- In the recent years, Bangkok’s indie music scene has been growing significantly; however, the big problem is still the same - indie musicians can’t quite turn music into a sustainable career. I have thought of several ways to tackle this problem, and figured that if Bangkok could be recognized as a Music City and a world renowned music tourism destination, the dream of making music a sustainable career could possibly be realized.
- Why can’t indie musicians can’t turn music into a career in Thailand?
- The economic problem of the indie music industry seeds deep in the Thai culture and way of life. Thais don’t give music much value, and many still look down on the profession; hence, the old Thai saying “ten-gin-rum-gin”, meaning “dance to get food”, which is actually used as an insult to the unstable nature of musician and dancer professions.
- In addition, getting Thais to start paying enough for music is very hard. Apart from the cheap bootleg CDs and easy to access illegal music download and streaming websites, Thais are also spoiled from getting to see free concerts sponsored by big name brands all the time.
- So, when I stumbled upon the idea of music tourism, I realized that it could create many benefits, for example:
- If Thais aren’t willing to pay enough for live music, increasing the number of music tourists can help inject money into the economy, which will in turn increase the income of musicians and music professionals.
- Thais have a habit of not realizing their own talents until someone else does. For example, no one supported the idea of a band playing a fusion of traditional ‘Molam’ and funk music, until they toured Europe a couple times! Now, ‘Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band’ is world famous, and will be playing Glastonbury and Field Day Festival in London this year! So, if tourists start to flock to Thailand for live music, Thais would definitely start to realize how talented their musicians are, and maybe give them more support.
- Because the Thai indie music market is so small, bands can’t play or tour too often. But by increasing the number of international eyeballs on Thai bands, they will have a better chance of touring overseas; thus, increasing their income.
- Bangkok being an international business destination with a large expat community, and may even become larger with the opening of AEC (ASEAN Economic Community), international touring bands can have the chance to connect with their fans from back home, and also gain new Thai and international fans.
- There’s also several other cities in Thailand that have local music scenes. By promoting Bangkok as a Music City, it can help become a window to other Thai music cities as most of those musicians often tour here. Then, when tourists learn about other music scenes in Thailand from those bands, they can add other Thai music cities to their itineraries in the future.
What makes Bangkok special with regard to its music community?
- I think Bangkok is big enough to have several music communities, but also small enough that almost every community knows each other, and maybe with some overlapping members.
- Bangkok being home to several international businesses, has quite a large expatriate community, with several of them being very active in the local music scene, such as the Japanese and Western expat communities.
- There are several groups who are persistent in organizing concerts and gigs to keep the scene active, despite the high risk of losing money. This shows the dedication of the community here despite the lack of monetary support from sponsors or government.
Are you saying you have the vision that Bangkok would be as popular as Austin, Texas for music?
- I would like to envision Bangkok as the “Live Music Capital of Southeast Asia”, somewhat like how Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World”. LOL! So, my answer is yes, I would really like to see Bangkok being as popular as Austin for music.
- I also do see Austin as a model for Bangkok Music City, and SXSW as the model for an annual Bangkok Music City festival. For example, apart from music, SXSW has film and interactive. For Thailand, we have a fast growing technology-startup scene that I think can join in on the festival. Thai TV commercials are also well known throughout the world, so there might be a chance of having an advertising industry conference. With them involved, we could help increase the possibility of expanding Thai indie music into the ‘Music Licensing’ industry. To summarize, the Bangkok Music City Festival could consist of Music, Tech-Startup and Advertising industry conferences.
What Thai bands you think would do well abroad as ambassadors of Bangkok?
- I believe that music has no boundaries. Music can definitely cross cultures and languages, for example K-pop and J-pop. Also, Thai music is so diverse that there is no particular genre that can represent Thailand’s music landscape.
- However, if we want to introduce Thai music to a world that doesn’t know about it, I would suggest 1) something that would pique their interest, or 2) an artist that would surprise them when they learn that those artists are from Thailand. 3) Another case would be Thai singing band with an fresh sound that could turn heads.
- I think ‘Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band’ is such a band that would pique the interest of foreigners. It blends traditional ‘molam’ with funk that can trigger people to dance very naturally. I’d propose them as one of the ambassadors.
- As for the second type of band, I’d probably choose a band that sings in English, like ‘My Life as Ali Thomas’ and ‘Part Time Musicians’, or instrumental bands like ‘Inspirative’ and ‘aire’.
- For the third type of band, I’d probably pick ‘Two Million Thanks’, ‘Yellow Fang’ and ‘POLYCAT’.
- There are definitely several challenges, whether economic, cultural, social or political, which will take time and a lot of effort to get through. For example,
- Thai’s low willingness to pay for music would affect ticket sales, so sponsorship money may still be needed to subsidize ticket prices to get the Thai audience.
