As an avid consumer and advocate of Cebu’s music landscape, I have witnessed its changes: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thankfully, it’s mostly been good thanks to all the singer-songwriters, bands, producers, production crew, listeners, and purveyors who make the community bellow with life. One such champion of independent music is Melt Records.
Melt Team: Dexter Sy, PJ Ong, Debb Acebu, Mich Pacalioga, and collaborators Bobbi Olvido and Miguel Lim
Within These Four Walls
Established in 2018 in the wake of the previous label Bomba Press, Melt Records was born out of the simple desire of four friends to help and support independent artists. Dexter Sy led the way, partnering with PJ Ong of Inodoro, his long-time collaborator on a lot of their most iconic cover artworks, and bringing along Debb Acebu and Mich Pacalioga for the ride, who are two of their most successful artists from the Bomba Press era. Dexter shares, “I think it was just very clear to all of us then that there was still a lot of great music that was getting passed over just because the artists did not have a framework to try getting their music in front of people who care, so we knew there was still space for us to exist as a label. And so we did.”
Like with many things, the pandemic was the catalyst for Melt Records. In the wake of being stuck in the four walls of our homes, Dexter observed that everyone started to connect from all over the world within the digital space. “It was clear then that bringing the music to a global audience was the way to go for us,” Dexter reveals. That’s fine and good, right? But like with many things, when it comes to scaling your love for something to greater heights, funding is necessary. It takes money to produce, distribute, promote, and publish music. The scarcity of resources was not lost on Dexter who shares, “We made it a point to try and establish first an ethical model of doing business that respects the rights of the artists and treats them as equal partners, regardless of how practical that would have been for us. Once we’ve figured that out, then we figure out how to make it sustainable financially.” According to Dexter, they are on the way to achieving this model, but there are still many hurdles to overcome. He adds, “I’m not too worried. If our legacy ends up as having tried and failed, I’d still be proud of that outcome. If we succeed, that would be incredible.”
Into the Great Wide Open
Before signing an artist, it’s important for Melt Records to like their music, that they operate on a similar frequency, and that they’re cool to work with. Dexter puts it more eloquently, “I think the primary thing is that we like their music and that we think that their music will have an audience that intersects with ours or any of our other artists. Maybe just as important to this is that they’re good people and easy to work with. In the end, there are no guarantees in the music business, so if we enjoy working with people, that’s already a win. But we also want to make sure that we get artists who are willing to put in the work.” It’s all about passing the vibe check.
In addition, Dexter hopes that their roster of artists entertains and creates a unique impression on listeners—whether that means agitating or delighting them. For him, it’s making that impact that makes a musician’s legacy. It should also follow that Cebu’s music community is certainly filled with agitators and entertainers as Dexter finds it brimming with vitality like a friendly and respectful mosher who smiles all the time. According to him, the people involved are passionate and more willing to spend money on shows. Side note: Totally agree with the latter. This is a huge change for us stingy and senselessly proud Cebuanos, but what a major win for the indie scene too!
On the other side of the coin, Dexter expresses that Cebu still has a lot of work to do as an industry: “It takes a lot of infrastructure and a whole ecosystem of businesses - media, venues, funding, legal assistance, factories, and all of that. I think most of that hasn’t quite been set up in Cebu yet as much as it needs to be. But the community’s support to make all of these available to some extent gives me a lot of hope that it can happen one day, hopefully in our lifetime.” We’re not there yet, but we are definitely doing our best.
In the meantime, you can look forward to a lot of new music from Melt Records: Keith Human’s recently launched debut album Boringly Wild; Coloura’s 2nd EP Love and Influence in November; KRNA's debut album Kireina in early 2024; and more music from Vincent Eco and new acts including The Rising Tide, Carlo Mesina, SHVRIKEN, Queen Atia, Turnpike, and more.
Dexter also revealed that they have been exploring collaboration possibilities with local and overseas partners, as well as other local record labels in Cebu to create a platform for ethical music business practices to “change what ‘business as usual’ means in music.”
Just as their artists have made an impact on the music community through their songs, Melt Records has done the same through their practice. Personally, I am inspired to go to that gig and pay for that gate fee. I hope you are too.
Fun fact: PJ Ong came up with the name, as a reference to “face-melting” music.