by Julianne S. Ruizol
It’s not easy being an independent Filipino musical artist.
Most of the time fellow musicians, fans, and listeners argue about the intricacies of Original Pilipino Music (OPM). Some say OPM is dead while others insist it’s alive but only in different reincarnations. After all, the local indie music scene is a hodgepodge of genres offering different flavors for everyone’s listening preference: jazz, hip hop, electronica, alternative, industrial, metal, blues — you name it, somebody else is likely to play it.
But the debate about OPM is just one part of living the independent musician’s life.
To survive, most local indie music artists and bands live off gigs and bookings and keep their day jobs, if only to stay true to being the “indies” that they are.
However, artistic integrity has its price.
To be considered as a fully functional band, a lot of investments have to be made.
Besides setting aside cash to pay for rehearsal space — P250 an hour — independent artists also need to bankroll their own music productions with expenses shared between band manager, technical crew, and other helping hands.
“There is no support,” Clarence Garcia, lead guitarist of tide/edit, an indie band, said in an interview. “You support yourself. Gone are the golden days of the music scene wherein you find a place you will regular play at and you will be discovered.”
This is exactly the reason why members of Oh, Flamingo! — a five-piece band which plays indie rock infused with tropical styles and elements — makes themselves available after gigs.
“You don’t leave immediately after your set. Early on, during our first few gig, we made it a point to stick around and really talk to the people who invited us. We were still new and unknown so you have to stay and talk, to establish further rapport, so to speak,” drummer Fries Bersales of Oh, Flamingo! said in a separate interview.
Another technique to sell their music involves at least one member who takes a position near the bar.
“That way, you can be approachable or at the entrance or outside so they know that you [already] played. You’re already available. Your defenses are down. You don’t have friends around you. [People] can already approach you,” Howard Luistro, Oh, Flamingo!’s vocalist and guitarist said.
Limited engagement with music labels
On occasion, bands like Oh, Flamingo! sign up with labels but only for engagements involving limited production releases covered by profit sharing agreements.
“Wide Eyed Records came to us and let us release our EP (extended play) under their label, so instead of just being able to produce 100, around 750 CDs [were produced] and then we agreed on sharing the profit. Everybody’s happy. Everything went back to us. It wasn’t a lopsided deal,” Pappu de Leon, Oh, Flamingo!’s lead guitarist, said.
The label also helped the band with the copyrights of their songs and with the distribution of their album to various commercial establishments including Team Manila and Satchmi. Other local bands who have enlisted the help of Wide Eyes Records are Halik ni Gringo and Ang Bandang Shirley, to name a few.
While their EP — a recording that’s more than a single but isn’t enough for a full album — is released under a label, the band themselves remain independent and do all the work themselves. A new contract would have to be signed if the band is seeking to release another album.
“It works for independent artists because we have creative freedom as compared to being signed to [major labels], you have a six-year contract,” the band said.
Meanwhile, other groups — while striving to keep their artistic independence — also take advantage of label’s e-commerce platforms to raise awareness and attract wider audiences.
Groups such as tide/edit and Fools and Foes are affiliated with A Spur of the Moment Project, along with other local indie bands including Run Dorothy and Tom’s Story.
Fools and Foes released their debut EP “Underneath the Roots” on December 4, 2015, while tide/edit has released an EP (“Ideas,” August 2012) and two full-length albums (“Foreign Languages,” June 2014; “Lightfoot,” November 2015).
Signing up with A Spur the Moment Project allows groups to take advantage of the label’s e-commerce platform.
“The e-commerce platform is a big help for us, for a band that doesn’t do live shows too often,” Lead guitarist Clarence Garcia of tide/edit said. “We’re a band that doesn’t really play live so it’s important for us so it works. We get to ship stuff locally, provincial orders, we get to ship even in overseas. I’m not sure why not everyone is doing it. It’s a basic requirement if you have something to sell. You have to make it [products] accessible for everyone.”
And speaking of going online to popularize and sell their music, Oh, Flamingo! and Fools and Foes began using the Spotify with the help of their respective labels. Both of them also revealed that putting their music up on the site was mainly for exposure and audience reach and not for a secondary or tertiary source of income.
Being self-made musicians, Oh, Flamingo! had their doubts using the platform at first saying they “thought we could do that on our own through aggregator website, but we realized maybe we won’t be able to manage that given our time constraints and resources.” “We eventually saw Spotify as an opportunity to really exponentially spread our music because at least we can get people who not only buy the CD but [even] one with a smartphone can hear our music,” they added.
Fools and Foes said it “didn’t really upload music in Spotify to get revenue, but to get exposure. For a new indie band like us, it’s important to get our music out there.”
While members of tide/edit remain unsure whether they got traction from Spotify, they nevertheless see tweets tagging them, telling them that their listeners heard them first on Spotify.
Moreover, both Fools and Foes and Oh, Flamingo! believe that streaming and CD albums could go hand in hand with each other.
“It could go two ways. Some listeners can opt to listen to an artist via Spotify instead, while others, because they discovered the artist via Spotify, they could be encouraged to buy the artist’s physical CD. We definitely think online streaming is more rampant than listening to CDs. Technology as well is already phasing out the use of CDs,” said Fools and Foes in an email reply.
It may be too early to tell whether Spotify can help indie bands earn enough to keep them independent.
But for the moment, the music service nevertheless helps them distribute their music despite risks of related investments they’ve made.
So for now, none of them are planning to quit the day job or leave the rat race.
“Our goal is not how to make money,” tide/edit said. “Our goal is how not to lose money. It’s fun to be in a band. We enjoy the process. We enjoy what we’re doing and we want to do this over and over again.”
Julianne S. Ruizol (@sopraknows on Twitter) covers the Senate and the Department of Foreign Affairs for BusinessWorld. Her wide music preferences range from 90s MTV to current Korean pop hits.