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Opinion

Heeding the beat of music’s digital revolution

Although the recent rumour about the impending resignation of celebrated songwriter Nitipong Hornak from music industry leader GMM Grammy has not been substantiated, it reflects the stark challenge facing the local entertainment industry from the pervasive evolution of digital technology.

In a telling interview with Channel 3 news talk show host Sorayuth Suthassanajinda, Nitipong admitted that he had certain issues with GMM Grammy executives over the company’s reorganisation. GMM Grammy wants to scale down its underperforming departments like traditional CD production and slash the salaries of some veteran songwriters amid the industry revolution.

Disc sales are plummeting because new media such as Internet radio are attracting millions of users. Listeners can stream music and videos from websites. Songwriters have to adjust by trying to produce catchy jingles that can be downloaded as ringtones.

While the restructuring dispute has to be sorted out by the songwriters and GMM Grammy, the episode shows the dire straits overtaking the entertainment industry, where marketing is as pivotal as the talent of the artists or the quality of their work.

Now, the transition to mobile music technology should make music more accessible to listeners, but music companies will have to find new approaches so they can still deliver quality products to consumers. Apple, not major music labels, defines how entertainment companies deliver their products. Even Playboy cannot resist the temptation to go iPad.

The new digital technology can change the concept of control and ownership of music by music labels and recording artists. Only a few decades ago, Thai song masters and writers crafted their masterpieces for almost nothing. They were not aware of the value of their work and let the record labels reap the benefits from reproducing their works.

GMM Grammy understands the changing concept of ownership in the music industry well. The company’s library contains hundreds of the late Thai diva Pumpuang Duanjian’s titles written by veteran songwriter Lop Burirat and it profited from the remakes of these oldies. Once, the industry was facing the threat of piracy. But now digital technology has taken over as the biggest risk to music labels.

The emerging technology does not come as merely a disadvantage. In fact, some artists use the new media to connect directly with listeners instead of relying on the record labels to do the promotion work. Some radio stations used to bombard listeners with certain songs under monetary pressure from major music labels, which wanted to put their hits at the top of the charts. Nowadays, independent music producers can promote their songs through much less expensive means such as social networks.

The proliferation of new digital platforms is an essential factor for the music and film industries to consider if they want to continue to flourish in the future in line with Thailand’s inspiration to develop into a creative economy.

Some artists have already succeeded in using digital technology to create hype for their works. For instance, U.K. alternative rock band Radiohead released their seventh studio album “In Rainbows” through digital downloading in 2007 before releasing traditional CDs shortly afterwards. Many recording artists still rely on traditional CD stores to distribute their products, but many of them also increase their sales online. Superstores have replaced the CDs on their shelves with iPhones and iPads, in line with declining sales of hardcopy music.

The proliferation of digital music platforms can provide an opportunity for artists and record labels only if they can find the right solutions especially when consumers can now be connected to their sounds 24/7 through mobile phones, laptops and other gadgets. Some companies have also started to take advantage of this trend by charging consumers a reasonable price to download music online or compensating for declining record sales by placing advertisements on their music websites.

Most important of all, consumers always want to get quality work from the artists now that they can listen to more songs than ever. Artists with no originality always fade fast, regardless of the medium that carries their songs.

(The Nation, Jan. 24)
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