Following the arrival of the likes of Deezer and KKbox last year, Sarun “Top” Pinyarat (fourth from left), 30, joined with four partners to launch Fungjai, a music streaming service focused on independent Thai musicians. Here, we speak to Top about the future of the Thai music industry.
Why start Fungjai?
I’m interested in the small bands just starting out. These bands have limited room to move: create a Facebook page, share some songs on Soundcloud, and then what? It’s not like back in the day with Fat Radio. Radio is quite limited, anyway. Music streaming leaves the playlist up to the individual. Previously, I was a graphic designer. I got the idea of doing my own startup when I lived in the US. I got to use Spotify, and that good user experience stuck with me till my return to Thailand. I realized that music was my biggest passion. I was lucky to find three developers who liked the idea and were willing to help out for free until we launched the Fungjai website.
 
The music business is pretty hard to crack…
Actually, when I first shared my Fungjai idea with others, they all tried to stop me. But I thought, surely others would see the value of being able to stream quality Thai music. We kept at it. I went out talking to every band I knew, asking them if we could stream their music on our site; went to gigs with Fungjai flyers just to get exposure.
 
What was the feedback?
Colorcode [Slow Reverse, Aerolips and Basement Tape] was the first record label I talked to. Everyone in music circles was so supportive. Pok Stylish Nonsense, of Panda Records, really encouraged me. Another life-changing moment happened when I spoke to Yellow Fang. A day later I received a super-long Facebook message from the brother of YF’s bassist. Pye introduced himself and said he’d been working on a similar project. Now he’s one of the integral forces behind Fungjai.
 
Do people still spend money on music?
Well, I still buy CDs and merchandise from my favorite bands, but it’s true that people probably don’t spend that much. I think people have the wrong perception about being in a band. Back in the day being a rock-star was seen a high-paying job. Now it’s all salarymen saving their hard-earned to make an album. Their work shouldn’t be free. I think streaming services can help combat this misperception.
 
What’s the biggest problem you have encountered?
Money. I don’t come from a rich family. I launched Fungjai while working my graphic designer job and also working part time as a teacher just to have the funds. Fortunately, we now have our first investor, helping us expand the business.
 
So how do you make money?
For now, Fungjai is 100-percent free. It’s about converting users into money. Advertising is one way; another is premium membership.
 
What’s next?
We can’t stop at just being a music streaming service. Globally, there are new players every day. Eventually, the scene will become highly competitive. What Fungjai is trying to do is build a music community. We hold things like Hed-Sod concerts and seminars. In the future we might help with crowdfunding for rising artists.