic and feminine style than the others. It is stylistically based around the Lolita style of dress - and the musical style is usually Classical Music, soft rock, Goth Rock, Power Metal, or Progressive Metal. Its costumes are second in elaborateness and cost only to Angura above.
- Advised if: You have a [very extensive budget because costuming for both men and women is incredibly expensive, especially if you go with brand styles, which you will generally be expected to do to some extent. You LOVE elaborate hair, makeup, and props alike. You are far more reserved sexually - Lolita bands, despite the implications of their name to readers of a certain book, are the most removed from actual sexuality in Visual Kei, not even being expected to do fanservice or be touched in some cases. You want the elaborateness and high formality of Angura but you can't speak Japanese well or well enough. You love bands such as Malice Mizer, Moi Dix Mois, and Versailles.
- Probably not a good idea if: You have a limited budget due to cost. You don't have a "classic" sound or a Renaissance or Victorian style aesthetic or any interest in it. You can't do over the top hair, costuming, makeup, and props. You want to look more like a Bifauxnen or Bishōnen than a princess. You can't play your instrument in a dress. You tend more toward sleaze than formality. You and your band don't want to be mistaken for Nightwish, Lacuna Coil or Evanescence worshippers. You don't want to be seen as a Mana wannabe. You don't want to become bait for Lolicon.
- Nagoya Kei "is defined by a gloomy, dark or harsh sound, and usually grim visuals. Darker than Lolita and less in-your-face than Eroguro, black is very much a favoured colour, and growled or barked vocals are common. There tends to be less importance placed on visuals in this subgenre than in others." It's basically a mid-ranged Heavy Metal/Hardcore Punk crossover that is harsher (and less appearance-intensive) than most Kote Kei bands, yet not going as far as Eroguro in being harsher.
- Advised if: You really don't care that much about visuals or costuming, and would rather just dress as a goth or in a lot of black. You have a limited budget, because this is the style that's easiest on a budget. You need to keep your hair a normal color. Your vocalist can growl, bark, and scream, as well as sing cleanly. You want to do Eroguro, but some of its tropes and styles make you think that the Gory Discretion Shot is better sometimes as opposed to Eroguro's Too Much Information. Your band plays heavy metal or hardcore punk. You and your band have a definite split between stage persona and Real Life (because it's a lot easier to blend in normally than with, say, the blue and green hair of a Kote Kei artist)
- Probably not a good idea if: Your vocalist is incapable of growling or screaming. You don't want to do toned-down costumes at all. You'd rather do one of the other genres. You're trying to stand out as a lifestyle VK artist.
- Oshare Kei is "characterized by a more cheerful sound and brighter aesthetics." It is Lighter and Softer brought to Visual Kei, as a backlash against the "darkness" and "grimness" of other subgenres. Unfortunately, this has earned it kind of The Scrappy status to other subgenres than itself.
- Advised if: You find the darkness and depressing themes found in other parts of Visual Kei bothersome and want to do something that is happy, cheerful, and bright. Your style is NOT Hard Rock or Heavy Metal (neither are welcome at all in Oshare) but rather pop-punk, happy upbeat dance style electronica, hip-hop, or soft rock. You like bright colors and looking as if you walked out of a quilting bee. You don't mind being the target of a very large Hatedom and unlike in the case of Eroguro, unable to fight back against it at all because it's not cute or positive to do so. You have a mid-range budget - Oshare is not as expensive as Angura or Eroguro or Lolita, but it isn't as cheap as Kote or Nagoya - especially once instruments are counted in, if you need synths or laptops for the dance side.
- Probably not a good idea if: Anyone in the band is from another subgenre or generally opposed to the idea of Oshare Kei. You like other styles. You (or any of your bandmates) play Hard Rock or Heavy Metal. You like darker styles or anything else. You are choosing Oshare for any reason other than liking it or your music falling into it.
