I recently had the opportunity to talk with singer / songwriter Keiko Takamura. Keiko is a virtual celebrity in the world of Second Life and an actual up and coming musician named Amy Te offline. You might have seen her recently in a spotlight on MTV’s award winning True Life series, where she discussed her musical status within the game and gave us a glimpse into her work towards getting her music heard by non-Second Life audiences.
Check out Keiko’s website at http://keikotakamura.com/ where she posts news and media, as well as a page where you can listen to and purchase her music. She’s also online at http://www.myspace.com/keikotakamura and http://keikotakamura.livejournal.com, and you can join her Second Life Group called Keiko Takamura’s Anti-Fan Club.
Here’s part one of the interview, in which she talks about her origins and musical experience in Second Life. The second part of the interview will post tomorrow, where Keiko tells about what it’s been like to have a True Life episode document her and what her musical aspirations are.
Fandomania: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Keiko.
Keiko Takamura: Thanks for having me!
Fandomania: Prior to seeing the MTV True Life episode, I really wasn’t aware of the music scene inside Second Life. Can you tell me a little about what it’s like and how people are able to interact there?
Keiko Takamura: Music events are listed on the Second Life website which is also searchable in-world. People who want to listen to live music usually have a good handful of shows to choose from any time of the day. Once you find one, you teleport to the venue and turn on your music controls. There can be up to 60 people in a sim at one time, and if you’ve crashed the sim, you know you’re popular.
Fandomania: Second Life has gotten a bit of a sordid reputation with many people due to the more “mature” content that some users have chosen to create. Do you find that that sort of thing has an effect on your own Second Life experience, and how prevalent is it really? Are you able to get away from that content fairly easily if you just want to go online and do your own thing and make your music?
Keiko Takamura: I think it’s a real shame that Second Life and its users are put into this whole “perverted Internet weirdo” box just because there happen to be some places like that in SL. It’s easy to find that kind of stuff, but it’s just as easy to stay away from it. I can’t really say how prevalent it is because I honestly don’t know. If you don’t go searching for it, you don’t find it — it’s really that simple! Second Life if a fantastic place for creativity and expression. So much of its own art and culture is growing and thriving as we speak; it’s becoming a really enriched community. You can find art, fashion, music, film, books, even theater! It’s such a disappointment that these things get passed over for the more shocking stories that only make up a small percentage of the Second Life community.
Fandomania: When did you start playing Second Life? How did you find out about it, and what first drew you to the game?
Keiko Takamura: This is a very boring and anticlimactic answer. I started playing over two years ago because a friend of mine said it was cool. I was on winter break for a month and had absolutely nothing else to do with my time. Second Life helped me pass the time until the new quarter started.
Fandomania: Everybody is a newbie when they first step into a new online gaming experience, and it can be a bit intimidating. Can you tell me about starting out in Second Life and how you went from ground zero to feeling comfortable in the game?
Keiko Takamura: You know, two years ago, the number of users online at one time was around 20,000. Now, it’s like 50-60,000. Back then, new users weren’t as common, so I got coddled by older residents. They spotted me Lindens and held my hand through navigating my way around the controls. I don’t know how easy it is being new now, although there’s a LOT more free content and resources for newbies.
Fandomania: You’ve done a great job of making your in-game avatar resemble your real life look. Did you always know you wanted to have your avatar look like you, or did you go through any I-want-to-be-a-penguin phases? How hard was it to put together a look you liked, and what goes into being able to accumulate all the clothes and parts you need?
Keiko Takamura: I came into SL knowing I’d rather have my avatar look like my real self. It takes serious time and serious Lindens to get a good-looking avatar. That’s why it’s important to invest a decent amount of your energy towards perfecting your avatar if you want people to take you seriously, it shows you’ve got a sense of commitment. You have to constantly update it, too. I’ve seen avatars that just have one look and they say, “That’s it. That’s my virtual representation and I won’t change it.” That’s their choice, of course, but I think it make them look lazy. I search for new hair when I get a RL haircut, and I’m constantly scouring shops for clothes. I also have a particular weakness for skins and animations. My friends are also total SL shopaholics and they are always on the cutting edge, keeping up with the big SL fashion blogs. So they take me to all these wacky new stores.
Fandomania: How did you find out about the Second Life music scene, and how did you get your foot in the door there?
Keiko Takamura: I was flying around one day, horribly bored, and I had my SL music controls on to listen to whatever streaming radio station was on. I crosses the sim border, and suddenly I heard some dude playing guitar and then stopping periodically to ask if was the sound was okay. I saw the guy up ahead holding a little virtual guitar, and I was like, “Whoa! This guy’s actually playing guitar right now! And I can hear him in Second Life! I need to get in on this pronto.” So I begged him to show me how, and he was so wonderfully kind enough to guide me through all the difficult technical aspects of streaming audio into Second Life. They found it to be lots of good fun and pushed me (like REALLY pushed me) into playing shows for small audiences. It just kind of snowballed from there.
Fandomania: I imagine that getting your music heard in Second Life must present some of the same challenges that getting heard in real life presents. Nevertheless you’ve been able to establish yourself as a popular and respected musician there. What are some of the things that are either harder or easier about it in SL versus RL? Was there a moment when you felt you finally had broken through and “made it”?
Keiko Takamura: Well, seeing as I haven’t “made it” in RL yet, I really can’t compare the two. But I can say, getting asked to play at The Blarney Stone in Dublin (one of the best-known venues at the time, and even now) was a milestone for me starting up. Then I got asked to play at Second Life’s 3rd Birthday Party, which was an honor for a very smalltime virtual musician. Then I got a mention in the Metaverse Messenger, which (so far as I know) is Second Life’s primary newspaper.
Fandomania: Can you tell me about your online fandom? What is it like to have fans in a virtual setting, and have you met any in your real life? Any cool or funny stories you can share about that or about your fame in Second Life?
Keiko Takamura: My fans are awesome. If it wasn’t for them constantly cheering me on, I would have given up a long time ago. One of the things about being a musician is that fans make you, fans own you, and if you don’t understand that, you’re probably not going to get very far. Second Life makes it easy to find me, I’m very accessible. The minute my True Life episode came on, I was in the middle of a concert. People IMed me and were like “ZOMG U ON TV I SEES U RITE NOW!” I couldn’t very well stop playing and respond to the IM, but I wanted then to know I was online and playing, so I teleported them right onto the stage. Hahah.