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MusicTT, stakeholders raise industry issues

Published: 
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Members of the panel at MusicTT’s Stakeholder Engagement Session: Sound Diplomacy’s Head of Global Operations, from left, Sian Evans, advisory board member Martin Elbourne and general manager of MusicTT Jeanelle Frontin. Photos courtesy MusicTT

That the funding for CreativeTT had been severely cut in the national budget was one of the more startling bits of information to come out of the MusicTT Stakeholder Engagement Session held at the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies on October 1.

CreativeTT board member Shyamal Chandradathsingh noted recurrent expenditures were cut by $2.9 million to $7.2 million while the Public Sector Investment Programme was reduced from $7 million to $4.25 million to be split between FilmTT, Fashion TT and MusicTT.

The session was chaired by MusicTT general manager Jeanelle Frontin. It introduced the stakeholders to Sian Evans, Paloma Medina, and Martin Elbourne, who are, respectively, head of global operations, research manager, and advisory board member of Sound Diplomacy. The UK-based company will be responsible for producing the National Strategic Action Plan for the Music Industry of T&T. 

The stakeholders were asked what constituted success for them, what role they wanted MusicTT to play, how they charged for their services and why they hadn’t formed an association to lobby the Government.

Josanne Leonard, who had unsuccessfully tendered for the development of the strategic plan, was at the consultation. She said Sound Diplomacy’s lack of knowledge about the culture and music history of T&T would hamper their efforts to come up with a strategic plan. She also said MusicTT needs to ensure it is not competing with business creatives who have made their spaces in the industry and instead needs to work with them.

Leonard stated that economic data capture is limited, and there needs to be mapping of the sector; there are not many economists experienced enough with the creative sector. Despite this, she also said studies have already been done which could provide the data which Sound Diplomacy would need for its plan.

Frontin said implementation of the plan would be the biggest problem and asked the artistes present to work with MusicTT to contribute towards making the plan realistic. Frontin said MusicTT is hoping to launch the Strategic Initiative by April 2017.

Evans said a recording studio for use by artistes is part of the proposal being put forward, while the strategic plan is for exporting all genres of T&T music internationally. She said the company was willing to have individual Skype interviews with artistes to hear their concerns.

Most of the artistes agreed their definition of success was being able to earn a living doing music. Other artistes said they saw themselves as entrepreneurs and had educated themselves in the business aspect of the industry. They called on MusicTT to provide more training programmes for new artistes in copyright and other aspects of the industry. 

The artistes also called for music history and mentorship programmes so that knowledge gained could be passed on, as new generations think everything begins with them.

On the issue of fees, some artistes said they don’t have a set fee and negotiate with each customer on an individual basis. Other artistes said they charge a minimum fee and additional fees are then added depending on services being provided. They said people are usually willing to spend money on everything except paying the artist, and asked if MusicTT could come up with a fee structure. 

A question from Evans revealed that there are very few booking agents in T&T, with an artist’s manager doing marketing, bookings and all the behind the scenes work. Some artistes said they have to pay for airtime for their music to be heard.

DJ and entertainer Adrian Hackshaw aka Third Bass, said MusicTT needs to be a middleman between artistes and the Government. He also advised those present that they couldn’t rely only on radio to play their music, and to also look to the Internet and other options. 

Other artistes disagreed, saying that T&T’s music market relies on a radio culture, so that is the best way to get music out to the population. Hackshaw said music produced by local artistes had to be of a certain quality to compete with international artistes, even on local radio.

Anthony Ashe said T&T artistes could not want to compete with international artistes at their own game. He advocated for a return to the rhythm and rhyme of T&T’s indigenous music, so that their music could be respected as being original. Many artistes stated that having a content quota in place would help get more local music on the air as well as help to increase the standards of local music.

Entertainment lawyer Carla Parris said international artistes have stated that local artistes need to build their social media following and develop a brand, so that when they do collaborations, there is already someone to market to. She said if infrastructural aspects are put in place, along with artiste development, booking agents instead of managers, and gaps in the sector are filled in, it is possible for revenue generation to occur.

Frontin said artistes need to band together to fix the system and see what they can do to help each other. She also said the radio broadcasters need to put their ears to the ground more and the Government needs to give more money than they are currently doing. 

Some artistes asked for a formal space they could use for shows instead of being taken advantage of by venue owners who often do not pay them to perform. Other artistes said people looked for too many handouts, and if they didn’t know how they were going to make back the tens of thousands of dollars they spent on their music, they shouldn’t spend it.

One person said bringing the music community together is almost impossible because artistes are too far gone into the crab-in-a barrel mentality where everyone wants to be in charge, instead of helping each other.

Intellectual property specialist Heather Baldwin-McDowell said the public needs to have a proper respect for creative persons. She called on MusicTT to organise a national education programme on music history, intellectual property and creative assets. She said bootlegging is a major problem for local artistes and the public should know how much time and money artistes put into creating music.

Garth Walcott of the Great Society and Sheldon Manoo of the Indigenous Movement stated they have been doing work with artistes which results in increased air time and payment for their work, and urged those present to find out more about their organisations.

Frontin also responded to questions submitted electronically. She said an incubator business model is in the works and should be implemented by January 2017. MusicTT is also discussing with the Telecommunications Authority (TATT) the implementation of a local content quota, but first they need to collect baseline data to know how much content is being played now. 

Frontin said MusicTT was happy to create linkages for artistes with the fashion and film industries through FashionTT and FilmTT, so they could collaborate on projects. 

With regards to the three competing performance rights organisations in T&T—COTT, TTCO and Awesome—Frontin said MusicTT is working on a solution to the issue.

What artistes want 
• To be able to make a living off their music
• A content quota to get more local music on the air
• An affordable performance space
• More training programmes in copyright and other aspects of the industry
• Music history and mentorship programmes

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