THE BUSINESS OF BEATS
The Caribbean music industry has come to the fore in recent years as the region’s leaders focus on economic diversification
There’s another element to the Caribbean’s time-honoured tourism formula of sun, sand and sea — sound. Whether it’s carnival cowbells, raucous Soca or the Saint Luciaborn beats of the Dennery Segment, the region’s music, like its history, is a unique blend of indigenous, European and African influences.
It’s also a valuable commodity at a time when island economies are diversifying into cultural industries and recognising the importance of developing homegrown talent.
There are no major record labels in the Caribbean but the islands are full of small producers nuturing local artists. Given that 40% of global music sales come from independent record companies, local record companies may have more power in the market than they realise. However, if they are to reach customers and turn the vibrant sounds of the Caribbean into a thriving export, musicians must overcome a wealth of technical and financial obstacles.
Traditionally Jamaica has led the charge when it comes to promoting and exporting Caribbean music. The feel-good vibe of reggae stuck a chord all over the world, fuelled by the rise of legendary artists such as Bob Marley and the modern-day performers Buju Banton, Beenie
Man and others who led the genre’s evolution into dancehall.
But there’s more to the islands than reggae. Soca stars have been gaining audiences since the 1990s as carnival celebrations spread beyond the region. Heavy hitters such as Machel Montano, Patrice Roberts and Bunji Garlin helped put Trinidad and Tobago on the map but the sound soon spread and now soca singers are breaking through in Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia where a popular subgroup, the Dennery Segment, has been carving out a niche.
Caribbean musicians may be finding creative new ways to develop their own sound but it takes more than talent and inspiration to become successful. Vanesta Mortley, Operations Manager at the Eastern Caribbean Collective Organization for Music Rights (ECCO) says musicians need to be more businessminded if they are to conquer their industry. “”Most of the musicians do not treat this as a business and do not apprise themselves with information that would help them better manage their business,” she says. “Treating their music as a business, updating themselves on trends of their market and networking with different stakeholders would assist. We have a few musicians who do this but they are in the minority.”
According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) Global Music report, worldwide music sales grew for the third consecutive year in 2017, hitting US$17.3bn. More than half of that came from digital revenue with streaming audiences surging to 272 million users. Streaming is now the leading source of income for record companies, generating over 33% of all music sales.
That’s a huge potential market for Caribbean artists — accessible simply through an internet connection. “Only a few of our musicians utilise the digital streaming channels effectively. It would seem that the majority have not seen the value of online marketing and distribution,” says Mortley who wants to see more technical workshops to help musicians get to grips with how technology can enhance their brand. “Stakeholders can have more educational initiatives, possibly some curriculum for persons interested in the business of music, not just focusing on performance but a holistic approach to include management, intellectual property rights, marketing.”
Social media is also an important tool for artists. With the potential to dramatically increase their audience both at home and abroad, the most successful performers are those who are most engaged across a variety of platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Youtube.
Unlimited access to a vast market has its downsides however. While customers are listening, it’s also hard to break through the noise and drown out the competition. Self-promotion is an expensive, timeconsuming and resource-heavy business. According to the IFPI, it can cost artists from US$500,000 to US$2m to break into the mainstream. “There are financial challenges,” says Mortley. “Producing music is costly and musicians are not always able to get a substantial return on their investment.”
FINANCIAL AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT
In February, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) held a two-day workshop in Barbados to examine ways of expanding and developing the regional music industry. Regional and international consultants weighed in, pinpointing issues such as the gender gap in the sector — female artists aren’t as well represented as their male counterparts, and they tend to have lower earning opportunities. The workshop is the latest effort from the CDB to reach out to musicians, following technical training in Barbados and Jamaica in 2016 and 2017.
Mortley welcomes this kind of support, which wasn’t always so readily available, saying: “Music falls directly into the [remit of our] cultural industry as most aspects of our culture involve music. In the past, there has not been a focus on the music industry but in recent times there have been efforts aimed at improving the product in the various countries, especially in the technical aspect of the industry, in the form of workshops and seminars.”
Traditional industries such as financial services are in decline in the Caribbean and while tourism remains a stable source of income, it is vulnerable to natural disasters and heavily dependent on the global economy. Investing in the cultural arts can help the region build a diversified, stable and reliable economy.
Recognising this, development groups are now coming together to offer musicians and other artists more routes to funding and support. The CDB is set to launch its US$2.6m Cultural and Creative Industries Innovation
Fund (CIIF) later this year and Caribbean Export is currently developing its own support network, managed by the upcoming Caribbean Creative Industries Management Unit (CCIM). At its launch, Gayle Gollop, Caribbean Export’s Special Advisor in Trade and
Legal Affairs said: “We still face the challenge of the lack of strategic and focused management in the development of the region’s creative and cultural industries. This lack of a co-ordinated regional approach has hindered the sector’s ability to contribute to sustainable development in the region. The biggest gap has been the absence of structure that addresses the monetization of the creative industries in the region.”
According to the IFPI Global Music report, worldwide music sales grew for the third consecutive year in 2017, hitting US$17.3bn. More than half of that came from digital revenue with streaming audiences surging to 272 million users
Caribbean musicians may be finding creative new ways to develop their own sound but it takes more than talent and inspiration to become successful
Trinidadian soca artist Machel Montano has created global awareness for the inherently Caribbean genre . . . but will more artists be able to follow his act?