Mito Fabie, best known for his rhythmic lyricism as Curtismith, hit the brakes on his career as the pandemic forced him into a reckoning. Live events were the breadwinners of the music industry, leaving many artists to either live stream performances from their bedrooms or twiddle their thumbs, waiting for recording studios to open again.
To keep the lights on, Fabie resorted to a desk job. A couple weeks at a time, he stayed with his godmother in Quezon City – a stone’s throw away from his office cubicle. Every day endured under the pandemic solidified the monotony of his nine-to-five, slowly instilling the looming question: “What if my music career is over?”
“The conclusion was if this project was my last, I wanted it to be the best project ever,” Fabie recounted over a video call. The project he referred to was Museo, a “multi-sensory” exhibition at the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, Rizal. Between July 15 and 25, the auditorium in the Pinto Academy housed the artworks of seventeen visual artists – all of whom responded to tracks from Fabie’s first full-length album of the same name, released under Pool Records on July 30. The opening was on July 11, which included a live performance of the album by Curtismith.
While Museo was Pool’s debut project, the idea behind the music label felt like a long time coming.
King Puentespina is Pool’s music director, but also a producer under the moniker crwn. The concept behind Pool, he explained, was born out of his beat-tape project Orchid in 2018 – a period when crwn was in a “weird place.” Puentespina turned to Ada Laud and Mike Parker for help; they are Pool’s brand and visual directors respectively and who, at the time of Orchid, worked at the design studio, And A Half, together. Laud and Parker lifted crwn off the ground with a new visual identity, which they templated onto Orchid and launched with a listening party at the respected and now-defunct club venue, XX XX.
During that same night, Puentespina, Laud, and Parker regrouped over pork barbeque and sinigang, ruminating over the event’s success. They had something here, they thought. “Let’s make this happen,” Puentespina said. “Let’s make a label.” Three years later, it became official at the Pinto Art Museum.
Hosting an event during a pandemic seems unfathomable. But for the partners of Pool, it was, in fact, a necessity.
For one, it grew out of frustrations with long-running labels where performing a gig meant being inside a mall or as a footnote in a far-flung festival, away from the reaches of fans. Laud believes Filipino artists deserve to be nurtured in a way that caters to their vision. To achieve that means creating an experience for artists that makes them feel involved in the creative process, where everyone can learn from each other.
One of the biggest challenges of hosting the event was calculating not only the economic risk, but also the health risk. It helped that Pool had the support of an art museum, who were not only strict, but also well-versed in the required health and safety protocols. “In taking that risk, we heard feedback from people that seeing friends and experiencing art and music were things they needed,” Laud said, who believed serving their community made the Museo project worth it.
Starting a music label is also up there with one of the most unfathomable things you can do during a pandemic, given the very little gains artists make on streaming platforms – the primary mode of music consumption in the Philippines. For example, Spotify remunerates artists an average of $0.004 or 20 centavos per stream, meaning it will take around 250 plays to earn back a dollar.
Alex Coloquio is Pool’s business director, but he also has a musical background as the drummer of Unmute, under Terno Records, and Sakwil, an independent band – both currently on “home mode” due to the pandemic. Coloquio admits to the challenges of digital streaming but, to him, starting Pool meant practicing creativity into ventures other than music. “There are other avenues to an artist’s identity that can pan out into different experiences,” he said.
The visit to Pinto is one such experience, which included the hyper-realist paintings of Ranelle Dial and Anna Bautista, as well as the tactile pieces of Argie Bandoy and Reg Yuson, among others – all of which were for sale, which sustained the livelihood of the artists and the museum.
Each artwork was paired with a unique QR code to its respective track from the Museo album. To ensure everyone safely experienced the music, Pool worked with H Audio, a Filipino audio manufacturer, to supply wireless headphones, which visitors wore as they scanned a song’s respective artwork – the headphones sanitised after every use. Other touchpoints Coloquio referred to were remote experiences in merchandising and online events, which all have the potential to earn back revenue.
“Yeah, it’s harder,” said Parker on the many things Pool aspires to be. “But we want to be different in that way.” In fact, to Fabie, Pool’s first signed artist, the Museo project was a breath of fresh air. “All the doubts I had were merely the beginnings of a new musical journey,” Fabie enthused. “Now, more than ever, I feel like a student and I love it genuinely.”
Indeed, at the heart of Pool’s aspirations is found in the spirit of collaboration: a constellation of different talents, aligning to illuminate something worthwhile. Collaboration is not only a buzzword, but an actionable cause with real impact. The example of Pool Records illustrates the effort required to re-embed the economic into the social as the pandemic redefines new forms of value for the creative industries. Collaboration is many things: It’s simultaneously messy, while requiring trust and curiosity for the process.
But most of all, collaboration is egoless – the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.