Will the OPM Development Act save the music industry?

ALWAYS RIGHT NOW - Alex Almario (The Philippine Star) - March 21, 2015 - 12:00am

The great “OPM is dead/no it’s not” debate of 2012 was a classic artists-versus-critics clash, pitting writers like Leloy Claudio and Supreme’s very own Don Jaucian against virtually the entire music industry. On balance, it was a fun and generally healthy exchange, despite the occasional vitriol lobbed here and there. What it eventually led to was a re-appreciation of OPM and a widespread acknowledgement that, no, of course it’s not dead, but times sure have changed.

Fast forward to three years later and a new debate has sprung up, this time between the OPM establishment and the indie community, artists versus artists, over a proposed bill that tacitly admits that, yes, maybe it is kind of dead.

It is a curious time for these two factions to revive what is now a largely obsolete conflict. The line between mainstream and independent music has never been as stylistically blurred as it is now, with Internet and new recording technologies making music less parochial and more universal over the years. It is a trend apparent in the west, where Taylor Swift can share common ground with a band like Desire, and here at home, where Thyro and Yumi occupy the same sonic space as a group like Moonwlk. The war is over. Everybody won.

And yet: the line between mainstream and independent music has never been as concretely defined as it is now. It stretches out like one long, deep trench in a new war with old roots. The proposed and intensely-debated OPM Development Act is this conflict’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but it’s obvious that this is really all about a long-standing territorial dispute.


On one side are the old guard of mainstream Pinoy music, led by Ogie Alcasid, president of the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM), and Noel Cabangon, president of the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Inc. (FILSCAP). They support the bill because it seeks to “promote local artists” by charging equity fees to foreign acts that perform in the country, accredit local music organizations who will benefit from said equity, and give tax breaks to radio stations who will abide by the four-OPM-songs-per-hour rule.

On the other side are the independent musicians and champions of independent music, unofficially led by Skarlet Brown of Put3Ska and Brownbeat Allstars fame. They vehemently oppose the bill primarily for two reasons: 1) the accreditation process could favor groups headed by the proponents of the bill, opening up possibilities of corruption, and 2) the four-OPM-songs-per-hour rule will not eliminate the alleged practice of major labels paying “payola” to radio stations in exchange for heavy airplay.

The war just got real but it’s been going on ideologically for decades and has mostly been waged one-way by the independent community. Mainstream artists, as part of the old record company system, are oblivious to this. They get “discovered” by managers, get exposure through TV variety shows, and are then granted tons of airplay by radio stations owned by the same media conglomerate that manages their career. They’re not at war with anyone — they’re in “showbiz.”

Indie music, on the other hand, is defined by its seething awareness of the mainstream. Indie musicians, by virtue of choosing the “alternative” path, are always consciously trying to “beat the system,” to “stay true to their music,” to control their own destiny independent of the mainstream industry. Indie music is a constant struggle. It is a declaration of war.


But ever since the Internet flattened the landscape, music consumption has increasingly been more conducive to indie guerrilla tactics — online marketing and fan engagement supplanting the old radio-TV major label model — rendering old media dispensable in the culture and leaving mainstream players grasping for straws disguised as pro-OPM legislation. They’ve declared their own war, but against an imaginary enemy.

The OPM Development Act is based on the odd premise that foreign music, whether live or recorded, “completely obliterates any competition from local artists,” an assertion so retrograde, it brings to mind old-school pre-globalization fears. When the foundations of this bill were laid down in last year’s Pinoy Music Summit, indie artists were hardly consulted, which is absurd considering that indie releases routinely exceed major label output, and which also explains the bill’s xenophobia. Indie artists simply do not see foreign acts as threats. If anything, they have a symbiotic relationship with foreign artists, for whom they often open in concerts, giving them the rare exposure to packed stadiums, an opportunity ordinarily afforded only to those in major labels, the same ones complaining about these foreign concerts. Local indie artists form relationships with international indie networks. It is through this global mutual admiration society that a rarely played local artist like Eyedress can get featured in The Guardian, Dazed Digital, and NME and an obscure home-grown band like Outerhope can be invited to the NYC Popfest.

If the proponents of this bill were truly serious about fostering growth within the local recording industry, then they should seek real government support; not handouts from Katy Perry and Maroon 5. The OPM Development Act lets our government off the hook from what governments in other countries actually do: fund the arts.

But even that is a mere distraction from the real issue: music sales are at an all-time low worldwide. No one is immune — not Ogie Alcasid and not even Katy Perry. This OPM bill sounds like a wail of denial amid an ever-adjusting world. The war is over. The walls have crumbled and old ideologies have died. This is no longer 1993, where Madonna can dominate MTV while Björk toils in obscurity — they now draw equal attention in the open terrain of the Internet. A song by Ang Bandang Shirley can now top a radio chart, not through major label machinations, but through online-generated interest. Pop culture is now fractured and no longer the sole domain of the mainstream. The castles have long been empty. A hollow OPM bill will not bring the kingdom back.

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Tweet the author @ColonialMental.

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