Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Music is not free

Posted on June 07, 2014 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 8, 2014 – 12:00am

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Illustration by Rey Rivera

I was recently elected board member of the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Inc. (FILSCAP), a non-stock, non-profit association of composers, lyric-writers and music publishers. It is an organization that licenses and collects royalties for the public performance of its members ’ songs, and promotes Philippine culture. Shortly after, the board elected me as vice president.

Since I took my office a little over a month ago, I have been so busy learning the ropes in my new responsibility. There is so much to learn about royalty collection and intellectual property rights pertaining to music, which is what FILSCAP is mainly involved in.

Time was many years ago in the ‘60s when composers and songwriters were hardly paid anything. They mostly got a one-time fee, a pittance which could be as low as P60 and a high of P120. Ownership of the songs usually went to the owners of recording and/or publishing companies. Some creators of music mostly did it for love. But some others did it out of desperation just to earn money.

By the time I started recording in the early ‘70s, the fees given to us had become P300. It was supposed to be an advanced royalty. Luckily I was wise enough to not sign away the rights to my songs and have kept ownership of them to this day. For all practical purposes, the P300 then was all we got from the recording companies for every song we wrote. We would get measly royalties, which no one ever checked or verified if they were accurate. For many songwriters, being played on radio was thrilling enough to keep us going and writing songs.

There are horror stories among many old and young songwriters where they signed away ownership of their songs and never got just compensation for them. So many known Filipino classics were purchased from them and because of the over-protectiveness of the new owners, and their lack of foresight, most of the songs were never heard again in any other new version. The owners simply did not allow other people to re-record them, or if they did, the price was too exorbitant.

Somewhere in the late ‘90s, things began to change slowly. New copyright laws were instituted and taken more seriously. Royalty societies abroad and FILSCAP forged closer relationships which gave us more clout with potential licensees and made the business of collecting royalties more global.

These days, FILSCAP is able to collect some performance royalties from various radio, television, concert outlets, and other users of music such as restaurants, malls, karaoke outlets, bars, etc. There are still so many outlets that are not complying with the law about paying royalties, and FILSCAP is trying to sign all of them up slowly.

The concept of recognizing intellectual property and royalty payments is still in its early stages in the Philippines. It was not too long ago when much of the broadcast industry scoffed at the idea of paying royalties. In their view, playing songs on radio was promotion of songs that translated to sales and thus helped artists in their careers, they argued. They failed to see that the whole reason behind their existence, and that was to play music, and yet they refused to pay for it. Nevermind that they spent millions on equipment just to be able to broadcast music. Content was free as far as they were concerned.

In the eyes of many Filipinos, music is free. Thus, illegal downloading, piracy, and use of music without permission is okay. Intellectual property and copyright are not requested.

But the truth is, music is NOT free. People make them and before the audience hears them, music creators have already spent for musicians, singers, technicians and paid artists to record them. A lot of time and effort has been given. And more money is spent to market these songs.

Furthermore, just because music is not something you can literally hold in your hands does not mean no one owns them. Creators own them. One can describe music as an aesthetically engineered aural experience that lifts the user/listener to an altered state or mood. Just like anything you consume, it costs something.

Composer and publisher members of FILSCAP now receive royalties for radio play, TV airing and when songs are sang or played in concerts and other venues, thank God.

While things have never been better for the Filipino songwriter in terms of royalty collection, there is still much to be desired.

We are still in the early stages compared to many of our Asian neighbors who collect millions more than FILSCAP does. There is still a lot of educating and convincing needed to be able to get all the establishments who use music to sign up, become licensees and pay.

FILSCAP collects royalties both domestic and foreign music for which it has been given authority to do. The way it stands today, the much larger share of royalties collected by FILSCAP (60.67 percent) still goes to foreign partners. This is an indicator that Filipinos use more foreign than local tunes. In Indonesia, the situation is the opposite where 80 percent of royalty collected goes to their own local composers.

Hopefully, someday soon, we can reverse this trend. It is only right that we as a people sing, dance, laugh, cry, love, live and enjoy life. But let’s do so with our own local music as the soundtrack of our lives.

* * *

A new exciting visual artist is having an exhibit called “Essential.” Michelle Perez holds an artist’s meet on Wednesday, June 11, at 5 p.m. at Now Gallery and Auctions. Please, R.S.V.P Mae Claudio at 555-0683 for your attendance.

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