Artistes, creatives get on the right digital side
Acquiring revenue from the sale of digitised music, subscription and streaming services, is still a mystery for many Caribbean performers, song writers, producers and others involved in music production.
However, a special project led by Barbadian entertainment consultant Derek Wilkie, and financed by the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) Creative and Cultural Industries Innovation Fund (CIIF), is putting artistes from several Caribbean countries much closer to accessing these platforms and monetising their creations.
According to statistics from the American music industry, subscription and streaming revenues reached US$10.07 billion in 2020, making up the vast majority of revenues for the entire music industry.
Wilkie, however, is concerned that too many regional artistes are absent from this lucrative space. As a result, he is working to ensure that Caribbean performers with existing musical work and those creating new music, are armed with the knowledge and capabilities to exploit the fullest economic gains possible from their creativity.
The accelerator, facilitated by the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation, with contributions from regional partners the Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA) and Compete Caribbean, catered to Caribbean performers, composers, and authors of musical works to help them transition from the physical distribution of music to the modern mode of digital distribution.
The project, which received US$40,000 in CDB funding, attracted 22 participants from Grenada, St Vincent, Guyana, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, who were exposed to insight from the some of the leading experts in the area.
Of the original funding US$10,000 was offered as a grant prize to one participant to develop their marketing and business plan for a new release.
Wilkie, the lead project facilitator, explained: “A great team of internationally regarded music professionals including Ivan Berry, Devon Carty and Spencer Mussellam, the label manager of Believe Music, based in Canada was assembled. Believe Music is a huge player in the digital music industry. They are a distribution partner who receives content and then they filter it out to all of the streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and others.”
The lead facilitator is a founding member of the Barbados Copyright Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (COSCAP) and a former chair of the Caribbean Copyright Link, the body set up to facilitate the region’s performing rights organisations.
“We in the region are producing a lot of work and putting it out there but we are, for the most part, doing it incorrectly. For example, people are releasing new music, uploading it to YouTube and other streaming platforms without any sort of metadata. The metadata is the DNA of the song.
“It says who is the producer, composer, the author, the publisher and it carries unique code numbers that identify the music when it is streamed globally. This allows you to get royalties coming through the system for us to get paid,” Wilkie disclosed.
Without that data, he disclosed, the music of Caribbean artistes could be downloaded and streamed millions of times without the revenue from royalties ever being paid to the rightful owners.
The CDB’s CIIF-funded project is an attempt to address this situation by training and equipping regional writers, producers, authors and publishers with practical real-world experience in the processes.
“We held a 4-day session to hear from them first, learning what they are doing and giving them the best leads and possible strategies for new releases in a digital medium.”
The music executive added: “It was interesting to hear from some of them what they were doing.”
A frequent lament emerging from participants was their inability to realise revenue even when it appeared their music was gaining significant traction online.
As Wilkie explained, “You can’t get royalties if no one knows that you are to be paid because you are not in the system correctly.”
“A lot of time was also spent during the project on marketing and the procedures required before releasing new music and what needs to be done on a global basis to create an audience,” Wilkie pointed out.
Conceding there was still so much for Caribbean creatives to learn about operating in the digital space, he recommends more collaborations between bodies such as COSCAP, the Jamaica Association of Composers Authors and Publishers, and intellectual property rights partners around the world.
“Performing rights organisations in the region, at this point, are unable to properly monitor the vast amount and volume of music that is being streamed and released.
“There are millions of songs streamed every day and somebody has to analyse it. We don’t have wherewithal to do that in the Caribbean and so we need reciprocal agreements to make sure we get paid as well.”
Despite the trepidation of some regional creatives to enter the digital music and streaming space, Wilkie assured that once undertaken correctly, streamed music can become a reliable source of income.
He added: “With the digital platforms, people are still uploading back catalogues released many years ago. We are talking about millions of songs that people are trying to get in the streaming environment . . . . You have got to digitise, create the metadata, link it and upload it.”