- Visual Shock / Veteran Kei is the first kind of Visual Kei to exist and the parent of all of the genres mentioned so far. Most of it developed into or passed the torch, so to speak, into Kote Kei and Neo-Visual Shock. Generally, if you try for this, since you obviously weren't one of the bands that started with it, you'll be seen as a Kote Kei band. That said, cover bands can fall here, and if your band is uniquely strange enough to be outside of all other genres and draws on The Eighties look for inspiration, you may well end up being labeled as "Neo-Visual", if not a revival of Hair Metal, or both.
- Advised if: You deeply love the style of early Visual Shock and very early Visual Kei. You're a fan of old-school Power Metal, Speed Metal or Thrash Metal. You are doing a cover band or tribute band to 87-92 X Japan, COLOR, Tokyo Yankees, to the other pre-1994 Extasy Records bands, SEIKIMA-II, 85-93 BUCK-TICK, to early-mid-1990s artists such as TM Revolution, Luna Sea, early Malice Mizer, to Neo-Visual artists such as Miyavi, BORN, Phantasmagoria, Megaromania, or similar. You like the sound from the classic era, or the looks, and you want to set yourself apart from Kote Kei. You're not doing a cover band, necessarily, but you are doing something inspired by the era and the looks. You have a mid-range budget; Visual Shock is only costlier than Kote kei by a very small margin.
- Probably not a good idea if: Your style could be seen as Kote Kei and you're cool with being seen as from that subgenre. You don't specifically love the 80s/90s/early 2000s and don't want to be mistaken for Hair Metal. You're not doing a direct tribute/cover band of anything from the era. You don't want to be viewed as another Atsushi Sakurai, Yoshiki or hide clone. You have a limited budget and could do Nagoya Kei.
- Post-Visual Kei is an alternative, unorthodox take on Visual Kei. The concept is a little tough to pin down, but generally, post-kei artists seek to dissociate themselves from the scene's standards, either as a form of aversion/subversion of common VK tropes or an attempt to reach a wider audience. Musically, post-Visual groups play Alternative Rock, Alternative Metal, Nu Metal, Progressive Metal, or other "thinking man's" musical styles. The visuals and ideologies follow the same nonstandard approach; some artists even go as far as setting their own standards to show off their individuality.
- Advised if: You prefer to create your own sound by combining different genres together, and have enough musical talent to actually do so. You want to be Crazy Awesome. You are capable of doing bizarre things with your voice or instrument playing. You're a metalhead/rocker who sees Visual Kei as something "cool" and artistic, but can't be fully involved/don't want to have major involvements with the subculture for reasons such as: a) You like the Visual Kei image but prefer to be viewed as a non-VK artist, b) You want to be Visual Kei but would prefer to appeal more to your hardcore rocker/metalhead friends/fans/whatsoever, c) You want to be a Visual Kei artist that appeals to Visual Kei fans but you want to sport a different image from what they would expect, or d) You're only in it for the art; you're averse to or even loathe Visual Kei in general but your style shows some Visual Kei influences and/or you are okay with a little quirkiness in appearance (think Sigh or Loudness). You are willing to undergo periodic (often annual) style changes. You have a limited budget but don't want to do Nagoya Kei, or an unstable budget that doesn't allow you to stick to a specific style. You don't want to be seen as Camp Gay. You like bands like L Arc En Ciel, Loudness, Yousei Teikoku, Galneryus or modern Dir En Grey, and/or you don't like many Japanese bands at all.
- Probably not a good idea if: You are afraid to be a potential target of haters, trolls, purists and critics - because post-Visual artists are stereotyped as genre-loathing musical rebels or musicians that pander to "Hot Topic kiddies", post-VK is a highly controversial subgenre that is most often the subject of much discussion. You are a VK purist yourself. You or your bandmates are not into/unable to play experimental music. You have a budget large and stable enough for you to do other styles. You don't want to do any Genre-Busting whatsoever. You want to follow the VK lifestyle to the very core: you don't want to be "normal", would prefer to take your stage persona offstage, and accept VK as a way of life - you see it as more than just an art form. You want to appeal exclusively to VK fans. You don't want to be seen as a "sellout" or an "Emo VK wannabe". You don't want to regularly change your Visual style or prefer to stick with one image.
