Rubab is the Founder and President of FAKE STAR USA, a talent agency responsible for bringing many Japanese guests to events all over America such as Anime Weekend Atlanta, A-Kon, Kumoricon, and Tekko.
I first met Rubab at MechaCon in New Orleans, Louisiana backstage helping out at a BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT and ALICE and the PIRATES fashion show.
Since then, Rubab officially formed her company, FAKE STAR USA, and worked at events all over the United States. Recently, I met up with her to discuss how she got her start, formed her own company, and what services she provides to conventions.
What is FAKE STAR USA?
FAKE STAR USA is a booking agency for Japanese talents. We bring the best of Japan to events overseas, especially in the US! We work with a variety of different artists: visual kei bands, anime music artists, fashion designers, and other creators as well.
How and when did you get started?
Originally, I was a freelance agent. I actually started out in the very very very beginning as a volunteer in the con scene. I worked as a con translator to practice my Japanese. After a while, I started getting asked to book different artists because of the connections I made working with Japanese guests. So eventually, my freelance career as a booking agent led to launching my own company. I work this full time now!
What do you do?
To put it simply, I bring talent from Japan to appear at events the U.S., but we have grown to cover more than just the U.S. and Japan.
Where have you done events, other than the US?
I’ve toured Europe (France, Spain, England, Russia, the Netherlands, Hungary, and more). We’ve also done shows in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Japan. We’re also in the business of bringing western artists to Japan!
What types of events do you do?
We do anime conventions, standalone events like tea parties for fashion, and we started doing touring. So we book tours for bands as well. We do a lot of different events!
So you’ve worked with a lot of conventions, what would people know your work from?
I would say Anime Weekend Atlanta’s entire line-up of musical guests is mostly from FAKE STAR USA, especially the DJs and the rave. If you’ve been to those parties, they’re pretty lit! We’ve been coordinating AWA’s musical guests because we can provide a good variety of talent. Their fashion shows, their musical guests, they are mainly from our roster. We do a lot of other larger cons as well, like A-Kon. We’ve been working with A-Kon for a few years now for their music and fashion guests. Kumoricon is another con people might know us from; we coordinate Studio Trigger there every year and we also bring musical and fashion guests. The fashion show at Kumoricon has grown incredibly since we started doing it, it’s bigger than AX’s fashion show now! I also work with Tekko. So people should know me from those events.
I also worked on the AX fashion show from 2015, the year Shinya from DIR EN GREY was in the fashion show, until 2018, when I moved on to other events. DIR EN GREY has never appeared at an anime convention, so I was really happy to be able to bring Shinya! It was only possible because he came alone, but it was a really special moment for me.
What is the processes of booking a musical musical guest or a fashion brand through FAKE STAR USA?
Well before you even start with booking, we take the time to properly scout and vet our talent. There are a lot of artists and designers who are interested in going abroad, so I get introduced to a lot of different talent. I have pretty high standards for the talent that we bring to conventions, events, or book for tours. So, I can’t just take anyone that I meet with. We can’t just accept anyone, one thing we think about is that our talent has to be someone at the level to represent the country of Japan. To fit that standard, we don’t bring talent that I don’t personally think is engaging or has charisma. The company has a pretty high standard for our talent and I think that personal touch is what makes us special!
When I was freelance, I didn’t really have the freedom to pick and choose who I worked with. Now I’m very picky with the talent we pick. So, I will go to Japan and scout talent in the field. I will go to shows, check out artists, see which ones really pique my interest when it comes to how they will appeal to an overseas audience. It’s a very delicate process that I have spent a lot of time developing.
Regarding the actual booking process, it starts with sourcing the right talent that we think would be a good fit for an overseas audience. Then, we have our roster of different artists for different categories or different genres and we talk to local conventions. They’ll come to us and say “hey, we’re looking for this type of music artist”, or “what do you have?” and we’ll make suggestions. We think about what would be popular in the area, will fit the convention theme, and what hasn’t been done before.
For instance, we started booking MIYAVI because MIYAVI was getting back into anime. He was in the BLEACH movie as Byakuya Kuchiki, so we pitched him to conventions we thought would be interested in booking him. Anime Weekend Atlanta turned out to be the perfect fit. They were really serious about it! It was the first time MIYAVI had appeared at an anime convention in years so it was very exciting for everyone involved.
