From Spotify to Vinyl
In a recent article on Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming service, Edwin Sallan reports that the Eraserheads is the most streamed OPM band. Writes Sallan, “between April to July, the Eheads held the number one spot in Spotify’s Top 10 Streamed OPM Artists…During that period, three classic hits of the band, namely, “Pare Ko,” “Ang Huling El Bimbo,” and “Ligaya” were among Spotify’s Top 10 Most Streamed OPM tracks.” (“Eraserheads Lead Top 10 Most Streamed OPM Acts in Spotify” by Edwin Sallan, Interaksyon, August 25, 2014) This should not come as a surprise as writer Paul John Cana notes that “over a decade after they disbanded…The Pinoy Fab Four – (is) arguably the most influential local rock band of this or any other generation…” (“What Do Filipinos Listen to Online?” by Paul John Cana, Rappler, September 16, 2014) To appreciate the context of Cana’s observation, consider the niche that long-time Jingle Magazine record reviewer and vinyl enthusiast Jing Garcia assigns to the band: “After the success of what could be the golden age of Pinoy rock in the Seventies, many tried to revive the glory days but got lost in the doldrums of the underground Eighties. Some say The Dawn first opened the door for the resurgence of mainstream Pinoy rock that started in new wave/punk-laden Eighties. But it was the Eraserheads that literally brought that same door down.” (“A Dreddful Story with many digressions” by Jing Garcia, Tikman ang Langit: An Anthology on the Eraserheads, p 83)
To this day, the Eheads still holds the record for the most well-attended OPM concert in recent years. Former Jingle Magazine writer and now Yahoo News contributor Bert Sulat placed the 2009 crowd who jammed with the band for their Final Set concert in the Philippines within the vicinity of 300,000. (“It Was 20 Years Ago Today” by Bert Sulat, Rappler, August 24, 2013) Since that time they have performed sold out overseas reunion concerts in San Francisco (2012), Los Angeles (2012), Ontario (2012), Toronto (2012), New York (2012), Singapore (2013), Dubai (2013) and London (2014.) In September this year, the band surprised everyone when Esquire Magazine released two new original Eheads recordings on CD. Copies of the magazine sold out within hours after hitting news stands according to reporter Audrey Carampel (“Magazine Featuring Eraserheads Songs Sells Out on First Day” by Audrey Carampel, GMA News, September 5, 2014)
Popular interest in the music of Eraserheads is apparently not confined to Spotify users if we go by the observations of Edward Cruz, an ardent OPM vinyl collector who would often share his latest OPM vinyl find in Wired State, the biggest online audio forum in the country today. Cruz boasts of nearly a thousand OPM vinyl records in 45 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm formats – from the Juan Dela Cruz Band to the Dawn, from Bong Penera to Gary Valenciano, from Pilita Corales to Regine Velasquez, from the Eraserheads to Bamboo. He has three 45 rpm vinyl records of the Eraserheads which were released by BMG Music (Pilipinas) in the 90s. All three records are now considered prized collectors’ items as they are out of print. Any kind of copy you could find in the vinyl market today would easily fetch Php 500 to 600 a piece regardless of sound quality and visual grading, according to Cruz. He is quite positive that there is a huge clamor among vinyl collectors to eventually get ahold of the vinyl format of Eheads albums. This is because he notes how the music of the Eheads cuts across generations. He cites himself and his son as a case in point. “I’m 45 and my son is 15 yet we both dig their sound. I’m sure everyone who is into vinyl will get a copy or even an extra copy if and when an Eheads vinyl is released, especially if the release is done right. I hope they can release it like the Aiza vinyl (i.e., “Open Arms” by Aiza Seguerra released by S2S Records in Japan and marketed in Singapore), because if not, many will really be disappointed. All vinyl collectors can relate to their songs. I’m also sure one released LP will not be enough since most of their albums were big hits.” This observation is echoed by Bennjude DeCastro who maintains a Facebook page called Haven for OPM Collectors and Rene Rivo who manages Pinoy Music Then and Now, also on Facebook.
From Manila to California
When exactly that would happen, we do not know. But there is someone who lives 11,491 km from Manila who is doing something to make it happen. Le-Van DeGuzman, also known as “Schizo” to his friends, is a California-based Pinoy concert promoter and a vinyl enthusiast to boot. He co-founded Happy Box with his brother Haro to promote the North American concert tours of Pinoy rock bands and other OPM acts in October 1997. Haro, he says, is the main guy while he takes care of the creatives and online promotions. Among the bands that they have successfully brought to the U.S. were the Eraserheads, Parokya ni Edgar, Bamboo, Kamikazee, FrancisM and Ely Buendia, Gloc-9, The Youth, Rivermaya and Dong Abay. Along the way, he became friends with these OPM acts.