- Digital Kei is a rather new Visual subgenre that emphasizes the more futuristic and cyberpunk-esque side of Visual Kei. Being a relatively unbuilt genre, not much is known about it at present, but generally, bands and musicians in the sub-scene have a more electronic slant and a distinctive rave culture-inspired aesthetic.
- Advised if: You're a big fan of Electronic Music styles such as trance, chiptune, dubstep, house music, eurobeat, industrial, and similar. You're a fan of cyberpunk and you want to fuse its tropes with Visual Kei. You and/or your band members are skilled composers who think Everything Is an Instrument and are not afraid to use any and all music/making tools to write songs. You dislike Oshare kei but still want to make danceable rock or metal music. You are a DJ/solo artist or your band does not have a full lineup, in which case you would want to fill in their slots with virtual band members - bonus points if you're a big fan of Vocaloid and you're both good in using the software and creating animated clips of your favorite characters. You have a very big budget that will be spent more on laptops, software, synthesizers, turntables, projectors, lasers, strobe lights and other electronic gadgets than hair, clothes and accessories; a huge portion of which goes into maintenance, software updates and similar. You're a fan of bands and artists such as Blood Stain Child, m.o.v.e., TM Revolution, modern The Gazette, Yuyoyuppe, and other similar artists.
- Probably not a good idea if: You and your band can easily be seen as Oshare instead of Digital kei. You don't like Vocaloid/virtual artists and/or see them as "fake musicians". You want to be a more "visible" musician instead of taking on the DJ/background musician role. You are averse to anything electronic/futuristic. You want to do more traditional rock/metal/pop music. You don't want to be bashed for copying Celldweller or Blue Stahli. You don't have a budget large enough for purchasing appliances and gadgets. You are not too skilled in programming/DJ work.
Aspiring Visual Kei Artists - instruments and positions in relation to Visual Kei
- Now that you've had a look at the genres, the next thing to have a look at is instruments and positions. The golden rule here is play what you know best - if you've drummed since ten or you've played piano since three, that's what you want to go with because it's what you know. The reason for listing instruments and positions and what they normally mean and do in Visual Kei is to make it easier for those who are either multiinstrumentalists or first beginning to learn. Note that ease of learning will NOT be listed, because it varies between people - for one person, learning guitar might be as simple as breathing, whereas for another it would be the most difficult to learn.
- These roles will generally be split into central and supporting roles. Central roles are the ones seen the most and likely to become the Face of the Band or highly regarded, supporting roles are those that make the music and band hold together but are likely to be passed over because a Lead Bassist hanging off the stage with his shirt off and letting the Fangirl touch him will usually be far more remembered than a rhythm guitarist holding together the song, for example. That said, what is central and supporting can be averted, subverted, and inverted all over the place. For example, drums and keyboard are generally supporting roles, but one of the central founders of Visual Kei as a genre and most recognized figures in Visual Kei is a drummer and pianist.
- Vocals The vocalist is most likely to be The Face Of The Band. (Though this can sometimes be a Subverted Trope depending on who started the band (for example, if the drummer started the band and is aggressive enough with self-promotion, he can be The Face Of The Band, or if that cute and charismatic bassist becomes the most popular, he or she can become the Lead Bassist and The Face Of The Band). Generally, since the vocalist doesn't have an instrument occupying his or her hands, he or she is expected to do the most fan interaction including Fanservice, look fairly attractive and be fairly capable of getting to any point of the stage at any time, and have some of the most elaborate appearance work and/or costuming. He or she will generally be one of the more popular people - introverts shouldn't consider this role.
