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Filipino musicians, artists demand support from gov’t, people

By: - Business Features Editor / @tinaarceodumlao
/ 01:04 AM March 19, 2014

(Last of two parts)

The Philippine music industry is no stranger to change.

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Over the past 90 years, it saw the birth and death of different media on which Original Pilipino Music was stored—from the 45-rpm singles and 33-rpm long-playing vinyl albums of the 1950s to the 1970s to the eight-track and cassette tapes of the 1980s and the compact discs of the 1990s.

Today, the local recording industry has to contend with yet another seismic shift, this time into the expanding world of digital media where only the fittest may survive.

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It has not been an easy transition due to the ease in which copyrighted material, such as music, may be downloaded or shared among friends through the worldwide web, practically for free, and loaded onto a host of devices from computers to digital music players and mobile phones.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), which represents copyright-based industries of the United States, including the Recording Industry Association of America and National Music Publishers’ Association, said in its 2014 report to the US Trade Representative that piracy through mobile devices was becoming “a more serious concern” in the Philippines.

Landmark move

With the significant increase in mobile penetration in the Philippines, pirated content such as movies and music—foreign and local—are now being sent directly to mobile phones through wireless connections, IIPA said.

There are also Internet websites that openly allow illegal downloads of movies, games and music.

“While access to the Internet in areas outside Metro Manila is still not that well established, Internet penetration in the cities is growing. Internet piracy is growing along with it,” the report said.

The government, through the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines has trained its guns on Internet piracy, and one of its landmark moves was the shutdown in June 2013 of the domain kat.ph, which was a hotbed for online piracy.

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The Philippine Association of the Record Industry Inc. (Pari) said that the kat.ph case stemmed from the complaints of local record labels that the site was doing “irreparable damage” to the local music industry by providing illegal download links to copyrighted works, including OPM.

Pari said that, while the site is again operating under a different domain name, its move and the support of the government through the IP Office showed the world that the Philippines was serious in dealing with online piracy.

Pari chair Marivic Benedicto told the Inquirer that the group remained in talks with the government to block websites proven to contain illegal content and facilitate peer-to-peer sharing of music.

Although Pari has not given up the fight against pirated material contained in compact discs, it is now focusing its attention on online piracy, which is a concern for all recording companies and artists who are unable to get their monetary dues because their songs are illegally shared or downloaded through the Internet, Benedicto stressed.

Not enough Filipinos buy tracks from legal downloading sites such as iTunes, for example. The same is true for the OPM2Go platform spearheaded by OPM president Ogie Alcasid.

“OPM2Go is still not picking up. We are surviving but the business model is changing. The iTunes model [where consumers pay to download tracks] will not work here,” Alcasid said yesterday.

Nevertheless, digital is the wave of the present and future, and the local recording industry is seeing slow but sure gains through their online channels and legitimate music download sites.

A report on the state of the music industry, prepared for the convenors of today’s Pinoy Music Summit 2014, showed that the Philippines had seen an increasing trend in digital music sales, with growth estimated by Pari at 400 percent from 2005 to 2010, from an estimated P42 million in 2005 to P183 million as of 2010.

The increase may seem substantial, but it is not nearly enough to offset the loss in CD sales over the same period, which is not just because of the shift in preference in how music is played, but mainly due to the wide availability of free content on the Internet.

“Why pay when you can get it for free?” is the question posed by those who download music from the Internet without paying a centavo in copyright, composed mainly of those in the 15- to 30-year-old age group who, according to the report, are “comfortable with searching and downloading digital music files” compared to those above 35 who are among the biggest buyers of compact discs from the few record stores still standing.

The digital revolution, like all major technological changes, indeed presents opportunities as well as risks.

For wireless services provider Smart Communications Inc., the digital revolution affecting the music industry made it viable for it to forge in July 2013 a partnership with MCA Music Inc., the world’s leading music company, to provide what it called a “game-changing” online music service called Smart Music.

