BANGKOK — When Itiporn “Van” Lakarnchua started playing in Bangkok, all the bands making original music had to race through sets at the single monthly show they could land.
More than a decade later, “independent music” has moved from the margins toward the mainstream, but play on radio or TV remains rare – as does the money.
So it came as some surprise when one of his bands got a call last year from a new streaming music service that wanted to know how to pay them – with money. They told the service, Fungjai, it wasn’t necessary.
“They said, ‘No matter how you feel about getting paid, we’re going to pay you,’” said Van, the 30-year-old drummer of Degaruda and bass player in Aire.
One year after launching, Fungjai says it wants to break the music box listeners have locked themselves within, but the key is getting them excited about new music and eventually comfortable with supporting what they love with their wallet.
“Music listeners discover music, then they listen to music,” Piyapong Muenprasertdee, one of the company’s founders, said in a recent interview. “The third stage is falling in love with the music, and the last is buying the music.”
Since launching October 2014, Fungjai today claims to stream more than 3,700 tracks from 700 artists from its website – all for free. Earlier this month, it opened a beta version of its store to sell music.
Playing the middleman isn’t an easy thing. Musicians want to earn some money for what they create, while the YouTube generation struggles with the idea of paying for “content.”
So could Fungjai be the saving grace for original music? Piyapong said the company hopes to start selling music online and create more content such as podcasts.
They just launched a beta of their online store, offering pre-sales of albums by Slur and Somkiat. The full albums including digital art and inserts are 200 baht each, while individual tracks can be purchased for 25 baht.
They also plan to build a crowdfunding platform for artists to finance projects with support from their fans.
Fungjai is in part funded by Ookbee, the Bangkok-based e-book start up.
While they’re aggressively marketing the service to listeners, Fungjai is also trying to make it easy for musicians to be heard. Bands can join Fungjai, Piyapong said, without a complicated registration or license process like those required for iTunes.
While exporting Thai music internationally is one of Fungjai’s primary goals, Piyapong also hopes to introduce Thailand to more cool music from neighboring countries. He believes more musical exchange in the region will also help build a community outside the kingdom that will help the development of Thai music.
More than anything, Van the drummer said Fungjai’s approach has brought something not always in ready supply to small musicians: respect.
Instead of handling independent music as a niche novelty, he said the company has promoted it wholeheartedly.
“They’ve brought a real legitimacy to being an ‘independent musician.’” Van said. “They’ve made it clear that independent musicians are ‘real.’”
Corrections: An earlier version of this story indicated Van was the drummer for both Degaruda and Aire. In fact he plays bass guitar for Aire. It also said that Fungjai currently streams 2,000 tracks from 400 bands, numbers Fungjai said were based on outdated promotional materials. Fungjai said the site currently hosts 3,700 tracks from 700 artists. Fungjai also said the service launched in October 2014 rather than May 2014.