- Examples of Japanese Visual Kei singers: Demon Kogure (SEIKIMA-II), Gackt (Malice Mizer and solo), Kamijo (Versailles), Kyo (Dir En Grey), Sono (Matenrou Opera), Toshi (X Japan), Umemura (Tokyo Yankees), Yama-B (ex-Galneryus), Takanori Nishikawa (T.M. Revolution and Abingdon Boys School)
- Examples of non-Japanese Visual Kei singers: Kairu (solo, along with guitar), Seba Serafina (DNR), Sophia (Blood Stain Child), SEIKE (SEREMEDY).
- Cost: Fairly low unless health problems hit - all you need is your voice (and space to practice and work with it).
- Health: Depending on how careful you are at lifestyle and how carefully you treat your throat and voice (and depending on luck as well), generally, the role least likely to leave one with longterm health problems. There's a reason why singers tend to be the longest active in Visual Kei - that is because, barring vocal polyps or other stress injuries to the throat (or hearing injuries such as deafness or ruptured eardrums since you cannot wear ear protection live, career-ending or life-threatening career-related injuries tend to be few.
- Notability: Everyone will usually remember the singer's name unless one of the subversions hits or people forget the band entirely, and it's one of the most notable roles of the band.
- Comments: Probably the most accessible role in Visual Kei and the least, all at the same time. If you can sing at all, you can be a vocalist (and Visual Kei has had quite a few outright crappy vocalists as well as greats) - yet as the vocal you're also expected to have the appearance to match, which may be an issue in many ways, and you are one of the people that will be thought of most, for good or ill.
- Lead Guitar In Visual Kei, the lead guitarist is a very important role, mostly because of set precedent (many of Visual Kei's legends were or are lead guitarists). It is sometimes shared with vocal (e.g. you are playing lead guitar as well as being the primary singer, or you have a vocalist but are expected to be the backing vocal). The lead guitarist's appearance and style and stage manner is almost as important as the vocalist's - in regard to costuming and makeup, if not in direct fan interaction, though if you're incapable of/not desiring of playing and interacting with fans at the same time, you might want to consider rhythm guitar, keyboardist/synth, or programmer instead. This role basically requires a fair level of guitar skill combined with what is required of vocals - fan interaction, being "on point," and specific style.
- Examples of Japanese Visual Kei lead guitarists: hide (X Japan and solo), Syu (Galneryus), Kiwamu Kai (BLOOD and solo), Luke Takamura (SEIKIMA-II), Gackt (in his solo career, at points, as vocal and lead guitar), Hizaki (Versailles), Kaoru (Dir En Grey), Aiji (LM.C), Miyavi (ex-Due le Quartz)
- Examples of non-Japanese Visual Kei lead guitarists: Kairu (as listed above), Marty Friedman (proving one can go into VK from other genres), Yohio (SEREMEDY), Gabriel Tanaka.
- Cost: Depending on how much you wish to invest in it. Can remain fairly mid-range, but once you begin to get into customized guitars the prices get far higher. Same for amps, pedals, and other accessories. If you have time and the needed skills, you can keep costs down and show your creativity by learning to customize for yourself - and possibly develop a side business in doing so.
- Health: You can develop severe neck and back pain if you wear/hold your guitar in the wrong way and you will be standing for the majority of most shows. Repetitive stress injuries can be common if you don't know how to play well, but generally, guitar players are aside vocalists for lack of career-related career-ending injuries. Same as for vocals - if you avoid the worst excesses, you can expect to be performing many years, and sometimes longer than a vocalist would because your appearance matters slightly less.
- Notability: Be good, be unique, and your name will become history. That said, this is one of the most competitive places in visual kei to make your mark - on the Japanese side, at least, it's crowded with so many who are just that good.
- Comments: If you can play guitar and you can do so while facing tons of distractions and doing other things at the same time, go for lead guitarist, especially if you're not having to personally front the cost for your instruments and accessories. That said, if you are extremely introverted or easily distracted from your instrument, or still learning it, it may not be the best idea.
- Rhythm Guitar or Second Guitar is the guitar position for the more introverted or easily distracted guitarist, and/or the one who wants to focus on his or her playing as opposed to the Fanservice or being the main visuals. In most Visual Kei bands with a two-guitarist setup (rather than one guitarist), the rhythm guitarist is there to be the most technical player (aside from the drummer) and chosen for technical guitar skill, because it is his or her place to contribute more musically than visually.