We will only pitch the talent we personally believe in and that we really think will be successful for conventions. We take a lot of factors into consideration, like budget, when we think about who will go where. A lot of times we’ll tie in other talent as well such as: if we’re bringing a visual kei band, then we’ll bring a fashion designer that one of the members could model for or would have good crossover appeal. The fashion scene and music scene tends to crossover pretty well in a lot of regards. Booking a fashion guest with a musical guest can be a great opportunity! We try to have a comprehensive roster of different types of talent that can fit the local events and their budgets.
When it comes to anime conventions, at the convention what is your role? You book the talent and you’re also kind of a manager too right?
In addition to being the talent’s representative, I’m also an event coordinator. A lot of my job revolves around making sure that all the people and things are where they’re supposed to be at the right time. In order to handle larger events, I really had to grow my team. It was impossible to do things like handle seven musical guests on my own. On site, my job is coordinating everything – literally everything. This means making sure my guests are comfortable, making sure that the guests’ experience is up to our standard and they’re being treated the way they expect.
A big role that goes unseen if done well is balancing the cross cultural differences between event and guests expectations. The industry standards for professionalism in Japan are not always the same as in America, particularly at fan-run events. A lot of convention staff are volunteers or fans themselves, and for us, as an agent and as professionals, our responsibility is to bridge that gap and make sure that the artist’s expectations are met in the US. Dealing with these cultural differences also help conventions run smoothly. When conventions have happy guests, that results in happy attendees. We work hard so that everyone, including the guests and attendees, have a good time!
What does your team look like? It must change from convention to convention.
I’m happy to say we have people all over the United States. Of course, we have our core team of FAKE STAR USA staff but we also have our local volunteers and merch staff that help us when we go to different shows.
We have a lot of staff from the fashion scene. Many of our staff are lolitas that are into Harajuku fashion, and all of our staff are music fans. We have one of the most diverse teams in the scene, but we are always striving to promote diversity and inclusion even further.
How do you build your team? Do you have any advice for people who are looking to put together a team?
Building a team is the hardest thing. Teams can be very fragile and difficult to build. Especially because at the beginning it’s easy to just rely on your friends for help. I’m sure a lot of people know that hanging out with your friends and actually working with and employing them are two different things. Working with friends can get messy because personal feelings and egos can get involved. I learned the hard way for myself. Now I know what I want and what I need from my team.
It’s important to really understand how your team members work under pressure. Working conventions is a really high pressure situation because you’re dealing with customers and you’re dealing with high profile clients. Our staff have to be really cool under pressure. That being said, I would say that people who you know are really committed and can keep promises are going to be the best staff you can have. It’s also important for them to be good with people, or really good with analytical things, or organizing. Everyone has their unique skill and something they’re really good at. A good leader can identify these traits in people and put them in positions where they can really shine.
I will say that no matter the situation, this kind of work is definitely not something for someone who isn’t a people person. If you have difficulties talking with others it can be a lot to ask for you to represent the company and high profile clients. A key to building a good team and being a leader is being a likable person.
I also suggest being wary of people who are over eager to please. When you work with high profile clients sometimes people just want to take advantage of the job for some sort of unprofessional personal purpose and that’s not what this is about. This is about doing a job and presenting your clients to the audience. This is a business and you have to have a team that understands what you’re working for, not your pride or ego.
When conventions are looking to book, they might be intimidated by the price of bringing in a Japanese guest. Can you give a range of that cost?
The most expensive guest to bring will always be music guests. Musical guests require visas and the previous American government administration definitely made it harder to get visas. Visas are a requirement for musical guests. Don’t expect to bring a musical guest for cheap unless they already have a visa. Musical guests will be the most expensive.
If you’re looking into bringing a Japanese guest, I recommend bringing a designer or a model, or somebody in the fashion scene. Fashion guests are a very good way to get your feet wet with Japanese guests! They can participate and bring a lot of programming, but they are generally more laid back guests.
Some of the music and anime guests can be more difficult to work with because of their standards and expectations in the industry. In contrast, fashion guests are very chill and a lot more easier to work with. I would also recommend DJs, if they already have a visa or are located domestically. Some Japanese artists live in the United States and they would be another great artist to book. We represent those clients as well. But if you’re looking for an affordable guest, fashion is a really great place to start!
