Freedom of Information request for the Machel Montano/Going For Gold contract, Part II

In Part I of this seriesgoingforgold_album, I uploaded the appendices to the agreement between the government of Trinidad and Tobago and Going For Gold, Limited, the Company representing the interests of Machel Montano in his effort to produce a CD that would act as a catalyst for the creation of a Music Investment Fund and spur government’s diversification drive in the creative industry sector, including music. In this part, a more in depth analysis of the contract will be done, and what its implementation means and meant for the music industry in Trinidad and Tobago.

After reading of the plan to produce the CD in the press, a Freedom of Information request was made to the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development, the implementing agency for this project to view the contract and any supplemental agreements. The documents were prepared for delivery by 26 September 2013, “subject to a supplemental agreement” (that was finalized on 17 September 2013), but never delivered until 6 December 2013.

Paper trail of Freedom of Information request
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The Promise

goingforgold-adThe primary objective of this project spoke to catalysing local music industry development and “to leverage this to optimize the potential of the creative industries as a platform to further leverage Trinidad and Tobago.” This short-term project had medium to long term goals.

On 13 January 2013, a 4-page advertisement spelling out the project and its aims appeared in the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian. Note, this advertisement comes in the newspaper five months after the album was supposed to be launched, on or before Independence 2012. A four-page spread is not cheap, and the focus on the commemorative gift of a CD, DVD, and merchandise threw up some red flags to me.

The window for optimum marketing was short; effectively a few months from inception to the 50th Anniversary of T&T independence. Between 18 July and 31 August 2102, or before, Machel Montano via the Company was obliged to produce a music album that celebrated “the country’s achievements both in the Olympic Games and as an Independent country, with a milestone as unique as the golden opportunity this once in a lifetime period presented.” Readers were further told that the project “serves as an example of how the music business can be approached, with innovative products that have the ability to generate income as well as market our music and our talent to the world.”

The Contract

The Contract for funding of Machel Montano’s Going For Gold project was made on 18 July 2012, mere weeks before the planned delivery date of the album. Of course, there were prior discussions and announcements of this partnership, so one can assume that some mobilization and recording had happened before signing. This is an example of Public/Private Sector Partnership touted by the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development in its publication, Building Competitive Advantage. The Contract spells out the separate obligations of both the Government and Going for Gold Ltd, the agent for Machel Montano in this venture, as well as other standard recording contract language, and an agreement that the Fund would be established out of profits from merchandise and music sales. The Contract ends on December 31, 2015 with an option to extend by one year.

The Contract and Supplemental Agreement
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The Reality

At the time of the newspaper advertisement, it was apparent that some of the promises printed were already broken: late delivery date to maximise uptake, no positioning on the large global digital music retailers, minimal public performance outside of diasporic catchment markets. “Going For Gold,” the album is not even mentioned on Machel Montano’s website.

It was delivered outside the optimum window of opportunity, prior to T&T Independence and certainly after the London Olympics 2012. A force majeure clause (28) allowing for a 10-day grace period is included, as is a termination clause (24) for material breach and injury to reputation,  but despite these, the album was not  released on time: “The Company shall create an Album for the agreed Delivery Date.

The Trinidad and Tobago Newsday reported on 24 November 2012, “However actual production of some songs with international collaborators and the finalisation of legal/rights agreements for them, led to the three-month delay. Tewarie acknowledged this at the launch, telling Newsday the new release date — tentatively set for the first week of December, ‘was worth it because we now have at least two songs that I’m sure will cross [e]very musical barrier in the world.‘” The songs didn’t!


The newspaper reports that the minister was referring to the track with Pitbull, “Lighting the Way” and the track with Chaka Khan, “So on Fire.” Machel’s suggestion that “it takes a level of interacting with other producers, interacting with other writers…we must integrate foreign talent with local talent…” proved to be unnecessary. Bunji has a hit with local producer Sheriff Mumbles! Fellow local/internationals, Lazabeam Keshav (Jus Now) and The Jillionaire (Major Lazer) would have been better choices for Machel.

Positioning in London for the largest event in the world was weak and poor with promotion at a 200-seat theatre off the beaten path over 5 nights. 1000 people is not a challenge for Machel Montano, the performer, in any diaspora city. He’s bigger than that.

tt-vs-jm

The Trinidad & Tobago Cultural Village was touted as a hit, but its reality was a shadow of a real impact that Jamaica had at the same time in the same city. Opportunities for collaborations with local and diaspora expertise towards a similar spectacle by T&T were rumoured to be lost due to local mediocrity, frugality and arrogance outside the talent sphere. Meanwhile, international music promoters AEG Live UK hosted Jamaican Summer to thousands per night including the Respect Jamaica 50th Concert Series at the IndigO2. Budget constraints weren’t an issue there, it seems, as every Jamaican music star was on show. That appears to be a public/private sector partnership that worked. By contrast, we had this:

The CD/DVD package remains on the shelves/under the counters of a couple stores here in T&T with no prospect of increased sales much less the 20,000 units that the Minister stated would allow for break-even. As an aside, neither the Contract,  Supplemental Agreement nor the Appendices speak of manufacture and distribution of the physical CD. The supplemental agreement made a little more than a year after the initial agreement with increases in the government’s take of gross income of receipts from 50% to 80%, and a move from profits only to gross income suggests that the Music Investment Fund capitalisation was not forthcoming in that year period.

