Listen to it here:
In this time of COVID-19, music stakeholders have time to recount, to reform and to rebuild. It is also a time to remember and recalibrate. The Road to Recovery must be made clear with information to guide. The enabling environment must be open and fair. Everyone has a job to do.
As I noted in Part I of this series on strategic plans and the importance of a unified vision, this piece will continue with an analysis of how a sustained pattern of suppression of information by all on the one hand, and wilful State competition with the private sector has made for very incremental movements within the sector.
A recurring theme in a number of research papers written on the creative industries in Trinidad and Tobago, and the wider Caribbean, has been the lack of data. We already know that the Ministry of Trade and Industry in its own 2016-2020 Strategic Plan was aware of this data shortfall. Its internal SWOT analysis reads, among its weaknesses: “Insufficient emphasis placed on gathering data for evidence based decision-making.” Among the strategies to transform performance and service delivery at the Ministry is supposed to be the development and implementation of research systems to gather and analyse data of the sector. Ironically, another of the weaknesses identified in that SWOT analysis is “lengthy delays in the implementation of policy decisions.” Let that sink in in 2020.
Since 2004, researchers at agencies such as the IADB had noted that “unfortunately, the scarcity of reliable services data — the result of a deficient system of data collection and dissemination in the country — severely limits the scope of analysis on services trade.”
One has to consider that with this history of reporting on the lack of usable data, that successive governments in the 21st century would be looking to erase the past and forge new strategies and policies that put the industry in a position to compete globally. Attempts have been made over the years to develop systems for more efficient data collection and distribution, but to no avail.
Economic researcher Ralph Henry, et al posited in the early 2000s:
“There are very little hard data on incomes, and the domestic service providers are not well identified in the official statistics. The direct income to musicians and entertainers has been estimated at US$2.0m, and the indirect income could be ten times this figure. However, these estimates are very notional and, while based on informed calculations of one of the researchers may be subject to considerable error. Thus, the contribution to national income and the size of the sector remain an area of speculation.”
Henry, Ralph, et al. n.d. The Music Industry in Trinidad and Tobago. Tunapuna, TT: Kairi Consultants Ltd.
Between 2006 and 2017, three strategic plans were crafted and/or approved for implementation to guide the State agencies 1 and by extension, to guide the music and wider creative/entertainment industry in Trinidad and Tobago.
- 2006-2011 Strategic Plan for the Entertainment Industry presented by the Music and Entertainment Industry Team of The Standing Committee on Business Development (SCBD) 2;
- 2012-2017 Strategic Plan for TTEnt. presented by Vernon Barrett/Newer Worlds, and;
- The Strategic Action Plan To Develop a Vibrant, Sustainable and Economically Prosperous Music Industry in Trinidad and Tobago (2017-2022) presented by Sound Diplomacy of the UK. (An Operational Plan, extracted from the Strategic Plan, was developed. All elements of the Plan could not be activated simultaneously because of the budgetary shortfalls and low resource allocation to MusicTT, but four elements of the strategic plan were exposed to the public during a national stakeholder engagement in October 2017.)
All three speak to the dearth of official data. However, it is not all licks for the State in the development of data collection systems. From the 2006 Plan, we read:
“Resources for the collection of primary data were somewhat limited since there has not been a tradition of formal statistical data collection for the entertainment industry in Trinidad and Tobago. To date, it is difficult to determine the number of persons employed; the number of cultural enterprises within each sector; revenues earned within each sector; as well as the foreign exchange earnings generated by these industries. In addition, there was unwillingness from some artists and cultural practitioners to participate in the MEIT [Music and Entertainment Industry Team] consultations.” (My emphasis.)
The Music and Entertainment Industry Team of The Standing Committee on Business Development (SCBD). (2006). Strategic Plan for the Entertainment Industry of Trinidad and Tobago. Port of Spain, TT: MTII
From the 2012 Plan, we read:
“It should be noted that recent quantitative research on the Entertainment sector in T&T is virtually non-existent and so baseline data for most of the sub-sectors in question is unavailable.”
Barrett, Vernon. (2012). The Strategic Plan 2012 – 2017. London, UK: Newer Worlds.
Finally, from the 2017 Plan, we sadly read:
“The unwillingness to supply information on music business activity has been counterproductive to collecting reliable data for the domestic industry. The completion of previous studies proves there is evidence of the existence of suitable data to calculate the revenues generated by the local industry, but such data was not available for analysis in this project… Previous reports on the music industry of Trinidad and Tobago have not been able to have a systematic approach to obtaining industry statistics, possibly due to the lack of transparency from their sources.”
Sound Diplomacy. (2017). Trinidad and Tobago Music Industry Strategy: A Strategic Action Plan To Develop a Vibrant, Sustainable and Economically Prosperous Music Industry in Trinidad and Tobago. London, UK: Sound Diplomacy.