DeGuzman has known about the Eheads since April 1994 when he first got his tape of “Ultraelectromagnetic Pop.” He became friends with the band in April 1997 during their first ever US tour. “My friends were the ones who produced the tour and back then the Eraserheads came to the U.S. without their roadies. My brother Haro and I became their alalays, drivers, tour guides, etc. We set up their tours in 1998 and 2000. We hung out and got to know each other pretty good but we’re not close since we never really communicate on a regular basis.”
His interest in hearing their records on vinyl started on May 20, 2013 “when I posted photos on Facebook and Instagram of my DIY Eraserheads replica vinyl project called “Dirty Little Vinyls – The 7” Singles.” It is noteworthy that he has 5 of the Eheads singles released by BMG compared to Cruz’s 3. DeGuzman remembers that “when Marcus Adoro saw it, (he) asked for a copy. We then started this lengthy thread talking about the Eheads releasing on vinyl. Since there’s this current resurgence of the vinyl format, I thought why not start some sort of awareness (campaign.) I’m not a big fan of those online petitions so I figured why not make a Facebook page? So I did the following day, May 21. I even made Marcus an admin but I’m not sure though if he knows. He he he!” His purpose is pretty straightforward and that is to provide some sense of awareness among “current publishers, record labels and the management teams of the band that there is now a market for the vinyl format. I mean strike while the iron is hot.” If he were to have his way he’d rather see the first 3 albums of the band on vinyl because “most fans consider the first 3 as the essential ones; the ones that represent the Eheads sound and legacy. But if the labels are all into it, go reissue the entire discography! I’m all good with that. The more, the better.”
Asked if he has any idea what it would take to produce such vinyl releases he confesses, “I really don’t know. Maybe the budget?…The record industry gets too complicated sometimes. If I only had the money, I’d produce the vinyl reissues myself. I’d pay for the publishing rights and advance royalties if necessary. If that doesn’t work, I’d have the band re-record the tracks, pay for the studios, pay for the artists fees, etc.”
From BMG to Ivory
In recent years, the recordings of Pinoy rock bands like Bamboo, The Dawn, POT and True Faith finally saw the light of day in vinyl format. Thanks to Polyeast Records. Notwithstanding the flak it got from local audiophiles who complained about the sound quality and the album art, these releases were initially welcomed warmly by local vinyl enthusiasts as it has been decades since OPM recordings were last released on vinyl. Could the music of the Eraserheads be far behind?
Logically, it should be just around the corner. In reality, quite a number of hurdles exist which would get in the way of making this happen. According to a reliable albeit anonymous source within the music industry, the likelihood of releasing the past recordings of the Eheads on vinyl is very low at this time. This is because the recording company that first released their music on cassettes, vinyl and CDs no longer exists. When BMG Music Pilipinas closed shop, the recording rights were eventually transferred to Sony Music Philippines. After Sony Music ceased operating in the Philippines, these rights were passed on to Ivory Music. Meanwhile, the licensing for the use of their music in any recording went to MRU Music Publishing which used to be called Music ‘R Us. MRU executive Merwin Tee points out that “for easy understanding, you can say we handle the licensing and royalty collections. It (i.e., MRU) was set up in 2004 and is owned by private individuals. It is not, in any way, connected with Ivory Records which owns the recordings of the Eraserheads. We purchased the publishing rights for the local catalog from BMG Music (Pilipinas) in 2004.“ Although they are open to the idea of “licensing for a vinyl release you would need to secure the rights to the original sound recording which is owned by the record label. To be fair to the record label (Sony) and to their local distributor (Ivory) I cannot comment on what you need to do to get their permission for this worthwhile undertaking.” Ivory Records was contacted for this article but I was unable to obtain their inputs despite repeated follow-ups.
The way film maker and music video director Marie Jamora sees it, a consensual agreement should be reached involving Ivory Records, MRU and the management teams behind the Eraserheads. Without such an agreement, DeGuzman’s project will never get off the ground. It will be recalled that Jamora pulled off the first 21st century vinyl release of an Eraserheads track “Minsan” as part of the original soundtrack of her well-received indie movie entitled “Ang Nawawala.” Being friends with the band, she was able to have it re-recorded by Ely Buendia and Raymund Marasigan with Marie handling drum duties. Jamora goes a long way back with the Eraserheads as she directed a number of their music videos. Her music video credits also include projects for Sandwich, Imago, Bamboo, Sponge Cola, Urbandub, Gary V and Itchyworms. Jamora is also a passionate vinyl collector and was featured by this writer in an article for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
From Esquire to What Is Required
Such a multiple party agreement though does not seem to apply to new recordings by the band if we go by how Esquire Magazine Philippines and the Eraserheads were able to produce the 2014 CD single featuring “Sabado” and “1995.” A quick check of the CD liner notes would reveal that no recording label was involved in producing the CD as it lists the Eraserheads and Editor Erwin Romulo as producers. To be sure, there was initially no documented intent to release these songs on vinyl. In fact, Erwin Romulo frames the release of these new songs as follows: “Exclusive to the magazine, they don’t constitute a comeback as much as an experiment, brought about by a question that was first asked while we were abroad together. That question being: What would the band sound like today? After all, their magic was always about how they could sum up how we were feeling now, in something so delicate and beautiful as a three-minute pop song.” (“Confessions of a Spaceman” by Erwin Romulo, Esquire Magazine, p. 18)
Nonetheless, let’s assume for the moment that the typical hurdles that would get in the way of releasing say, “Ultraelectromagnetic Pop” or “Circus” would not plague the vinyl release of “Sabado” d/w “1995” what else is required to get the vinyl release right?
