Before becoming the national favorites, they were artists in their infant stage. Your local bar’s stage entertainment. Your performers at campus events. The competitors in your barangay battle of the bands. The undervalued, underappreciated and underpaid life-force of music.
The local artists.
As with everything, music needs a sustainable environment to survive. With little incentive to continue, even the best artists would have to quit. Artists we need will die out in their infancy. And soon, they will be extinct.
“Thomasian Indie Artists Struggle for In-Campus Recognition”
Three years ago, TomasinoWeb published an article titled Thomasian indie artists struggle for in-campus recognition. The title itself paints a vivid picture of the conflict. In this article, local Thomasian artists describe the almost inexistent support they get in UST. Mic Manalo, the vocalist for Farewell Fair Weather, contrasts the cold reception in the University of Santo Tomas with the thriving scenes in other campuses.
Around the time the article got viral in 2014, I was in my junior year in UST. Watching live band performances became my after-school specials.
I recall watching Farewell Fair Weather at a show near the UST fountain. My friends and I jammed along their song ‘Rough Skies.’ I remember thinking how wonderful their performance was. Not that it was a surprise, though. I knew our local artists are rich in musical talent, especially the students from the College of Music.
Today, the ‘indie’ scene in the country has definitely grown bigger.
Artists like Jensen and the Flips, Clara Benin, Autotelic or Bullet Dumas are receiving more support than they previously had.
UST-bred artists like MilesExperience and Farewell Fair Weather are thriving as well.
Not too long ago, SUD’s song “Sila” became a national earworm. The success encouraged another wave of artists to follow the trails of their ates and kuyas.
Each of them — bands like Papapeta, Halina, Where’s Ramona?, Fourplay, Shoreline or The Miguel Project — works to define itself in the UST music scene.
The music scene in UST is best seen in campus events with live performance shows like college fairs and the recently controversial “Paskuhan.”
But in UST, there are only a few stages available to perform at in the campus and neighboring areas.
There are only a few groups interested to organize gigs and develop venues. Mamamo Productions produced a recent UST-themed show called ‘UST Indiemand’. They hosted the venue at Mow’s Bar in Quezon City, 8.31 k.m. away from the campus.
Even with positive progress and better visibility, little changed for campus artists. Most artists still struggle with empty shows, little income, and unfair treatment. They get little value for the little opportunity they have.
Sustainability remains a problem.
Maybe It’s Not a Problem of Talent
Even if music is essential to our society, the revolting reality we must face is that we live in a consumer-based economy, where every form of production is an industry. Until we change that, music is an industry. It’s all about money. The quality of the institutions that regulate the circulation of money will determine the industry’s performance.
Independent artists might work outside the mainstream industry, but they still need sustainability. The ‘indie’ community should not neglect the creation of their own strong institutions. They must build a functional music industry — artist management, production houses, distribution groups, recording studios, and so forth.
Music must be seen as a career.
Artists are not the only ones that make up the cogs and gears of the engine. Music needs the participation of various other fields such as accountants, production managers, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, lawyers etc.
We must look at the challenges facing local scenes as signs of deficiencies, missing parts of the machine. If we wanna go far, we must complete all the cogs and gears of the engine.
Maybe It’s the Artist
Some artists have songs that just don’t resonate. Their lyrics and melodies couldn’t touch and move the audience. No matter how proficient they are, their songs lack the heart for loving. Some artists fail to move beyond imitation and achieve innovation. If the music couldn’t offer a fresh point of view to the audience, the work remains stale.
Additionally, songwriting is a skill. Artists need constant learning and practice to form a degree of mastery. There is no shame in crawling through level 1 to level 25. Artists could also expand the topics they write about by living more. Observe. Pay attention. Get out of the comfort zone. Experience life as it happens. Make it into a song.
Artists should focus on working hard to define their brand and improve their skills.
Maybe It’s the Management
Lost money, schedule delays, weak performances, complications, criticism — unsuccessful events disappoint everybody. Yet, good collaboration is not solely dependent on financial success. A successful collaboration is when each contributor remains professional and considerate. A successful collaboration trumps a successful event. When everybody works in harmony, it is easier to mitigate disappointment.
Managers, both from artists and productions, facilitate this relationship. They secure the delivery of each expectation, sustaining smooth workflow. And when promises are broken, their responsibility is to compromise or control the damage.
Sometimes, managers fail to uphold each other’s expectations and neglect their duties. The collaboration fails. This yields toxic environments and discourages future engagements. As a consequence, the music industry takes a hit.
The recent “UST Paskuhan 2016” was controversial. Some artists claim to have received ‘unpleasant treatment’ from the production staff. There were also reports that Gracenote was interrupted during their performance. These articles from MyxPH highlight the tweets of some of the artists involved in the production. Many Thomasians participated in the conversation — some no-holds-barred and harsh in their comments. Faye Martel-Abugan, the Director for Paskuhan 2016, and my Communication Arts professor, has taken full responsibility and has apologized on behalf of the production staff. In her letter, she denounced the Thomasians who ‘reacted violently’ as if they weren’t part of the community.
Thomasian artists are no strangers to “unpleasant treatment”. Some of the local artists I’m friends with complain about excessive haggling and inconsiderate handling. While some organizers at least offer meals, some wouldn’t even consider any compensation. Bar events aren’t different, either. Some organizers cite “exposure” as enough incentive to the artist. They see it as a “rite of passage” for starting artists to receive little-to-no compensation.
We might even say that production houses are the ones indebted to artists. There are crucial responsibilities for production houses: the development of their artists, production quality for their audience, and audience guarantee for their venues. Some productions limp on all these, but most would fail to achieve the last part. The shows are often empty, and often it isn’t the artists nor the audience’s fault. Some production houses lack marketing efforts, only relying on social media and word-of-mouth.