- Examples of Japanese Visual Kei rhythm guitarists: Pata (X Japan), Die (Dir En Grey), Teru (Versailles).
- Examples of non-Japanese Visual Kei rhythm guitarists:
- Cost: Same as for lead guitar above since it is playing guitar, but possibly less due to less need for showy or customized equipment.
- Health: Same as for lead guitar above since it's playing guitar.
- Notability: This is the saddest thing. Rhythm guitarists, despite being one of the backbones of the band along with the drummer, tend to be even *less* noticed in Visual Kei than most drummers. To stand out as a rhythm guitarist in VK by name beyond "oh that guy/that girl", you generally have to be in a major band AND have a few solos or a few moments where you take lead.
- Comments: It's actually a very good role - but it's a very understated one. You are, as stated, one of the backbones of your band as a rhythm guitarist. Unfortunately, unless you step into lead for the occasional solo or do something else to stand out, you're support. That said, it's a great role for the introverted and those whose concentration or skill is broken by, say, a screaming fangirl grabbing for the guitar or a photographer's flash going off in your eyes.
- Bass: Bass in Visual Kei is a very special role. Bassists in Visual Kei are generally *not* chosen for technical skill so much as charisma and appearance - traditionally, in Visual Kei, the role of bass is chosen more for "who is the biggest groupie bait" rather than "who can play bass the absolute best." That said, it also makes the role of bass one of the best places to be a breakout star in Visual Kei because if you can bring the talent as well as the looks, the charisma, and the fanservice, you are a ready-made legend. Where rhythm guitar is a musical support role, bass is generally the third part of the vocalist + lead guitar + bassist front stage triad, and therefore a visual and fanservice support role. This role requires quite a bit of extroversion, charisma, desire to engage in fanservice and interact with fans, for these reasons.
- Examples of Japanese Visual Kei bassists: The late Jasmine You (Versailles) and Taiji Sawada (X Japan, Loudness, solo) are often considered the most legendary Japanese Visual Kei bassists. That said, some others of note are Reita (Gazett E), Toshiya (Dir En Grey), Chirolyn (worked in Spread Beaver with hide, and with Gackt more recently, as well as solo)
- Examples of non-Japanese Visual Kei bassists: JENZiiH (SEREMEDY)
- Cost: Generally mid-range. You will have to spend more on costuming, makeup, hair, customized gear, etcetera - about as much as being the lead guitarist costs.
- Health: See guitarists. Similar problems, except add in accident risk (if you're hanging off the stage or running around it or twirling your bass or standing on top of the amps etcetera, you need to watch out). Your biggest risk though comes from sex, drugs, and rock and roll and the people in your lives (Japanese Visual Kei bassists have tended to die suspicious deaths to say the least)
- Notability: If you are talented as well as visually attractive, you are, as said, a legend ready to be made because in a role where talent is often not the top consideration. Instrumental skill and talent will make you unique and stand out amongst the crowd of "pretty but airheaded and unskilled groupie bait" for which bass is generally considered the dumping ground.
- Comments: Bass is a support role, except visual and fanservice support as opposed to musical support. That said, if you play bass in a skilled, talented way, you can combine this with the support role and become a very noticeable figure - see the Lead Bassist trope.
- Drums This is the role that arguably keeps a Visual Kei band, what with the emphasis on Hard Rock and Heavy Metal in most VK subgenres, together. It can be a support role, but if you're a drummer that leads the band and/or draws a fair amount of attention, it can very well be a central role right up there with vocals or lead guitar or bass. Along with the rhythm guitarist, it's the structure of the band, and a role that requires some level of technical skill - unlike a singer that forgets his words, you have the ability to make your band sound like it's crap with just a few mistakes. That said, the reverse is true too - you can make your band (or solo work) incredible.
