Cambodia once had a good music scene with lots of original compositions, but the industry completely disappeared during the Khmer Rouge regime.
However, after the collapse of KR the Cambodian music industry started to boom again due to modern technology and globalisation.
Although Cambodian music has gained popularity among the country’s youth, it has been noticed that most of the music production companies plagiarise music from other countries instead of making their own.
There are 17 music production companies in Cambodia, but very few compose music themselves, according to Sen Chan Saya, director of the Department of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion.
This has raised concerns that Cambodia may lose its identity if the government, especially the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art, does not take action to stop music companies copying the work of other people and encourage them to compose their own music.
BIGMAN is a new music production company created in 2008 and it copies music from other countries.
Hout Borith, the general manager of BIGMAN, claimed his company had to copy music from other countries to survive because it cannot make a profit composing its own music.
“It is impossible for me to compose music on my own because Cambodia’s laws against piracy are still weak,” he said. “I will compose music on my own if the government reinforces the laws against piracy more effectively.”
Another music production company called Svang Dara also copies music from other countries. It was started in April 2009 by Meng Sok Virak.
Meng Sok Virak said copying music from other countries helps his company cut costs.
He said it takes only one or two days to produce an album of copied music, but it would take one month to produce an album of locally composed music.
However, he said his company makes more profit from sponsors during concerts than selling music disks.
Sok Virak has also formed a group called Cartoon Emo which composes its own music.
“The music which is composed by the Cartoon Emo team has gained popularity from both foreigners and Cambodians who live in Phnom Penh,Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap” he said.
Sann Sondan, 24, a team leader of Cartoon Emo, said he and his teammates learned to compose music at the Royal University of Fine Art and through other short courses and so far they have made one album for Svang Dara productions.
Not only small local music production companies copy music from others. Even Raksmey Hang Meas, one of the biggest music companies in Cambodia, copies music from other countries.
Eng Songleap, general manager of Raksmey Hang Meas, says that what makes his company different is that it buys licenses from the original owners of music.
“If the government wants all music production companies to compose music on their own, the government has to eliminate piracy,” he said.
Although Raksmey Hang Meas copies music, it also has a singer who has the ability to compose his own music.
Sapoon Midada, one of the most popular singers in Cambodia and a former singer for Raksmey Hang Meas productions, said he started composing music in 2004 and learned the skill at the Royal University of Fine Art.
Although Sapoon Midada composes his own music, he admits that some of his music is also copied from foreign countries.
“I find it crucial to adopt what is good from foreign cultures in order to make our culture more advanced,” he said.
Fearful of losing our Khmer identity, Oknha Kith Thieng invested a lot of money creating a music company called Rock Production in 2007, with the aim of making its own music.
Sam Videth, the general manager of Rock Production, said the company’s aim is to boost Khmer culture, Khmer creativity and Khmer identity. That’s why this company never copies music from other countries.
“Oknha Kith Thieng loves Cambodia and wants to give an opportunity to talented young people to produce what they have in order to boost Khmer culture,” she said.
However, Rock Production faces several challenges.
Sam Videth said it is very difficult to compose a new melody and create a good performance style, especially if there is a lack of good composers.
“We used to spend about two months producing one album, but after we gained more human resources who graduated from music universities in Canada, Australia, the US and Russia, we now only spend one month producing one album,” she said.
This has made the company a success with some Rock singers invited to perform in oversea countries such as Canada and Australia where they had a lot of support from Cambodians living there, according to Sam Videth.
Since several music productions companies complain that piracy is the main barrier, blocking them from composing music themselves, Sen Chan Saya said that the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art, cooperated with local authority, has burned for 126902 pirated CDS, VCDS and DVDS in 2010.