MANILA, Philippines – There is a death that is greatly disputed, and it is that of the local music scene.
Not a few have delivered obituaries over the death of Pinoy music. Some have lamented over how OPM has become a misnomer, as it has metastasized in characteristics from mostly “original” to revival. However, there are those who argue against it – vehemently saying that OPM is thriving, humming beneath the mainstream radar.
Some of those who staunchly defend the state of OPM are radio station manager Ron Titular, former DJ Katrina Tuason, and record label veteran Twinky Lagdameo. Bound by their love for music and desire to give Filipino musicians a medium for expression and exposure, they banded together to form Radio Republic.
Radio Republic is a movement which prides itself in being the go-to source for everything OPM on-ground and online, featuring seasoned bands and aspiring musicians alike.
The team behind this is a diverse crew of music producers, journalists, and creators – from radio jocks Titular and Tuason to rock musicians like Zach Lucero of Imago and Kelley Mangahas of Kjwan, to music producers like Lagdameo. All of them have extensive background in the music industry, having been performers, composers, organizers, and chroniclers of the Philippine music scene.
Elements of change
Titular narrates the beginnings of their Radio Republic, which was borne out of the Elements Songwriting Camp, which started about 4 years ago. The camp is an annual fellowship for those who aspire to become part of the music industry, teaching the basics of songwriting, musical arrangement, and even legal and financial pointers for those who want to immerse themselves in the nitty-gritty details of the business.
The idea for the music camp started from Lagdameo and musical composer Ryan Cayabyab, who were discussing the state of OPM. “When you tune in to the radio, you can’t find good OPM anymore,” Titular says. “They [saw] that there’s something that can and should be done to improve the state of OPM.”
Together with social entrepreneur Jun Sy, Lagdameo and Cayabyab conceptualized and developed what would seem like a bootcamp for aspiring musicians and songwriters. It’s been held in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, with panelists such as Cayabyab and musicians Aiza Seguerra, Chito Miranda, Raymund Marasigan, Jim Paredes, and Noel Cabangon serving as mentors.
It did not take long for the Elements camp organizers to realize that the industry they thought was languishing was anything but. “We realized that we had such a wealth of musical talent in the Philippines,” Titular said, “and we just had to give them a platform where they can be showcased and discovered.”
Lagdameo contacted Titular, a seasoned radio station manager who had worked with a variety of stations whose programming range from jazz to rock and even novelty. He had been venturing into Internet radio via his media outfit The Edge Media, which specialized in gospel rock. They explored options, studied the digital sphere, and observed consumer behavior. Eventually, they hired Tuason, a radio jock from the now-defunct rock station NU 107, and the rest was history.
Radio Republic’s website went live after a year, in 2012, but the product continued to evolve, having actually started out as a site hosting a 24/7 audio stream akin to that of a traditional radio station.
“We tried to solidify our programming and get all organized,” Tuason said. “But we realized a year later that Internet in this country is just so bad.”
The challenge of putting together a continuous audio stream with dedicated listeners made the Radio Republic team realize two things – first, the linear format terrestrial radio follows neither applies nor appeals to the digital-savvy market, and second, the state of consumer-grade Philippine Internet cannot support the bandwidth required to have a stream sans the buffering.
A compromise had to be made, fast. The team took out the live-streaming component, and became a content hub for all things OPM coupled with a strong on-ground initiative to serve as its anchor with the live music scene. They hold pocket concerts called Instagig every week in different bars around the country, featuring a mix of popular and emerging acts.
“On the site, every month we have two featured artists – one is an established, familiar name and the other someone new,” Tuason said. “We also feature one song every day coming from new, unsigned artists who submit their material.” From exclusive interviews and performances to kooky how-to videos, Radio Republic is packed with content on-demand.
Today’s generation might be more inclined to search for new material via the Internet, but Lagdameo still thinks that there is still a degree of passivity.
“Studies show that most people are still passive listeners, the number one point is still point of referral, through Facebook, Twitter, email, or whatever,” she said. “There’s still the person they trust and respect whose taste they will sort of embrace.”
In the global scene, Lagdameo cites British broadcaster John Peel as a music authority. Until his passing in 2004, Peel had the longest-running radio show called the Peel Sessions on BBC Radio 1. She goes on to say that there are several people who have become music authorities in the local scene such as former radio jock Myrene Academia, who also performs bass for rock band Sandwich.
Curation, Titular says, is the name of the game, and in establishing Radio Republic, they aim to serve as a guide for the millennial who has downloaded thousands of songs but would only listen to a few hundred.
“In Radio Republic, we are establishing ourselves as a place you wanna come to and find OPM that’s worth your time, because there’s a lot out there,” he added. “So what we wanna do is curate and make sure this is worth your time because you probably don’t have all day to sit around and go through every single song. We do that, and we’re proud of it.”
Championing local music
Today’s crop of musicians promote their wares more differently nowadays, says Titular. “This generation, they don’t think ‘I’m gonna write a song and get signed with a record label,’” he said. “It is a whole new breed, but there’s the passion to revive the local scene.”
Titular adds that the musician’s dream of getting signed with a record label is trumped by the collapse of the boundary between performer and listener. Aspiring musicians can now upload their songs to YouTube or Soundcloud with the whole world as their audience, instead of doing radio tours and hoping that the labels would catch their performances.
“In traditional radio you would literally think nothing is happening,” he said. “But if you go online you will be amazed with the treasure trove of original, unsigned material.”
It is clear that what is dead, or at least dying, are the traditional definitions of success in the industry. What is alive is the desire to share music on a democratized, free-for-all sphere.
If there were something dying, Lagdameo adds, it would be the type of music consumerism we grew up with – but not the quality of the music itself.
“What people are really complaining about is the lack of what seems to be creativity and freshness in OPM,” Lagdameo said. “But OPM will never die, for as long as there is a Filipino musician alive.” – Rappler.com