The problem of the Pinoy Music Summit was clear to me from the moment I received the program and found that there was no independent artist tasked to speak about the independent music industry. The problem is not merely of representation, as it is of acknowledging difference and diversity, of speaking of contradictions because these do exist, and making solutions as complex as these need to be. Without the independent’s voice, the Pinoy Music Summit was like a record we’ve heard before: the enemies are colonial mentality and piracy/illegal downloads/the Internet. The solution is to champion the Pinoy.
Yeah, too simplistic for comfort.
The problem really was in that industry report and discussion paper “State of the Philippine Music Industry” by Kathryn Pauso, which was both the premise and baseline of the conference. The study set the tone for the whole conference’s simplistic assessment of music, as it speaks of the trends in the music industry that have resulted in what is imagined to be the problem: “An environment not conducive or not able to bring original local music to the mainstream market #OPMisDead.”
I say it is imagined because even to me, as culture critic and scholar, and as someone who loves Original Pilipino Music to a fault, it is clear how this is not as simple as saying that “there is a 75-percent drop in revenues for recording companies in one decade,” or that “in the 21st century, the trend has shifted back in favor of foreign music.” Neither is this just about the digital age “altering the traditional value chain of making money from music” and how the Internet has taken over TV and radio (based on Nielsen reports of 2010 and 2011). And certainly it cannot be about saying that “independent artists and record labels are experimenting with different ways to market music,” as if it’s a new thing.
It was 14 years ago when Rivermaya released the album Free, and gave it away for free. This was both a response to the “digital age” and the Internet, and the fact of illegal downloads and piracy. It was brilliant, and it was NU Rock Awards’ Album of the Year. This was in the year 2000.
To imagine that the problem is still as simple as the turn of the millennium is not only to fail at working with local music history; it’s also to fail in actually providing a baseline that is real and concrete for the present, one that takes cognizance of the diversity that has happened because and despite digital media, because and despite the decline of the mainstream recording industry between the years 1999 and 2010.
And if it needs to be said at all: working with existing commercial music industry numbers does not make for a real assessment of “the state of Philippine music.” It makes for a lopsided, problematic assessment.
The fact of the independent
The Pinoy Music Summit did not exclude the independent music industry in this summit. What it did was to subsume independent music in the discussions about the current state of the music industry. That of course tells us that as far as the commercial music establishment is concerned—and that includes the Organisasyon ng Pilipino Mang-aawit (OPM), the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Inc., (FILSCAP), the Philippine Association of the Record Industry Inc.
(PARI Inc.)—the problems of commercial music production and the problems of the independent music industry are the same.
They think wrong. Independent music production cannot be subsumed into any discussion about recording companies’ lost revenues, or the commercial musician’s inability to sell his CDs, or the notion of the mainstream market as goal. Because the independent to some extent, and in many ways, is the answer to these problems.
Half the time, and if we cared to look, the independents do not care for mainstream recording companies anymore, nor is “the mainstream audience” a concern. Piracy and colonial mentality as enemies are not problematized in the same way either; I can’t imagine any local independent artist thinking that s/he is competing with Beyonce or Lady Gaga or Bruno Mars as far as CD sales are concerned. I imagine many independent musicians would rather not do television and radio either, and that is part of their appeal.
Which is not to say that independent music is without problems and challenges. It’s to say that its problems are different. Instead of worrying about how to get into the mainstream for example, it might wonder why it is that the Optical Media Board (OMB) has since made it difficult for independent artists to legally replicate their own CDs. Instead of thinking the Internet the enemy, independents engage with it and speak about piracy and illegal downloads without threatening to censor the Internet.
Dividing the industry
Independent music production is unique and separate from the commercial music industry, and what it deserves is its own space in a summit on all Pinoy Music. To have had commercial and mainstream musicians, composers, recording companies speak for the independent was not only unfair, it was also and ultimately a snub. It was also just wrong.
When independent musician Vin Dancel called on the Summit’s organizers on Facebook to include the indie, he was told that he was being divisive. On the contrary, it was the Pinoy Music Summit’s decision to silence the independent music industry, it was the refusal to acknowledge the individuality of the independent, that abetted disunity and divisiveness. With independent music’s productivity and creativity, of course, this silencing can only be the Pinoy Music Summit’s undoing.
Because the independent music scene is alive and well, and it is what debunked the whole OPM is dead assertion. Terno Recordings, which produces Up Dharma Down and Radioactive Sago Project’s CDs have a growing roster of unique talents including Yolanda Moon and Sleepwalk Circus; Wide Eyed Records Manila gave us a new CD from Ang Bandang Shirley in 2012 and Halik ni Gringo this year. Last year surprised us with the creative talent of Autotelic, a new CD from Flying Ipis. The first quarter of 2014 has given us new CDs from Peryodiko, and Cookie Chua, Bayang Barrios and Lolita Carbon aka the Tres Marias. You go to gigs and will be floored by Johnoy Danao and Bullet Dumas, The Jerks and Dong Abay, Barbie Almalbis and Trinidad. This is not even the tip of the iceberg.
But also this Pinoy Music Summit refused to acknowledge that where we might imagine colonial mentality to the be enemy, what is also in our faces is CD sales that have gone up for actors that can carry a tune—and even an actress who can’t. And no, this is not to put down the CDs of Daniel Padilla and TomDen, or Vice Ganda and Willie Revillame, or the work of Anne Curtis. It is to acknowledge that it is this particular kind of CD that local music is also up against. Because really: what effect will a four-OPM songs-policy per hour on radio have, if in the end they play these same artists again and again anyway? That’s already what’s happening now, isn’t it?
Ah, but the Pinoy Music Summit did not want to problematize these, neither did it want to make the discussion as complex as it actually is.
At some point I was asked if I thought the whole #OPMisdead discussion is over. Given this summit? Apparently not.