November Hi-Fi Show founder and life-long vinyl enthusiast Tonyboy de Leon suggests that obtaining the analog tapes of original recordings is “a must. Super important. This is why I didn’t join the bandwagon to buy the Beatles reissues. Did I say a must? Look at what happened to the Beatles stereo reissue, you can get them on sale now.” Next step, the tapes should be mastered and cut for vinyl recording purposes. Easier said than done that. He cites the two major hurdles as “cost and time. (Producing a vinyl record) is much more tedious. It’s like making a mix cassette tape (and converting it) into a mix digital file. Do it wrong and serious music lovers won’t buy that crap maski na on sale.”
Wired State moderator Jon Agner whose passion for analog audio is as deep as his love of photography agrees. “…they should ensure that the releases should be based on the master tapes, not the final mix. Well, if we are referring to the old releases, then it’s a must that we refer to the original master tapes when reissuing these recording on vinyl. We all know how a vinyl reissue sounds when a low quality master is used in this process. For the new recordings, it’s important that the recording itself is done on 24-bit format rather than the usual 16-bit format.”
But if the original recording was made on digital format which seems to be the case for “Sabado” and “1995,” he suggests that “the unmixed master should be used in the process” to ensure audiophile standard vinyl recording.
Yet another requirement for a vinyl release to be well-received is the cover art. Vinyl collector Romy Babao who put up a Facebook page which celebrates iconic album cover art says: “the album art is the face of the album in the old days…we do not know who the artist or the band was in in the years before the information highway…we used to guess (which was part of the fun in record collecting) and the art was a basic eye catcher for most rock albums in the 70s.” To the question, investing in album art would drive up production cost, he estimates that Php 800 per copy could pretty much cover the vinyl cost and another Php 200 for the album art cost. He should know as he is himself a record producer, a musician, a composer and an acoustic engineer. In the case of “Sabado” and “1995,” this should not be a problem as a lot of thought went into the CD cover art. No less than award-winning graphic designer Cynthia Bauzon Arre was commissioned for the original CD cover art. Bauzon-Arre is the same artist behind the “Fruitcake” album art design and Jamora’s “Ang Nawawala” movie poster, among others.
Pag Umikot na ang Plaka
Right after the latest release of the CD single featuring the first two new songs by the Eheads in over a decade, social media was awash with rumors that the 45 rpm release would follow soon. After all, long-time fans and observers pointed out that Eheads frontman Ely Buendia has recently become a vinyl enthusiast. In fact, Solenn Heussaff’s “Sugod” TV show documented some of his most-prized vinyl album collection. He was subsequently featured by this writer in a report on vinyl resurgence in the Philippines (i.e., “Back in Black” by Von Katindoy, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Dec 7, 2013.) His supergroup The Oktaves performed this year in a Beatles vinyl sale night at Route 196. Recently, the September 2014 edition of Esquire Magazine included a picture showing Buendia checking out vinyl albums at Rough Trade, the iconic independent vinyl record store in England.
Efforts to validate these rumours with the management teams of the band proved unsuccessful except in the case of Buendia’s management team led by Dr. Day Cabuhat who expressed appreciation for the support even as she wrote back “that (such rumour) is still not confirmed.” However, DeGuzman did post on the Eheads on Vinyl Facebook page last September 2, 2014 that “Esquire PH Editor-in-Chief Erwin Romulo reveals a big secret on Jam 88.3 FM…there will be a 45” referring to the new tracks “Sabado” and “1995…maybe just for friends.” In the meantime, DeGuzman has digitized his 5 Eheads 7” singles and B sides for friends. “Digitized them as is with pops and ticks intact. Burned on those vinyl-style CDRs with customer-sticker label (not for commercial purposes.)”
Paulo Coelho once wrote that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” Perhaps Le-Van DeGuzman and like-minded fans of the band would do well, for the time being, to want the vinyl release of Eheads recordings bad enough to compel the universe to finally make it happen. Who knows? Like the young man who reminisces about his Paraluman, we just might be surprised by the unexpected “pag umikot na ang plaka.”