We know that Machel, via his Xtatik Ltd, put money into the Children’s Life Fund, another recipient of profit sharing in the project, but the requested accounts to show the actual amounts from this product into the Music Investment Fund were never delivered. Of note are the newspaper reports citing Liz Montano, the signatory on this project that “her son had given the $100,000 to the Children’s Fund long before the Going for Gold project was on the cards.” Further in media reports, “Liz Montano said her son had told the Government he did not want any returns, and the Government should put any profits made on that project into the Music Development Fund and the Children’s Life Fund.” The supplemental agreement still opts to give Going For Gold Ltd initially 50% then lowered to 20% of gross income of receipts, so that message never got through. The difference, in this situation, between “profits” and “gross income of receipts” is moot. Profits (later amended to gross receipts of income) would finance the Fund, while income would pay back the Government’s investment. We are still looking for both in 2014.

The Contract, weakly drafted, specifies no financial penalties for Going For Gold Ltd, save and except if Montano opts out of a live performance, his fee would have to be returned. As noted before, the Government, “for practical reasons” only sought to have Montano sell more product and they took a bigger cut. The real assets in music—publishing and the masters—were contracted away from government.

Laws and regulations in Trinidad and Tobago being what they are allow for anything to happen. Minus a Public Procurement law, a Ministry can set up a Fund for disbursement of public money without transparent guidelines. “Who gets and how much” has to be the exercise of a Freedom of Information request! We saw this in the past with the secret Scholarship Fund under the Ministry of Culture of Marlene McDonald, MP. The Contract says that the establishment of the Fund shall be “subject to the necessary approvals.” An enquiry from the Ministry for the Cabinet Minute that created the Fund shall be necessary. The Auditor General’s Report on the Public Accounts of Trinidad & Tobago for 2012 has no reference to the creation of a Fund, neither does the report for 2013. The Parliament has no reference to any Bill creating a Fund either. One can surmise at this point that there is no Fund.

In 2010, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reported that it costs US$1M to enter the “consciousness of the global public” (or break the artist in a major market) and in 2012 that figure rose to US$1.4M, so that given our economies of scale and the track record of the artist, on paper this TT$5M investment would not seem to be unworthy. The difference between a record label that invests that kind of money and a government investing similar amounts is that record labels may recoup investment from other artists. Where does a government go to recoup? Note that the budget for Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Ltd (TT Ent) for 2012 was about TT$6M to “foster the growth and development of a globally competitive entertainment industry.” The numbers don’t lie; to make it in music outside of these shores, a lot of money has to be spent. Wise investment is preferred over wishful thinking.

The continued thrust by the Ministry of Planning to underwrite the production of albums has not declined, Denyse Plummer being the lucky recipient of rumoured tens of thousands of dollars for a Christmas CD in 2013. The Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism supported the production and certainly from its own pronouncement, the marketing locally and internationally of a CD by Siparia Deltones featuring World Music icon, Hugh Masakela. The buzz on the progress of that CD suggests that the risks in the music industry venture capitalism by government ministries need to be mitigated better to make the case that equivalent private sector investment in creative industries’ development would be beneficial to the economy.

The Conclusion

tt-jamaica-cd

In August 2012, German label, Bear Family Records released for the 50th Anniversary of Independence the complete original first recordings of a Trinidad act, Lovey’s Original Trinidad String Band, “Calypso Dawn: 1912.” That product sold no nostalgia. Jamaica, which celebrated their golden jubilee a few weeks before Trinidad and Tobago, had a keepsake volume of music created by its international private sector abroad, VP Records of Queens, “Reggae Golden Jubilee ” consisting of a 4-CD package of music from that island over its 50 year independent life.

What those two historic products point to are legacy items that have an infinite shelf life. What was obviously supposed to be our legacy item, Going For Gold, was pigeon-holed into a narrow time-frame and suffered the fate of pop music that is past its launch window: it died a quick death. The marketing thrust of the product spoke to a period and the artwork reflected that. What the two examples also show is the importance of the private sector in moving the music sector forward.

More productive engagement without partisanship between government and private sector persons with local and regional industry expertise and advice would be preferred. Transparent regulations for creative industry funding by government and its agencies, such as MusicTT would be an asset. So would the promised National Arts Council. Government action in creating the enabling environment for increased private sector investment in music production is welcomed. The current tax incentive system is not sparking much interest among corporations. Another framework may be required.

In the mean time, we can reminisce and hope that possibilities can still accrue. The global music industry is staggered over regions. A hit in Trinidad today can be a hit in the US a couple years later. Think of Kevin Lyttle. Time may still be on our side.

Below is a playlist of videos released from Going For Gold:

© 2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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