It’s understandable if productions rely on the Internet — especially if they’re millennials. It’s cheap, massive, and powerful. We grew up on the Internet. Yet, marketing involves so much more than social media. It includes building a strategy that considers all the avenues both online and offline. Relying on only one medium won’t produce the best results, and might not even be the best way to reach your target audience.
It’s not only the production houses that fall trap to ineffective marketing. Some artists, or their managers, disregard any efforts to follow a marketing strategy. This carefree approach could waste potential opportunity that could have been otherwise within an arm’s reach. Some artists forget that appearances and image branding are important factors for marketing, too. Being a local artist means you have to actually be ‘local’. This includes engaging the community you’re playing at. Instead, some fall into the trap of relying on social media too much. Some of these artists even limit what their using to only one social media channel, like Facebook.
Marketing is crucial. Often, the biggest reason a band is unnoticed is its inability to market itself. It’s only one of the aspects of the industry that everybody needs to constantly execute and improve.
And if you don’t have the energy for it:
Maybe It’s the Work Ethics
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. A strong work ethic gets you far. Artists are in big trouble if they won’t learn to schedule their weekly rehearsal, or consistently arrive on-time for each rehearsal. Nothing will work unless you do. Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven’t planted. You need to be reliable. You need to be a professional. If any key personnel working in the local scene remains half-hearted, lackadaisical, and unprofessional, that person is one of the reasons for the local scene’s lack of success. He ought to be replaced.
Talent is not enough — you need to show up.
Maybe It’s How We Value the Audience
No matter a band’s innovation, it takes time to build an audience. There is a need to actively find and rope in people who would appreciate and subscribe to the products.
Philippine ‘indie’ music should follow the footsteps of Philippine ‘indie’ films. A healthy audience relationship supplies an unlimited amount of motivation, fulfillment, and feedback. This is especially true for productions — its ability to rally an audience is how it becomes successful.
Or Maybe It’s the Audience
Maybe we just don’t go to shows anymore.
After all, isn’t it hard to find a reason to spend a night listening to loud music convinced you won’t enjoy it? Aren’t your favorite artists one click away through a tiny glowing screen?
Why would I buy costly merchandise or discs, if they would be available online — and even for free?
You are the most important contributor to the music industry. You are the audience. You are the consumer. You decide what is relatable. You decide what shows are successful. You decide which artists continue. Music NEEDS your active involvement in your local scene.
If music is dying, it might be because of you.
If you don’t support your local artists, you shouldn’t assume someone else will. Before you know it, the next Ely Buendia, Ryan Cayabyab, Ebe Dancel, Armi Millare, or what have you, quits before they are even successful. If you weren’t there to save them, that’s on you.
Also, gigs are not expensive. You get a great value. A kickass venue to hang out at? Spending time with your friends or family? Food, liquor, and good times? Live beating music? A place to spend your time feeling less lonely with other people sharing your struggles? That’s the near-priceless value you’re getting for 300 pesos less. Bonus points if two or more artists are actual eye-candies. Double bonus points if you make friends with them.
Live music is a great way to end a stressful day together with friends, or even a date.
Besides, it’s exhausting to be important. That’s why you should end your day by fading into a larger crowd, head-bobbing to the sound of good-ass artists.
If Everybody Does His or Her Part
As I’ve illustrated, the music industry is like an engine. It needs all the essential parts to run properly. One defective part might be the cause of a larger whole’s malfunction. But if the engine’s solid, it can drive for years — until it slows down and a more promising engine replaces it. There are a lot of opportunities for jobs, business, and commerce in music. Professionals and passionate individuals should look into investing in the music industry. There is countless potential in building and innovating old or non-existing institutions.
A good engine, or an even better one, can power a renaissance in music. We can maximize or push the bar of musical achievements for our society. One successful scene is enough to influence other places into action. If the scene multiplies and gains traction, it will start a wave. That wave will turn into a movement as it develops its own philosophies and agenda. If a movement breaks out into the mainstream, it will be part of the national consciousness. It would have had evolved its own characteristics — its own composition, feel, etc. It would be its own genre. That’s how the genres Reggae, Rap, Rock, and Blues first evolved. They were the successful movements, but they were one successful scene first.
It’s about time the Philippines develop its own original, unique, and identifiable genre. We’ve been needing a unifying national identity for a very long time. Heck, if Filipinos were stereotyped into their own musical genre — like reggae to Jamaicans — I would consider than a national cultural milestone.
Music is powerful. It communicates meanings beyond words. It speaks life. Its language conveys our shared excursions, emotions, and experiences clearer than any medium. They aid in our introspection — teaching us more about ourselves. Why else would we need to listen to sad songs in dark times or love songs in tender times?
Only if everyone’s proactive in its development should there be a successful local UST music scene. No doubt my fellow Tigers will eventually identify the cogs — and maybe what needs attention — in their engine. Our success will further the reputation and identity of our campus, giving us more reasons to be proud Thomasians.
If you’re a Thomasian, student or alumni, and you’re reading this, make yourself part of the music scene. Let’s be involved. Let’s do our part.
[Entry 201, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Aaron Alegre is a freelance writer for hire who likes writing about the big stuff — society, culture, and plans for the future. Sometimes, he just likes to overthink whatever media he consumes. He is inspired by masterminds, visionaries, and street philosophers. He manages his best friend’s band, Papapeta. When he’s not writing, he makes films and plays videos games. He has recently started his own blog — read it here. He’s on Twitter too; his handle is @AaronTheAlegre.