- Examples of Japanese Visual Kei drummers: Yoshiki Hayashi (X Japan), Shinya (Luna Sea), Shinya (Dir En Grey), Kai (Gazett E), Yuki (Versailles).
- Examples of non-Japanese Visual Kei drummers:
- Cost: Lowest to start - you may not even need customized gear, and all you technically need is a drum kit. Possibly far higher later on with health costs counted in. But also, in the short term, somewhat mitigated in that your role is in demand in a lot of bands, Visual Kei or not, and that you can create beats and beat packages for sale as a sideline.
- Health: This is the role that is hardest on your body, especially if you did not learn how to play drums with proper style and/or you push yourself beyond your physical limits. Expect repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel - they come with the territory and age in it. Those who are really unlucky (or made major mistakes in caring for their health early on) may develop severe neck and back injuries. Depending on how vigorous your performances are/how much you work out outside of them/how much you eat, obesity may become an issue as well, or alternately, near-anorexic malnutrition can be.
- Notability: Can vary wildly. You can become the biggest rockstar of all in your local scene or even the world, or you can blend in quietly in the background keeping the bands you're in together. It's all up to you and to your luck and circumstances.
- Comments: Drums are generally a support role, but can be a central role as well. If you're a skilled drummer, it's worth considering despite the major health downsides, because it's one that's often in demand - and it's one where you can, technically, play without much crossover language skill or even much attention to your style - though if you DO have those, see bass - bringing something unusual to a role often makes you stand out.
- Keyboard/Piano: Another support role. This one does require skill: you should be able to play keyboard or piano well before considering it. Also, it may be a better solo role than a band role, though some bands have used it to great effect: X Japan, Galneryus, and Blood are three that have in Japanese VK.
- Examples of Japanese Visual Kei keyboardists/pianists: Yoshiki Hayashi (X Japan, along with drums), Yuhki/Yuuki (Galneryus), Die (ex. hide with Spread Beaver, currently Ra:IN and Kiss The World).
- Examples of non-Japanese Visual Kei keyboardists/pianists:
- Cost: Depending on how much you invest in your keyboard/piano and its peripherals, can go from midrange to extremely high. Once you need synths and laptops, see "DJ/Programmer/Producer" below and get your wallet. That said, being able to make original loops gives the slight potential for selling them, same as drumming and that role does...
- Health: Carpal tunnel and other repetitive stress injuries come with the territory, especially with age.
- Notability: It's sadly not known for its notability - most people in it have usually become notable as multiinstrumentalists for their other instruments or roles.
- Comments: Keyboard and piano is probably not the best sole role - but if you know how to play it and another instrument (many keyboardists combine it with being a DJ/programmer/producer, some combine it with drums, some play guitar too), or you can provide your own very special take on the role, you can still gain some notoriety there.
- DJ/producer/programmer: Another support role in VK, and one that may or may not even be on stage as themselves, but increasingly a vital role to Visual Kei, especially to more industrial, electronic or Gothic bands, though some of the more famous have worked with rock bands. DJs/producers/programmers work with electronic and synthesized instruments and with computers to create original music, remix existing songs, and create audiovisual performances. Most are solo performers, though they work with bands and other artists.
- Examples of Japanese Visual Kei DJs/producers/programmers: Tetsuya Komuro, INA, CUTT, OZMA, DJ Si Sen, DJ Makoto, Yuyoyuppe, Nujabes (note: Nujabes was NOT Visual Kei but was an incredibly influential DJ and beat artist - and one Visual Kei DJs would be good to learn from)
- Examples of non-Japanese Visual Kei DJs/producers/programmers: Selia, Heavygrinder.
- Cost: Get your wallet... and your credit cards... and an arm and a leg...and your firstborn. Once you need high-end laptops, legal versions of music programs, loop packs, paying other artists for collaborations, keyboards, synths, mixers, audio equipment... the money costs only start going higher and higher. While you can make some of this back if you play live gigs and get paid or if you sell loops and beats, pretty much the only way toward financial survival at the top of the game is to get signed or to have someone paying your way.
