Since the early 2000s, the once hugely successful international recorded music industry has seen its reach, prestige and profits take a continual dive. The phenomenon that began with the advent of online music piracy in the late 1999s, led the music industry to retreat into itself behind a wall of legalese, while failing to realise that a combination of funding artist development, as was the key to the industry’s success in the 60s, 70s and part of the 80s, combined with investing in new legal online technologies, could have allowed the music industry to adapt to the times without sacrificing its ability to cultivate new talent.
In many respects, even before the advent of Napster, the music industry began shooting itself in the foot by promoting ‘safe’ artists rather than developing and pushing new talent. This trend began in the 1980s and was accurately described by Frank Zappa in an interview he gave at the time.
One market in which the international music industry continues to do comparatively well is in Japan. While Japanese audiences continue to embrace contemporary music, so-called legacy acts of the 60s, 70s and 80s continue to sell across a multitude of formats including LP, CD, SACD, streaming and digital downloads. Japanese audiences have remained far more loyal to ‘legendary’ bands than many of their American or European counterparts.
Today in China, international music is becoming increasingly popular thanks to China adopting legal music streaming in a major way. China’s QQ Music (QQ音乐) is the world’s biggest legal music streaming platform with 211.43 million users and growing. This is just one of the many growing and already incredibly large music streaming platforms in China. By contrast, Apple Music and Spotify have around 40 million users each, across the world.
While Japan has generally been the primary Asian market for the wider international music industry, the Philippines remains an untapped marketplace with 103 million potential music consumers. While little discussed in the wider world, The Philippines is home to some of the most prolific cover bands/tribute acts in the world. Because the rock, pop and R n’ B stars who normally tour the so-called “international circuit” rarely come to Asia except for Japan, musical Filipinos have taken it upon themselves to recreate their favourite bands and singers themselves. In many instances, when a US or European band is a bit ‘out of practice’ there’s a high likelihood that their Filipino tribute acts are closer to the high energy of the original record than the real thing.
The phenomenon of Filipino cover bands was ever so slightly exposed to the wider world when the prolific US band Journey found themselves without long time lead singer Steve Perry. The band was not sure if their legendary front man could be replaced, but then they found a recording of Arnel Pineda, a singer who became incredibly popular in The Philippines beginning in the 1980s, but whose name was hardly known in the wider world. The members of Journey ended up liking Pineda’s singing so much that they hired him to sign with Journey in 2007. He has remained with the band ever since.
While the music industry continues to ignore the vast array of musical talent in The Philippines, a great opportunity is being lost. Record labels ought to be using modern legal streaming technology to promote international ‘legacy bands’ that did not necessarily get the Asian airplay they deserved when they were new. Thus, record labels can and should re-introduce/introduce such music to Asian audiences who are often far more discerning when it comes to musical quality than western audiences who have become incredibly frivolous with their own ‘legacy acts’. If great classical music can continue its lifespan long after the death of the original composers, surely the rock and pop music of a few decades ago deserves such treatment, not least because of its high musical quality.
An ideal situation would be that record labels market musically excellent records from the 60s, 70s, and 80s to Philippine audiences, while striking a deal with talented local musicians to play the music in tours around the Philippines. This way, Filipino musicians will be able to make more money by having the backing of major tour promoters associated with big record labels, while the record labels will end up having the older hits in their catalogue get more and more online play and downloads thanks to re-introducing ageless material to a new audience.
If successful in The Philippines, record labels could work on similar methods across South East and East Asia, all the while giving expert Filipino musicians the opportunity to play for audiences in countries like China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and beyond, who themselves would likely enjoy being introduced to new yet classic music performed by some of Asia’s best rock and pop musicians.
This win-win situation would not only be great for Asian music lovers, but would help interject fresh international investment into the music scenes in The Philippines and give it the promotion it has long deserved. All the while, the writers of the original music would see their own profiles rise and could even lead to more international music tours landing in The Philippines and other parts of South East Asia.
In an age of increased global inter-connectivity, culture ought to be at the forefront as much as traditional trade and security matters. The above mentioned arrangement could also show the world that while The Philippines moves economically and in respect of security closer to its fellow Asian partners, that the country remains open to the entire world whether for business or for the joy of music.