This is our music: one person makes $54 million a year. Seven make $1.7 to $2 million (if you remove prize money, $.7 to $1.1 million). The rest mostly subsist... What I have just described cannot be called a music "industry".
The fact, however, is there're about 60 artistes who can be making $50 million, about 200 who can make $20 million, and another 200 who can make $1 million easily. This money will be made touring between 65 to 150 days a year in places with favourable rates of exchange. Most not in Caribbean diaspora markets. What I just described is an "industry".
Music insiders know the artistes who can be earning these incomes. As I said last week, it ain't who you think! If you did the math, you'd realise musicians alone could be earning about $2 billion as net foreign-exchange earners for the economy. Why then is this not happening?
To be a player in the mainstream industry, you must attend certain expos. It's there you acquire tour managers, booking agents and record deals. If you're not present, you don't exist. We don't exist. T&T attended the leading music expo—MIDEM—only four times in the last 17 years (government partnered only twice). The returns on those trips were over $125 million. The local investment? Less than $500,000. Where else can you legally get those returns on investments? That's the brilliance of the creative sector! There's an artiste (not Machel Montano) who scored a Billboard Top 100 hit and pocketed over $2 million from a song he recorded for $6,000. He just received a $20 million signing bonus from a major label. This is how the real world of music works.
Every single time T&T goes to these expos, we win gold. Stakeholders have shown every government these figures. Why hasn't Government ensured we be regulars at such niche expos for all our cultural products like other governments?
So when the Minister of Planning, in response to the Artists' Coalition's recent criticism of his ministry's non-implementation of two years worth of budget promises (in which the sector handed him blueprints on how to geometrically increase sector earnings), says he's "doing a lot" because soon Government will sign a "big record deal" with Machel, he in fact proves our point.
The industry is not one man—as they, in their favouritism and misunderstanding of the creative sector, think. An industry results from an ecosystem of legislation, institutions and enabling systems that are Government's duty to create. T&T has failed to implement these. An industry comes from releasing the 400 other multi-million-dollar earners from their artificial squalour. Other countries built such systems. Other countries serious about their industry have booths at MIDEM: Jamaica's annual booth is the size of big truck. This is why their artistes are everywhere. Where are we?
Instead, TTENT—the agency which should implement this initiative—was brought up before the Integrity Commission... The last two budgets have all these pathways out of scandal and into prosperity. If only leaders would listen.
Every single musical breakthrough for two decades came from MIDEM: Nigel and Marvin's "Follow De Leader", signed, sold 300,000 units; Sugar Daddy's "Sweet Soca Music", signed, sold 250,000 units; MIDEM was instrumental in licensing "Who Let the Dogs Out"; Calypso Rose got European and American mainstream venue tours with a PBS movie deal... In all, over 100 deals were made—catalogues signed; artistes, singles and albums signed; movie soundtrack deals; tours booked...
If you were to look at the list of artistes gaining deals, you'd not find the usual suspects. Why? Because the international music business has nothing to do with our local prejudices, music mafias and DJ favourites. They're interested in one thing—good music!
There are over 400 potential multi-million-dollar earning acts—if only emancipated from this landscape where most play to underground scenes of 60 people their entire lives. Trips with politicians on diplomatic tours don't get you deals; music expos get you deals. And you go there with your best. And our best aren't playing festival soca and chutney. They're in other genres you never hear, because local radio has five to ten per cent local content so T&T will never know its genius.
Some of these geniuses include jointpop, 12, Gyazette, Ataklan, The Blackmans (three bands-—Sheldon's, Isaac's and Madge's), Freetown Collective, Russel Leonce, Collis Durante, Lyndon Livingstone, Sean Thomas, Ettiene Charles, John John Thomas, Maximus Dan, Gail-Ann Stephens, a_phake, Squeezy Rankin, Isasha, Orange Sky, Celsa Baptiste, and more... How many names did you know? All are potential multi-million-dollar earners. Marlon Asha is almost there...
It's Government's duty to create enabling systems around talent so T&T can earn foreign exchange—and have an "industry", not a one-man show. These are not hand-outs. This is how nations build capacity. This is business. Cabinet and Parliament approved these programmes. Implement them!
If you're interested in hearing these musicians, tune into 91.1FM every Thursday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Continues on July 27 with "The Genius of Machel Montano".
• Rubadiri Victor is a cultural activist.