- Because pop and Thai-country music from the major labels still dominate the Thai mainstream media, introducing something other than these genres would be a challenge to the common ear, thus receiving limited support. It would take time or a significant crossover artist to pull in interest from those audiences.
- If the indie musician is still not accepted as a real career, positive support would be limited. Thus, education related to the arts and music must be improved.
- Regulations related to live music venues must be revised and improved to support the growth and sustainability of the live music industry. Also, corruption in law enforcement agencies must be mitigated.
- Currently, there is virtually no government support and also limited sponsorships from brands as they’re more focused on the mass market. As they currently don’t see the potential of the indie market, it still is very hard to convince them to sponsor such events.
Who is going to be the main driving force for creating Bangkok Music City?
- The main driving force for creating Bangkok Music City must be from the grassroot communities, who are the musicians, record labels, promoters and fans. Events must be continuously organized and attended, and also promoted outside their circles to gain a larger audience. The line between ‘indie’ and ‘mainstream’ cliques should be blurred.
- The media is also a key driver to get the message out to the mainstream market, which could churn support from the public, sponsors and eventually, the government.
- The government will definitely be the strongest catalyst in the success of creating Bangkok Music City and the development of the country’s music industry, whether it be support in funding or development policies.
Who is going to benefit from this and how?
- Musicians, record labels and concert promoters
- Increased shows means increased income.
- Local businesses related to music and tourism industries, and workforce:
- Increased patrons means increased revenues, supporting more jobs.
- Brands and sponsors:
- Bigger audience means more eyeballs.
- Increased tourists, increased spending and a healthy economy means more tax money.
- Improved education in the arts would make Thailand a more creative nation.
Can you describe a typical year for this new Bangkok Music community? Would day to day life mean lots of venues featuring live music every night of the week? Perhaps entire streets recreated for venues, theaters, cafes... the kinds of things musicians and artists need?
- As mentioned above, I would like to model it after Austin - having live music virtually every night and everywhere, and an annual festival that brings everyone together, like SXSW.
- Apart from more performance venues, I would also like to see more rehearsal studios, music education programs, workshops, seminars, and networking events (although not quite a Thai thing to do, but should be encouraged).
Bangkok and Thailand seems like an underdog with a reputation for a lot of things unrelated to music - do you think in time the image of Bangkok could change?
- Many cities are famous for many things, e.g. New York is famous for fashion, Central Park, Wall Street, music and crime; LA is famous for Hollywood, pleasant weather and gangster rap, etc. So, although Bangkok is famous for the stuff seen on ‘Hangover 2’, we’ve got a lot of other stuff, like food, lifestyle, culture; and I hope music will be more prevalent in the future.
What kinds of things would the government and Tourism sector need to do to create Bangkok Music City? I'd imagine there would need to be public policy which is friendly to musicians and fans, right?
- Yes, I agree. Since the past, the government did not truly understand or support the music industry. I would like to suggest the government must assign a board that can communicate and collaborate with the music communities and the tourism sector to analyze problems, brainstorm for solutions, write up plans and lay out policies.
There was a time when Austin was a sleepy college town and then everyone started moving there and all the rents went up. Can you see that happening in Bangkok? Musicians begin moving here and setting up little businesses and renting townhouses?
- I agree that is very possible, especially if musicians are paid well. Better than now, hopefully.
Actually I maybe have answered my own question as I know artists move here.
- Yep, you did. LOL!
How many years would it take for this dream of yours to blossom?
- After studying the peaks and troughs of the cycle of music development in Thailand, which is around every ten years, I think we are almost at the peak of it. So, the time to get this project started is now, and the minimum years to see fruition is 3 years:
- This year, a festival marking the beginning of the Bangkok Music City movement must start and be big enough to gain attention from both the Thai public and the international audience. It might not be super huge as we have yet to gain support from the government or secure any sponsorships, so most parties in the community might lose money.
- But because I believe that Bangkok Music City will benefit everybody in the long run, we must maintain the momentum by organizing and supporting music events all year round, and keep the tradition of an annual festival. By the 2nd year, people could start to grasp the concepts of the festival and Bangkok being a music city.
- By the 3rd year, things should look much, much better, and collaborations with different industries and organizations should follow.
Is there some kind of call to action that people can do to show support for this Bangkok Music City?
- Go out and support the local music scene! Go to gigs and concerts, pay for the tickets, buy some merch, open up your mind to unfamiliar music, etc! Maybe set goals to discover at least one new band every month or so. And quit supporting illegal music websites and merchants!
- If you’re already on social media and like to share photos and videos of the shows you attended, slap the hashtag #BangkokMusicCity on them to get it trending on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, so people will know that there’s something going on!
- Talk about the idea of Bangkok Music City, whether online or offline, and debate why it is a good or bad idea. It takes time for people to change, so by keeping it relevant, more people would start to learn about it. Finally, you yourself will understand what you can do to make it happen!