- Health: Obesity can be the biggest risk here - as it is with any profession where you spend most of your life on a computer - it will pay anyone in this role in the long term to find some sort of active pastime or live in a walkable place, if you want to stay both healthy and attractive enough for Visual Kei. Next to it is repetitive stress injuries including carpal tunnel: you are using your hands on keyboards (whether computer, tablet, keyboard, or synth) a lot as well as making repetitive motions many times.
- Notability: Can be some of the highest, especially in modern VK, but can also be a background support role. Again it all depends on you.
- Comments: It is the direction modern Visual Kei is expanding toward the most, and you can, if successful, get noticed and noticed fast. The problems are the cost-prohibitive entry (lowest cost is around $1500-$2000 for a capable laptop alone) and the competition. That said, it's a good place to start in modern VK if you're capable of affording the cost of gear and repairs - especially if you combine it with vocals or drums or keyboards.
Aspiring Visual Kei Artists - Getting Noticed
- Getting noticed as an artist is the next and last step of becoming a Visual Kei artist. What degree you wish to get noticed is up to you, whether just being noticed on the internet and at local shows, or whether you want to compete in or create a scene, or whether you even want to break into either Japanese VK or even the global VK scene, such as it is.
- The first and best way to get noticed is public profiles on all relevant social media AND keeping them up to date - and staying engaged with the people on there. Crossposting via services that allow this is cool - automated or "marketing" content such as scheduled tweets, bots, auto-adders, having other people post for you unless you are truly unable to post and similar will make you be seen as the Spammer and shunned for such spamming behavior.
- You need a Facebook, a Twitter, an account on a video site (whether it's YouTube or Ustream or Freeworld or whatever). You also need a Photobucket or similar photo hosting account, and a sound-only host such as Soundcloud or a file locker. Pick out which of these suits you best and set up your accounts - whether as your persona, your real self, or both.
- Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest are optional but might all be good ideas depending on your focus. If you're more about imagery than sound or imagery and sound are equal to you, getting an account on one or all of these to share your and others' photos as promotion might be a good idea.
- A Formspring or Skype account is good for interviews and such, but if you would rather not engage there, it's not necessary.
- If you want more notice in Japanese VK, an Ameba is required, as is being listed on Visunavi. On the other hand it's probably a good idea to stay well away from 2ch Tanuki, especially if you're a gaijin trying to break into Japanese VK, unless you happen to enjoy Internet Backdraft. Many a reputation of even native Japanese VK artists has been burned to cinders there...
- The next point is reputation management. As a Visual Kei artist (especially if you happen to be representing others in a band as well) you need to keep in mind a few pointers on managing your reputation - that said, this is NOT anywhere near reputation management for business or even for fandom. It's simply situational awareness and being more loose on reputation management is NOT a bad thing - in fact, those who manage their reputations too aggressively will be seen as fakes and control freaks and maybe even Astro Turf users. The most important concept here depends on whether you have chosen a line between personal and stage persona or to combine them above.
- If you have a clearly delineated line between stage persona and Real Life, you make separate accounts for the real you and keep them well-hidden and locked down very carefully - and your public accounts are for your stage persona only.
- If on the other hand you blend or merge them, your public or semi-public accounts are 'you and that means be yourself - and that you are also seen as yourself, for good or bad.
- If you're in a band, agree on the image you will present for yourselves as a whole in advance on all that's mentioned in this section - one person making everyone else look like something they don't want to look like is a major reason for problems.
- Unless you are trying to cultivate a reputation as an aggressive, combative asshole (or a band of them), don't get into fan fights or fights with other artists unless you have a very good reason to - and no, "he said my song sucks" is not a good reason for starting such a feud. You as an artist have the power to maintain peace as well as to start Flame War and Internet Backdraft (as well as offline fighting, which is even worse), and unless you want you and/or your act to be known as the province of combative assholes, don't pick fights. That said, if you do want that, go right ahead - just make sure you can take what you dish out and vice versa.