MUSIC defines and reflects the culture of a country; and through Original Pinoy Music (OPM), the diversity and richness of Filipino culture, as well as the sentiments of its people are expected to turn into distinct melodies.

OPM, a term which refers to songs composed and performed by Filipino artists, became popular during the late ‘70s along with the rise of the Metro Manila Popular Music Festival or the Metropop in 1977, a yearly songwriting competition that yieleded such classics as “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika” by Ryan Cayabyab and the world-renowned “Anak” by Freddie Aguilar.

Eventually, OPM became a brand of music characterized by a unique Filipino flair. Through the years, OPM evolved and experimented with different music genre-styles.

Undeniably, Filipinos had supported OPM since the inception of the Metropop. However, after years of hearing music from prominent Filipino artists who made their distinct marks in the music scene, the country’s music industry seems to settle for the production of second-rate songs and revivals. Is OPM really going downhill?

Changes in OPM

Antonio P. Africa, Assistant dean of the Conservatory of Music, associated the changes in OPM with the “signs of the times”.

“You cannot separate the arts from the culture of the people,” he said. “It is a reflection of the times, of the attitude of our people.”

He added that OPM has changed in terms of form. Such changes can be easily seen when comparing classic songs such as “Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas”, which has a memorable melodies and multiple chord progression, with Filipino songs of today, which have only three to four chord progressions.

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He also pointed out that these changes were brought about by today’s producers, who make albums, even when the artists clearly lack talent, for the sake of sales. Although some of these artists may have the voice, they don’t receive proper training, unlike the artists in other countries. In South Korea, for example, emerging artists are trained for a year before being exposed to the public.

OPM today

OPM is still waging war against piracy, which is its biggest and oldest threat. Because of piracy, the music industry lost an estimate of more than a billion last year. Artists are not properly compensated for their work, and the industry loses profit which may lead to the closure of more record companies. According to the Philippine Association of the Record Industry (PARI), eight of the 43 companies affiliated with the PARI closed shop in 2001 because of the rampant operations of piracy all over the country.

Piracy is present everywhere. Stalls selling pirated CDs can be seen in the streets and markets, especially in Quiapo. Nowadays, because of the internet, music can easily be downloaded in file-sharing sites with a single click. Although the Optical Media Board (OMB) conducts numerous raids in several cities and provinces (which are reported through their efforts), the Philippines was removed from the piracy watch list of the Office of the United States Trade Representative even if it is still evidently rampant. Piracy is far from over unless the people are properly educated about the issue and are discouraged from purchasing pirated CDs.

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The music industry is not only waging war against piracy, but also yearns for attention and support from the Filipinos. Music festivals such as the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival and the Manila Music Festival are held and Philippine Pop or P-Pop was introduced to re-establish OPM not only to the Filipinos but also to the international music scene. Also, the government (under former president Corazon Aquino) ordered radio stations to play at least four OPM songs every hour with the Executive Order no. 255. The order was not strictly enforced during the succeeding administrations until President Benigno Aquino III directed the National Telecommunications Commission to implement it.

Although OPM is being heavily endorsed, many still prefer listening to foreign music. In the University alone, only seven out of 20 students preferred listening to OPM. Others preferred listening to foreign music because they claimed it had more thought and better quality. Filipinos support foreign music more than their own and prefer buying albums produced by foreign artists. In the album charts of major record companies, more than half of the albums in the top spots were by foreign artists.

In 2008, OPM still dominated the MYX Hit Chart Year-end Countdown with 11 songs in the top 20. During that time, Sarah Geronimo’s rendition of the song “A Very Special Love” made it to the top spot. In 2009, however, only eight OPM songs made it in the top 20; with Sarah Geronimo’s “You Changed My Life in a Moment” losing its much-coveted rank to five foreign songs. Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” was hailed number one song of the year. On the next year, during the emergence of K-Pop groups, only four out of 20 songs were OPM, and 6cyclemind’s “Kung Wala na Nga”, the band’s collaboration with Yeng Constantino, Kean Cipriano, and DJ Coki lost to Justin Bieber’s hit single “Baby.”

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In spite of all the problems OPM is facing, people in the music industry are still optimistic that hype for OPM can be revived. But changes in the music industry would only be possible if the government creates new laws to promote OPM, curb piracy in the country, and make producers value music more as art rather than a money mill. If this kind of attitude continues from both the listeners, who prefer listening to foreign music, and the producers, who value the sales more, would the words “original” and “Pinoy” eventually fade from OPM and settle for music that, ironically enough, lacks an identity? John Joseph G. Basijan with reports from Alfredo N. Mendoza V

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