The Sounds Family

2012 began with a whimper. My manager called on a January afternoon to deliver very grave and sad news: After years of trying to survive in a toxic landscape of piracy and changing tastes, Sony Music Philippines, my record label, was closing shop. Any casual reader will find this startling. Sony is a household name, a global powerhouse, a tech giant and, among other things, a television set. What happened?

Sony Music came to our shores in the mid 90s, one of the many record labels (including Warner, BMG, Universal, and OctoArts) that would flourish in the then burgeoning rock scene. Within the next decade, mergers became the norm and BMG would eventually be absorbed by Sony. But not even two multimedia giants were immune to the realities of a dwindling marketplace. While music was still very popular, CD sales were virtually nonexistent, thus the painful decision to call it quits.

The announcement was made without warning and even less ceremony. One rainy afternoon, Sony gathered all their artists in the boardroom of their offices on Emerald Avenue (Day [Cabuhat], Pupil's manager, went alone) and severed all ties with talents new and old in one fell swoop.

All the air was sucked out of that jampacked room. And then a flurry of questions and reactions like some dramatic presidential press con.

For the new talents, the ink on their contracts barely dry, the news must have come with all the gentleness of a sledgehammer. For the old-timers and laid off-workers, the next few months promised nothing but uncertainty and a lot of stock-taking. And for an industry already on its last legs, it was like watching Gandalf fall into the Abyss.

Working 9 to 7

Two decades before any of this happened, I was working a 9-7 job as a label manager (then subsequently demoted to copywriter) at BMG Music. I'm not proud to say this, but I was probably the worst employee they ever had.

Every day, I would punch in an hour late and spend the rest of the morning snoring in my little office then leave an hour too soon for lunch (with overtime). I was caught writing dozens of non-work related stuff on the computers. I used to sneak in my girlfriend during office hours. I lost the company a sizable sum when I green-lighted the release of an album whose license we did not own.

Lastly, and this I consider to be the most embarrassing, I once went straight to work after a night of drinking and ended up unconscious on the front door of our office building. Our administrator woke me up.

Still, I must have been doing something right because they never fired me. Either that or my superiors were the nicest people on earth.

And they really were. The always good-natured Vic who headed Artist and Repertoire, the endearingly foulmouthed and baby-faced Rudy who was General Manager, the ever accommodating Ciso who took care of Sales. This was the core group that ran things more like a small family business than a big, German-owned conglomerate.

The twist came when I was finally forced to resign not for my bad behavior, but because by that time I was already doing a different kind of job—that of BMG artist. I also like to think that the success we all shared during those heady days of music and mayhem more that made up for my lousy work as an employee.


A week after the announcement I sat down for dinner with them at a Japanese restaurant at Serendra. We talked and laughed about the old times and went on to more pressing matters like publishing, licensing, loose ends, unfinished business and the like. More importantly we talked about the future and possible projects we could work together on.

They were going to try their hand at talent management and production, something every record label has been adopting for some time now, and now that they were free of the responsibilities of keeping a big company afloat, they could go back to the spirit of their early days of small enterprise.

Probably also harking back to my time with them as copywriter, they asked me to christen their new company. I initially demurred, stating that the pleasure (and responsibility) of naming their child belongs solely to them, but they were adamant. Finally, after a few days of mulling it over I texted Ciso back and suggested "The Sounds Family," a tongue-in-cheek moniker which I thought was charming and true to their spirit. The reply was, baduy!

I can never figure out these business types.

Ely Buendia has written for Esquire and the Manila Bulletin. He is the frontman of the rock band Pupil. His blog posts will appear every week.