Workarounds and “guesstimates” have been used to map our local music industry for too long, even as recently as 2017. Sound Diplomacy noted that “no recent study on Trinidad and Tobago’s industry has been conducted, and much of the required data isn’t tracked, the global study was compared to Trinidad and Tobago’s industry as depicted by a more focused 2006 study and the results of multiple surveys.” (My emphasis.)
This data deficiency has put the local industry in a state of limbo or possible decline for decades. In 2006, an Entertainment Industry Survey conducted by the Ministry of Trade and Industry estimated the annual revenue of the music industry at TT$169,465,606. In 2017, Sound Diplomacy estimated the “2016 total industry revenue at TT$76,582,400.” The State and the stakeholders have to get on the same page sooner rather than later to fix this revenue decline trend.
“Today, a growing share of musical output is being produced by small firms or individuals with a much greater diversity in styles, quality, and business models. The lack of standardization makes it hard to summarize and measure how the industry as a whole is doing, which leads people to underestimate how much music is being produced and how much money is being earned.”
Lee, Timothy B. “Why We Shouldn’t Worry About The (Alleged) Decline Of The Music Industry.” Forbes. Jan 30, 2012. Online.
The quote above, from an old Forbes magazine article, still has relevance and resonance here in Trinidad and Tobago because of the structure and small size of the local industry, and its ad hoc progress and management for all the years of existence, which makes for apt comparisons. It also leads to a follow-up on the idea of stakeholders all being aligned, informed and willing to provide information to allow for the expansion of the local music industry.
Conflict, Competition and Communication
We learn from the final draft of the Sound Diplomacy 2017-2022 music strategic plan that: “After the Strategic Plan for the Entertainment Industry of Trinidad and Tobago 2006-2011 was completed in 2006, the music industry has been left without a clear development strategy with which to move forward.” However, we also learn that the Newer Worlds 2012-2017 plan, according to the Administrative Plan for TTEnt 2011-2012, “was approved by the Board and accepted by the Ministry of Trade Industry and Investment (MTII) in September 2012.”
Further, in The Creative Industries Company (CreativeTT) – Outline presented to industry stakeholders in March 2013, we read that “no overall plan for the Creative Industry currently exists,” but a “Draft Strategic Plan for the Music and Entertainment subsector for the period 2013-2017 has been submitted to the MTII for consideration,” which would “be modified in an effort to ensure that it fits within the policy framework for the Creative Industries.” The question to be asked in this bundle of conflicting information is “Was that Newer Worlds strategic plan ever implemented?”
That 2012 Newer Worlds plan, presented to guide the previous State-Owned enterprise, TTEnt, the agency that promoted cultural diffusion and investment in cultural affairs, defined four key goals for TTEnt to benefit the creative sector:
- to develop locally,
- to promote globally,
- to invest in wisely, and
- to facilitate cost-effectively.
By 2013, TTEnt was no more, and CreativeTT was born. We subsequently heard that CreativeTT has, to date, been without an overall strategic plan, and a number of sub-sector plans were created or revamped.
At the PA(E)C Meeting on April 2019, it was disclosed in the CreativeTT’s written submissions to the Committee that the cost to develop a strategic plan, specific to music, was TT$804,775. A look at CreativeTT’s Consolidated Financial Statements as at September 30 2017 and at September 30 2018 confirms PSIP funds expended for the Strategic Plan being $120,000 in 2016, $481,103 in 2017, and $200,003 in 2018 giving a total of TT$801,106.
Assuming some overflow into fiscal 2020, we are aware that almost one million dollars was spent over three years to create a plan for MusicTT and the industry, and the Ministry has not approved its full implementation, and worse yet, approved its full release, save for four elements that have not moved the industry forward.
Public-private collaborations in the years of the current administration — 2015 onward — are in the context of initiatives that seemingly need to show a socially profitable ROI or major financial cost containment, and would become projects that looked internally favouring grand collaborations with the city of Port of Spain, for instance. What became clear in this new iteration was the creation of initiatives that were in direct conflict with a free market approach to the business of music here.
The Live Music District, explored elsewhere, has proven not to be in the same league as a Music City, so widely promoted by Sound Diplomacy. The admission of a “subsidy for artists” performing in the LMD runs counter to a music industry which operates with the capitalist tenets of value for money, profit and loss, and supply and demand.
A sojourn to SXSW in 2015 by a group selected from an open call and CreativeTT officials with a determined attitude to be “hands off” with a private sector T&T contingent sponsored by the Ministry of Arts & Multiculturalism, stood out as a sore thumb once returns on investment added up to only a 45-minute video of an informal panel discussion and reminiscences without knowledge transfer. (This video was very recently uploaded to YouTube by the videographer.)
The lunacy of the denial of public sector internecine “warfare” between ministries seeking the interest of creative stakeholders runs counter to the reality of the funding for development and the claims of achievement by policy makers. The recent Green Paper on the National Policy on Culture and the Arts clearly defines that cultural industries are a sub-set of creative industries. 3 Two ministries, one goal, go figure! A topic for another discussion.
