Bhutan’s music landscape: Opportunities and optimism

Pursuing music is still not seen as a profession that someone can really make a fortune out of it. However, young artists, driven by passion and zeal are finding ways to make a name out of their work. So, could the industry’s landscape be slowly changing in the Internet age? Budding Bhutanese artists BBS talked to said that apart from the traditional avenues such as performing in bars and pubs, social media has become a major platform to pursue music as a career now.

With immense love for music, Jampel Zangpo now works as a full-time music producer and singer. Jampel began his music journey by pursuing it as a hobby, which later transformed into a career.

He said despite challenges, his commitment and love for the art kept him motivated to pursue it as a career. Jampel realised that he would not be happy working as an employee, doing desk jobs.

“First music started as a hobby but as you connect with more people, as you keep making songs, you grow a liking out of it. And you start to think that people outside Bhutan are earning through music, so why not give it a try? That was my main motivation. Of course, right now it is going smoothly but we never know what kind of challenges we might face I think earning from what you like doing, everyone wants to do that so, I am trying to practice that by doing something I love,” said Jampel Zangpo, a music producer.

Jampel was a part of the team that came up with the song titled Khaten, which is a sensation among the youth. He shared that after the song became popular, it opened doors for him.

He said being a young artist and getting his name established was the main challenge, so he went grabbing opportunities instead of waiting for them.

Jampel uses social media as a platform to showcase his musical talent and popularise his works.

He also uploads his music on the popular music streaming service SoundCloud from which he earns a few thousand ngultrum every month. He also produces music for other artists.

“Social media is very important. I do not think there is a single person who does not know what social media is. There are so many people in Bhutan itself that use social media so, if you can efficiently use it. For example, by using TikTok, if you put yourself forward with a song and ask popular TikTokers to maybe use your song in their videos that is a very efficient way to spread your music,” added Jampel.

However, the industry in itself is not very enticing. Most artists still struggle to thrive because of the country’s small market for musicians and limited investments.

However, some of them said that the industry is slowly evolving.

“From my point of view, what I feel is that compared to the past, people have now become more open-minded. So, when the perspectives of people have changed it creates more opportunities for others. Passionate young artists like us get opportunities. Earning a living from music is now possible because we can do multiple shows in Thimphu. However, in terms of savings, it is a bit hard for now but I feel things are going to change in the near future,” said Rigyel Phuntshok, a singer.

“I feel very positive about where the road is leading, so I cannot help but feel optimistic but at the same time, it is not certain at the current time as the source of income of an artist is unknown because you do not know where you are going to get your next pay check from. In this regard, we have big spaces to improve,” said Ugyen Norlha, an audio-visual editor.

“I am a freelance guide but I like music and if it works out I am trying to take it as a career in my life. If I talk about how to sustain a music career, it is when you can organise your shows, recordings or if your song blows off so you can produce a product from there you can sustain a living. For an artist, if you want to take music as a career, you have to invest in the right thing. This is where we grow up,” said Namgay Tshering Samdrup, an aspiring artist.

Bhutan does not have a music association or organisation as yet to protect the copyrights of music producers and support the growth of the music industry.

Despite the challenges, the passion, dedication, and love for art keep enabling young artists to make a name for themselves and earn a living.

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