“I wanted to work with my friends and because I don’t like any other people in the world. And I would like to give a shot to these artists,” Filipino rapper and newly minted CEO, Waiian, tells HipHopDX Asia when asked why he decided to run his own independent hip hop label, Lightning in a Bottle Studios (LIAB).

What began as a pipe dream between friends, came into fruition in October 2020 when Waiian and COO, Misha Salud, formally established the company. At present, the label has five artists under its roster: SHNTI, Calix, Illicit, Yorko, and RuiijiKun. As a start-up established during the pandemic, LIAB Studios bears an unexpected advantage of working within the bounds of physical restrictions and the digital space operationally. This way, the label channels their resources through developing a flexible approach to artist management, with a focus on marketing and distribution in partnership with The Orchard, a subsidiary of Sony Music.

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LIAB is also a homophone of the Tagalog word liyab or flame. “That’s why we’re also called Lightning in a Bottle because we’re like, bringing light into the world,” Salud explains with a laugh. “We’re showing people what our artists are capable of and what they can do by shining a spotlight on them.”

True to its name, LIAB achieves this by catering to the interests of their artists first: from crafting social media campaigns to finding brand partnerships that suit the artist’s personalities. As budding entrepreneurs coming from different creative disciplines, Salud and Waiian bring a refreshing approach to their craft that complement each other’s skillset.

 

Salud, who also works as Waiian’s manager, is cognizant of the demands of representing an artist, especially as many countries are just starting to adjust to hustling in a pandemic setting, when live shows are still sparse, if not completely non-existent in some places. “Each artist has their own tailor-fit contract. We ask [the artists]: do you want more of this, or if they want less of that, so it will be perfect for them. But everything, of course, is transparent,” Salud says.

Waiian is equally transparent with the transition from being a performer to entering the role of a leader behind the scenes. “As an artist, myself, I have a personal relationship with our artists. And we get involved as much as we can but we don’t interfere with their music. We mean that whatever they want to put out, we 100% support them,” Waiian says, adding: “I just have a strong opinion. I just say the truth when it’s needed.”

Salud emphasizes the focus on promotion as a means of providing the creative freedom for their artists to explore. “We try to help them further improve by suggesting maybe we can delay the premiere of this one [single], because it would be a stronger premiere, maybe on this particular day, or maybe on their birthday or, or something to that effect. So we base these strategies on what worked for [Waiian] during our experience, and we apply it but of course, there are some tweaks because each of the artists are different, they have different things to consider,” she adds.

The entire team consists of fourteen to fifteen people, with only four to five people working actively on a per-project basis, with roles ranging from graphic designers, video editors, and administrative staff to mixing and mastering the music itself.

With the company’s headquarters also being Waiian’s room and personal workspace in Makati City, the team operates mostly through online coordination amidst changing community quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila. It’s not much space, but enough for a couple of people to share and work at the same time. “A car could fit there [in the room], one car, a [Mitsubishi] Mirage maybe,” Waiian says.

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Ultimately, LIAB represents a new wave of players in the Philippines’ hip hop scene who are striving for innovation while also prioritizing stability in turbulent times. Keeping in mind the hopes of returning to a world that allows for more mobility and physical shows that not only provide alternative streams of income but more importantly, fulfill a loss for the larger music community, Waiian says: “What we’re doing right now is building this. Yeah, we’re planting this right now. So in the future, we can bloom.”

Support LIAB Studios on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Photos courtesy of LIAB Studios.