At the convention, what is the process of working with you? So conventions start contacting you. You get all of the paperwork done. The guests show up. Convention day, you’re running a merch booth, you’re babysitting bands, you’re checking the staff, is that all you do?
Depending on how full our lineup is, FAKE STAR USA has a lot to do. We have guests in many categories, which is pretty standard for us. We do a good half dozen shows where we’re working in every category. At the convention, our initial tasks include setting up the booth and wrangling staff. We’re also checking the equipment, making sure the fashion show stuff is in order. Sometimes the fashion show fitting might be happening the day before, so that needs to be organized and checked over.
We also have a lot of people arriving from the airport; you’re always going to have travel issues or delays, so it can be a huge fiasco. More on-site tasks include informing guests of their duties, making sure that everyone gets to the convention space in one piece, wrangling fashion stuff, making sure equipment is in order, making sure people eat (that’s a big one), and dealing with jet lag. There’s a lot of little things to deal with but managing them is part of the service we provide!
Sometimes managing guests can be demanding on the convention side because they’re the ones dealing with logistics. Conventions provide the cars and transportation. We communicate with them to make sure everyone is getting to where they need to be. Sometimes artists want to go out for dinner or something. Most guests have difficulties expressing themselves in English. We’re the ones in the middle of every single thing between the conventions and the guests to make sure things run smoothly. Even before the convention starts, there is so much work. Then once the convention starts I have to be everywhere at once!
My schedule is insane because I have events that are going on simultaneously. I need to make sure that panels are set up the way that guests want it done. I am always thinking about the best way to present our artists. For instance, making sure there is a ring light and proper backdrop for a photo session, rather than doing it against some random wall. I have to handle all of that micro coordination. I have to make sure people are where they need to be. Make sure that stuff doesn’t go missing. It ends up being a lot of work.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a convention since they’re currently not being held. Sometimes it can seem small but it’s important for the artists. Things like making sure we have the right color autograph markers. Things like, “Oh no, so-and-so wants gold but this other band only uses silver.”
We manage all of that to improve the fan and guest experience. We want to make sure that when a fan brings a mostly black poster it’s being signed with a silver or gold sharpie. There are those types of little things that someone on the convention side might not get around to working on. We’ve already experienced every possible issue and dealt with it. It’s become second nature to deal with these issues ahead of time. I know all my clients and their habits so I can make sure their needs are taken care of. This is down to the sharpie colors and where they want to place their signatures on specific items. That knowledge and experience is a large part of the service we provide to conventions that makes everyone’s day go smoother
If someone wants to work with FAKE STAR USA, what’s the best way to get in contact with you?
We have our email on our website but we also have our social media! All of our DMs are open on the FAKE STAR USA channels so you can always reach out to us there or by email. We love to talk to new conventions and events, especially to get them up to speed on what to really expect when booking a Japanese guest. As people who have decades of industry experience in the music industry and working in the convention scene professionally, we know a lot about what to expect and can help you through that process!
Conventions tend to have a habit of doing the same thing over and over. We are able to help freshen things up. We know a lot about the local markets as well. A lot of conventions tend to overlook some markets. In particular, it happens a lot with the lolita fashion communities. A lot of events tend to overlook them because of prejudice or bias from the past but we have experience working with fashion guests and staff, so we would probably be more familiar with your local market than even you would be! We provide a lot of advice on that based on the demand of your attendees and what you’re looking for as an organizer. Reach out to us on one of our channels and tell us what we’re looking for and we’ll see what we can do to help you please your attendees!
Thank You FAKE STAR USA!
I’d like to thank Rubab of FAKE STAR USA for taking the time to sit down and share some of the background of events with us!
Follow FAKE STAR USA
We’ve covered many of FAKE STAR USA’s events before. Check out some of their previous work!
- Visual Kei Artist CHISA from ACME Celebrates Birthday at Shinjuku LOFT
- Okashicon 2018 Club Pon Pon Konpeito J-Fashion Party Report
- EVENT SNAPS | Okashicon 2019 Marina Magica J-Fashion Mixer
- A-Kon 28 Presents ATELIER PIERROT, Pentagon Japan, OxT, and More!
- Moi-même-Moitié US Debut! Mana Returns to Sakura-Con