A first in the world, the deal between the two companies will make the more than 3 million tracks in MCA Music’s extensive local and foreign catalog exclusively available to the over 70 million subscribers of Smart and other mobile brands under the PLDT group—Talk ‘N Text and Sun Cellular.

Locally, the MCA Music roster includes Ely Buendia and bands Pupil and The Oktaves, Sitti, Nyoy Volante, Urbandub, Franco and ChicoSci. MCA Music also carries the license to the collections of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Motown catalogs. Smart Music offers downloads for as low as P15 a track, said to be the lowest rate in the digital music market today. New releases, on the other hand, are sold at P20 each, which is about half the rate of leading online music stores.

Unlimited music streaming

Smart Communications followed Smart Music in October 2013 with SPINNR, which offers unlimited music streaming at specific rates, as well as playlist customization and access. Discounts on downloads are likewise on tap for subscribers of the Smart group.

Smart said in a statement that SPINNR’s music streaming feature “addresses the evolving listening habits especially of young music lovers who prefer the streaming experience over downloading the music tracks on their phones.”

Meanwhile, for local musicians, the Internet offers an affordable means to spread their music, and makes the entire world a potential market for their music. YouTube, Soundcloud are just a few of the sites where their music can be discovered.

But the downside is that, while it is easy to access the Internet, new and established musicians are just among the millions who are also out there, thus it is a Herculean feat to stand out from the crowd.

To be discovered and appreciated, they will still have to need good old radio, which remains a dominant means for people to discover music, since it is virtually free and accessible nationwide.

The ubiquity of radio is one reason why the late President Corazon C. Aquino passed Executive Order 255 in 1987, which required all radio stations with musical format programs to broadcast at least four OPM compositions every hour.

Even then, it was cited that the executive order was needed as radio programs with musical formats “allot very limited playing time to original Pilipino music.” Thus, to help promote growth of the local music industry, airplay of OPM—in English, Filipino or any other language or dialect—on radio has to be increased and enforced.

This reality prompted Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat to file on March 18 House Bill 4218 to promote, protect and develop the local Philippine music industry.

Called the OPM Development Act of 2014, the bill seeks to institutionalize the playing of at least four OPM songs by broadcast organizations and entitle those that play the minimum to a tax credit, considering the power of radio to entice listeners to appreciate OPM.

Baguilat said that the OPM bill needed to be passed as popularization of OPM among Filipinos “remains a colossal challenge” given the proliferation of foreign music and the arrival of more foreign artists on local shores, thus posing stiff competition with Filipino artists.

“The Philippines should take measures to protect its local artists and further promote Filipino music,” said Baguilat.

Alcasid, for his part, challenged Filipinos to patronize their own music, by listening, buying records or downloading songs from legitimate sites. Doing so will fuel the development of the local industry which needs revenues to allow composers to write, singers to perform, and record companies to invest in Filipino talent.

“Filipinos should not stop being Filipino. The industry is still surviving because of the Filipinos’ undying love for everything that is Filipino and that includes OPM. We are in this situation because many people allowed it to happen. Now is the time for us to come back and rediscover ourselves,” said Alcasid.

Preferential use

Also, Benedicto is seeking further government support to encourage preference of Filipino, over foreign, music.

She cites how governments in other English-speaking countries like Australia and Canada have mandated preferential use of their own music to keep the culture alive and not be swallowed by music coming from the United States and United Kingdom.

“They mandate airplay of local content because they fear that their local culture will be diluted. We would like to see the same support here,” said Benedicto.

Noel Cabangon, president of the Filipino Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers, and lead convenor of the Pinoy Music Summit, added that to support OPM would be to champion Filipino culture and identity.

We would not want to see the day when the soundtrack of Filipinos’ lives will be dictated by foreign artists instead of their own, he said.

It is crucial then that all Filipinos contribute to keep Filipino music playing and make it last.

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TAGS: Business, International Intellectual Property Alliance, Internet, music industry, Philippines
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