We have seen over the years of the existence of MusicTT, a decreasing amount of PSIP dollars for projects. We have seen budget allocations of over two and a half times more going to the Culture ministry with a nearly similar PSIP ratio. With the current drop in revenue to the government predicated on the COVID-19 economic shock and world gas and oil prices moving lower, the allocations may be lower still.
One reads in the 2019 PSIP document that:
In fiscal 2019 MusicTT focuses on the two main strategic areas proposed within the Draft Strategic Action Plan for the Music Industry of Trinidad and Tobago. These areas are the Business and Value Chain Development and International Promotion and Export Activities.
For nearly $1 million, not much was achieved on that front, yet the Minister of Finance in the 2019-2020 budget tried to put a favourable spin on the industry by saying:
Carifesta XIV hosted by Trinidad and Tobago underscored the strides we have made in the expansion of our creative industries…Trinidad and Tobago is creating a pool of local artists through the Live Music Districts which have been held at 58 participating venues throughout Port of Spain and its environs. We have witnessed 537 performances and the Live Music District was featured as part of Carifesta XIV. (see budget allocation below.)
We were promised 700 performances at 31 venues in the 12-week pilot project phase (March-June 2018) — never achieved. Minister Imbert’s statement for the industry thus becomes vapid bombast.
The identified weakness of the Ministry’s “lengthy delays in the implementation of policy decisions,” known since 2016, should not be status quo in post-COVID-19 economic recovery. As noted in Part I of this series, a Music Taskforce — “independent, cohesive and inclusive” — was presented as the favoured option to move the Strategic Plan for the music industry forward. The recalcitrance displayed by policy makers and the public sector in dismissing international ingenuity, nearly a million dollars worth, in favour of local mediocrity has repercussions that are laid bare by the resulting industry revenue figures.
Also noted in Part I of this series, the Minister queried on how the private sector was different, bold and innovative. An enabling environment of trust and transparency would yield answers. The ideas collated from the input of private sector stakeholders have been the backbone of strategic plans since 2006: adequate public investment and fiscal responsibility in the sector for development, legislative changes and new policy initiative to keep pace with evolving trends, infrastructure development and adaptation.
Those plans implemented collaboratively are the bulwark against the inertia of an overworked public sector system that should be working to benefit the nation. The holistic strategic planning of 2006 has deteriorated today into an us and them effort of implementation. Make the Strategic Plan for the Music Industry available, and let the stakeholders, both public and private, collectively and similarly informed accelerate music industry growth.
- “The general thrust of these [special purpose] companies is to provide trade, market and business development services to the targeted industry clusters. The objective of placing the responsibility and impetus for [strategic] plan implementation on a special purpose company outside of the public service was to provide each sector with a better chance of success. However, investigations reveal that the work of these companies was stymied by lack of funds and inadequate legislation.”
—Gregory McGuire. “Managing the Resource-Based Economy in Times of Plenty,” in From Oil to Gas and Beyond: Review of the Trinidad and Tobago Model and Analysis of Future Challenges, eds. Trevor M. Boopsingh and Gregory McGuire (Lanham, MD: University Press of America Inc., 2014), 96.
- “In May 2003, the Government established the Standing Committee on Business Development (SCBD), chaired by Prime Minister, the Hon Patrick Manning. The main focus of the SCBD, which serves as an advisory committee to Cabinet, has been to address the development of key industries in the non-petroleum sector. The SCBD comprises key persons responsible for business growth and development in the private sector, as well as Government officials. The Ministry of Trade and Industry provides technical and administrative support to the Committee.
“Music and Entertainment
The entertainment industry is mainly service oriented and encompasses music (including pan), drama, dance, the arts and festivals such as Carnival; each component supporting the other. Traditionally, Trinidad and Tobago is a nation rich with talent in these creative industries, which has served as an effective means of poverty alleviation and employment generation. The music industry alone has over 7,000 employees and generates some US$50 million in direct and indirect earnings. [Correction: Researcher Dr. Keith Nurse wrote: “The music industry in Trinidad and Tobago accounts for approximately 50% of the foreign exchange earnings of the entertainment sector (US$50 million (1998))”. Elsewhere, we read that Dr. Nurse provided, “Data from a previous study put the earnings of the Trinidad and Tobago music sector at approximately US$13 million (TT$78 m) in 1998.]”
—“Pushing a new head”. Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. 7 October 2004, https://archives.newsday.co.tt/2004/10/07/pushing-a-new-head/.
- “[Creative Industries] Refers to the economic activities that are based on an individual’s skills and talent whereby the talent is exploited and generated to create wealth and to develop intellectual property. The basic inputs in these industries are creativity and intellectual capital, while the end products are tangible goods and intangible intellectual property or artistic services. Cultural industries are a sub-set of creative industries.”
—Trinidad and Tobago. Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts. National Policy on Culture and the Arts; Celebrating National Identity: Maximising Our Diversity (Green Paper) (Port of Spain, TTO), 2020. https://cdca.gov.tt/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/NPCA-Trinidad-and-Tobago-2019-2024_A-Green-Paper-1.pdf.
© 2020, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.