MusicTT débuts Music Business Conversations with Elevate¹

ELEVATEOn Tuesday, July 14, MusicTT, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Trade state enterprise, CREATiVETT debuted the first in a planned series of conversations with stakeholders in the music industry—music industry professionals and aspirants in all branches, and media—to appraise them of the developments and potential gains made by this organisation for the benefit of the local industry. This initial meeting launched the video of a panel discussion with participants who attended the annual South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, in March under the auspices of MusicTT.

Discussants in the video, bandleader and producer Joey Ng Wai, rapso pioneer Ataklan, music producer Kasey Phillips, music businessman Simon Baptiste along with MusicTT chair John Arnold and communications manager Kris Granger, answered questions submitted by local industry stakeholders that lined up with the topical information gleaned from the many panels and workshops attended by this group in Texas.

After the film, an interactive question and answer session with assembled stakeholders created interesting conversation pieces in which questioners queried more than what was the role of MusicTT in the industry, but sometimes challenged the fit the organisation had in the existing local music structure. Granger had to reiterate that the specific mandate of the company was “to stimulate and facilitate the business development and export activities of the music industry in Trinidad and Tobago to generate national wealth.”

MusicTT invitation
Click to enlarge

With this in mind it was noted that the small contingent of mainly experienced producers and managers that went to SXSW was chosen via an invitation to participate posted on the CreativeTT Facebook page back in February, to represent the T&T music industry, to network and and to build capacity, “to build institutional knowledge,” according to Arnold. This was not a performance showcase contingent. That was facilitated by private sector agency ASK Promotions led by former CREATiVETT board member, Stephen Howard.

There was a deliberate distancing from that private sector contingent by MusicTT personnel on the panel, although it was ironically noted by Arnold subsequently that public-private partnerships were the way forward for the industry, and making sure that the silo mentality was limited if not overcome. Journalist Laura Dowrich-Phillips asked a pointed question about the knowledge base upon which MusicTT had to build: “If after all the previous trips to international music expos and conferences, why were we still trying to define what we have to do to get traction?”

That question was reinforced by another from Wendell Manwarren of 3Canal who queried why are we still not getting the right mix at these events. He spoke from first hand experience as a participant at Womex in 2007. The sharing of knowledge, although an ideal in such a small economy as T&T, was missing by the industry historically as well as the many iterations of state enterprises responsible for music and entertainment: TIDCO, EIDECO, TT Ent. This series of conversations is an attempt to right that wrong according to MusicTT General Manger Jeanelle Frontin.

Among the things that were bothersome to some gathered stakeholders was idea among the younger panel participants that the almost wholesale transfer of concepts from the major music markets would work in this small economy. The jargon of US music business marketing sector such as “brandvertising” was introduced to participants, as well as ideas that are ripe in the international space including monetizing music videos, were repeated without a contextual reckoning by those panellists.

Panellists Joey Ng Wai, Shyamal Chandradathsingh and Simon Baptiste with host Serala Ramlogan. Photo © 201, Nigel A. Campbell
Panellists Joey Ng Wai, Shyamal Chandradathsingh and Simon Baptiste with host Serala Ramlogan. Photo © 2015, Nigel A. Campbell

Deputy chairman of CREATiVETT, Shyamal Chandradathsingh who was part of the live interactive panel after the film tied together a number of these concerns, later noting that another function of the SXSW trip was to gauge how best to select participants for these foreign music expos, who fits best where, and how best to prepare these participants. This subjective choice was to be honed to objective criteria to make sense of any investment.

Entertainment lawyer Carla Parris and COTT CEO Josh Rudder both noted the importance of intellectual property and publishing in the new mix of revenue streams in the modern music industry worldwide. They both acknowledged, regretfully, that this was still not a primary area of focus locally.

Significant in the evening were the conversations outside the official conversation where some hard “truths” were revealed about the state of the industry, and opinion wrestled with fact to make the case that there was always more work to be done to satisfy stakeholders. A popular mantra bandied about was that there was “no music industry here in T&T” despite the fact that for more than a century local entrepreneurs and creatives have been participating in the commerce of music so much so that data has been collected to suggest that this “industry” contributes to the annual GDP, estimated at $169 million by Trade Minister Bharath. (This figure has also been used by the The Music and Entertainment Industry Team of The Standing Committee on Business Development in their Strategic Plan for the Entertainment Industry of Trinidad and Tobago, Final Report, January 20, 2006, (p. 9) so we look to get an update on this decade old figure.)

Another, was the seemingly short time frame for action by the company given that general elections are a couple months away, as is the budget, thus creating an unsure and some say tension-filled environment for effectiveness. Arnold told the T&T Guardian that the board of CREATiVETT had a term ending in the third quarter of 2016 somehow neglecting the protocol of board resignations if a new government comes to power!

MusicTT in the meanwhile is actively recruiting participation from stakeholders via tender documents for proposals for consultancy services for preparation of a strategic plan for the music industry, this one after an unsuccessful previous tender round before Carnival by CREATiVETT, and other proposals via an open call, an exercise which is planned to happen biannually. This first engagement with the stakeholders, at Anya Ayoung-Chee’s elegant HomeTT was noted as a step in the right direction. The public waits to see if the effective completion of any significant gains in productivity of the industry are in the offing cognisant that new faces are on a steep learning curve, and time may be tight with a potential for re-arrangement of policy after September 7.

  1. 20150723A version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “MusicTT to elevate music business conversation”

© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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