Low-profile mogul bets big on music
In 2009, a big time but low profile entrepreneur, Julio D. Sy Jr., did what very few chief executive officers would ever dare do: Leave a fast growing enterprise behind to spend an entire year with the family, doing nothing more complicated than to take the children to school and bring them back home at the end of the day.
Looking back, the native of Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental says that 2009 was the best year of his life, forging an unbreakable bond with his wife and children while acquiring a crystal clear vision on where he wants to take Tao Corp., a multibillion-peso conglomerate with interests in marketing and distribution, health and wellness, and financial resources.
He also came back home from that sabbatical in Vancouver, Canada with a commitment to make more Filipinos proud of Original Pinoy Music through Music Nation 7101 and Radio Republic.
Sy, who founded Tao Corp. in 1995, tells SundayBiz that the idea to put up Music Nation 7101 popped into his head after experiencing the joy and pride people felt during the Vancouver jazz festival in Canada.
He says that people came from all over Canada to enjoy the music of local artists. Not only did the festival bring to the fore the talent of upcoming and established artists, it also increased the revenue of the local government due to the influx of tourists.
Sy, whose family made its mark in the trading of commodities such as sugar and coconut oil, thus came away with the idea to hold a similar festival in his hometown. By doing so, he would put Dumaguete on the tourism map and showcase the immense talent of world-class Filipino musicians.
“It has always been my dream to do something for Dumaguete. I love that city and I have always said that the one industry that would make a very big change for Dumaguete City is tourism,” says Sy. “It has so much to offer but it is not promoted well because it is not on the priority list. So one way to promote this is through a music festival.”
His idea also quickly took a life of its own after he met with maestro Ryan Cayabyab.
Cayabyab suggested that, instead of just organizing a music festival where artists would descend on Dumaguete for one night and then leave the next day, it would be better to put time and money in a music education program for budding songwriters.
Elements Music Camp
Thus was born the Elements Music Camp in 2010, which gathered in Dumaguete City 60 young, budding composers from all over the country for an intensive workshop with leading figures in the music industry who served as mentors and rich sources of musical inspiration.
“Ryan said that nobody really invested in the young composers and a music festival will just be like any other. Through this, we can discover what kind of talent is out there,” says Sy, who admits to having no talent for music, although he makes up for the lack of it with passion and love for the artistic genius of talented musicians.
The four-day Elements Camp will soon have its fourth run. It is organized through Tao Corp.’s 7101 Music Nation. The name is culled from the 7,100 islands that make up the Philippines. Both mentors and campers believe that the Elements Camp has been an unqualified success.
“We did not imagine the type of magic that will be created at the music camp. It was not just the campers who learned from the experience, but also the mentors. They left the camp inspired to create original music for Filipinos to enjoy,” says Sy. “At some point during the camp, there is no more division between camper and mentor. They all became talented creators of original Filipino music.”
According to singer/songwriter Noel Cabangon, the Elements Camp provides him with a rare opportunity to help campers create songs applying the knowledge and theories provided by different composers.
It is also a good venue for the participants to have a one-on-one or small group encounter with established songwriters. Tips, words of wisdom and technical know-how are widely shared.
“There is a special learning process at the Elements camp. You can learn from the masters and participants. There is always an opportunity to learn from each other’s experience and knowledge,” Cabangon adds.
Unfortunately, the original music produced by the campers do not get any airplay from the commercial radio stations. It was hard enough for the established songwriters to have their music heard, thus it is virtually impossible for the new names to enjoy any kind of exposure through the leading radio stations.
Thus was born Radio Republic, an online radio platform geared toward promoting original Filipino music of all genres.
“The radio stations did not want to play the campers’ music and the recording companies did not want to take a risk on the new talent. So the business solution is to give that music an avenue so that the music will be heard beyond the camp,” says Sy, whose Radio Republic—now a leading destination for fresh Filipino music—was launched in March 2012.
This was followed by the Dagsa Music Festival in November 2012, a two-day celebration of music that included an education series and an open concert and street party. The hope is to make the Dagsa Music Festival a major item on the calendar of both local and foreign tourists and thus help Dumaguete secure a firm place on the tourism map.
“So now we have three platforms for Filipino talents to have their music heard,” says Sy, who is happy to see how major brands such as Globe Telecom, Lenovo and Kopiko tend to appreciate the support OPM has extended in enhancing their brands’ image in the country.
A fourth platform will be added in July this year with the launch of Music Bus. It is literally a bus that can be converted into a stage. The bus will go around the country, educating people on OPM. Concerts will be staged for free, hopefully with the support of other companies that believe in the music cause.
“We want to help companies build their brands through music. We are starting with these three brands. If we can show that supporting music is positive for the brand, then we hope to see this movement gaining traction, and hopefully get more companies to support the growth of local music and make our platforms sustainable,” adds Sy.
Sy says he has seen for himself the transformative power of music. That return on investment may not be reflected on the bottom line, but he hopes it will nevertheless make a significant impact on the country’s music scene.