Last week I dealt with the budget and analyzed the proposed measures for bolstering the music industry. I removed my cynic hat for that exercise and made a conclusion: if the stink of politics and corruption, to which we’ve become somewhat nose blind, doesn’t permeate the budget propositions will certainly help. But that’s the problem. They will ‘help’. They won’t tackle the root of the problem. We are taking vitamins when what we need is a painkiller. A local content quota is that pain relief.
Just to give you some context on myself, although it may be a little late roughly ten plus articles in, I’m David Hamilton aka Da Face, a hip hop artiste from Trinidad and Tobago. I also am the CEO and joint owner of Future Crab Studios. So my interest in this is from the perspective of an artiste AND a professional stakeholder. As a matter of fact, all three of the joint owners of Future Crab Studios are active artistes.
You may not believe me but I’m not advocating a local content quota to get my music played. I’ve managed to make a decent amount of money selling cds and doing shows throughout my 8 years as an artiste. My last project, a Kaiso/Hip Hop fusion titled “Kaiflo” (you can listen to the entire album here) was profitable and that includes the money I spent on the video. At Future Crab Studios we’re living up to our motto “Create New Sound” and staying profitable so I’m good on that end as well. So this is not from a (purely) self serving place.
What is a local content quota? It’s a (legal) rule that legislates broadcasters to play a certain amount or quota of local content. It isn’t new either. Many countries in the world have local content quotas implemented and not just for radio either. In many of these cases such as Canada it is highly successful in not just helping those artiste but also in molding them into prolific exporters of quality content. Justin Bieber and Drake are two examples that have benefited greatly from such a system.
Am I saying that we should implement a local content quota for radio JUST because other countries implemented them successfully? Hellll no. I’m never an advocate for such mimicry. I do believe however that the statistic makes it worthy of serious analysis which I hope the government has already commenced. Au contraire, the main reason I believe that we should implement a local content quota is because we already have one and it works perfectly. It’s called the Soca Switch.
You see, many of you may be too young but Soca or Sokah invented by Nailah Blackman’s grandfather was for many years a subgenre of Calypso. Many of the existing Calypsonians such as Sparrow and Kitchener made soca songs but Calypso and Dimanche Gras night continued to be the pinnacle of the Carnival Season It wasn’t until two stalwarts of our current Carnival experience were erected that Soca supplanted Calypso. The result has rendered Calypso alongside Sailor Mas as a curious oddity, a specter of an era long gone.
The first structure was the International Soca Monarch competition started in 1993. This competition provided a platform for the world to observe the best soca artistes do battle. Super Blue was the best soca artiste back then so it was a formality that he dominated the first few competitions. But that still wasn’t enough to complete the takeover.
You see, upcoming promoters impressed by what they saw from the Soca Monarch competition needed people to hear the songs, love them and then spend copious amounts of money going fetes. How do you achieve that? Well you institute an unofficial period where you turn on a switch and only soca is played for months until the Carnival season. The motive was entirely self serving but as a fortunate by-product, soca stars started making serious money. The business started to becomes sustainable. Very soon, artistes who were pursuing other genres such as Magga Dan (now known as MX Prime), Bunji Garlin, KMC and Precious began following the money – a sensible decision. Then deejays started following the money…ummm no comment. And Soca took over.
Fast forward to present day and soca is the only genre that really makes sense for an artiste to pursue in T+T. Let me define “sense” for a moment – “sense” is defined as being in a genre where a big hit can place you on a path to be able to feed your family from music. In soca there exists a platform of events and live performances anchored by a constant block of radio play. So in soca if your song is a hit and you market it well you can make money. From one hit even.
In contrast, and as an example, Hip Hop does not make sense in T+T. Let me qualify, it does not currently make sense. Aye, I eh bitter eh, and I’m not quitting the genre. I’m just stating facts. To my definition of “sense“, I had a hit song in 2012 called “Cheese Pie and Pack Juice“. It currently has over 157,000 views. Still the most popular Hip Hop video released in T+T. It was played on radio. But there is no Hip Hop switch. So when the deejays gave it a bligh, despite the fact that the video was still very popular, it quickly fell out of rotation.
Now I not ponging the deejays (here) because even if they played it more, there was and is no established platform of events and live performances that we could have derived revenue from. But that platform of events starts with a quota. Because as much as social media is an option, private businesses and sponsorship still look mainly to radio. And seeing that Hip Hop is not given a space on radio sans one or two people getting a little play – it doesn’t make sense. And seeing that the people getting the most play in Hip Hop in T+T barely can make minimum wage from it, certainly can’t live from it alone – it doesn’t make sense. If you make the same sized hit in soca as hip hop you will make ten times as much money.
Imagine a world where every genre was given a taste of the “soca switch” rotation in this country. Like imagine if rock was given a week of soca switch revolution. Now I know what you thinking – “me eh wah hear no rock”. But guess what, a lot of people don’t want to hear no soca. So YOU might tune out but a lot of other people would tune in. Plenty who not currently tuning in too. A lot of trash would be played yes but a few songs would stand out, the same as now. And those artistes would get opportunities from the increased visibility. And those opportunities would allow those artistes to invest and come back with better songs. And those artiste are investing where? RIGHT HERE!!!
And once it’s predictable, these artistes would get better and better until they transcend and are able to export their music. This method is better than an “Export Ready Academy” – so you’re giving me money to create a product that won’t be played in my own country and expect me to sell it outside? This method is better than an “International Music District” – so you’re not giving me any visibility on what is still the largest platform for music in the country yet expect people to come and pay to hear me live? Yet expect people outside to flock to me?
What does the government want? Votes. No, I mean, what do they say they want? To prepare music for export? What do artistes want? A way to sustain their musical passion financially. OK then, both can be achieved via a 50% local content quota. Carnival is a huge export for us. But the demand started here. For us to export local music we have to build a demand here.
To end I’m going to respond to some common misconceptions regarding local content quotas:
- But people are going to stop listening – Some will stop but some who aren’t listening will tune in. A lot of people right now don’t listen to radio because it’s no longer the source for discovering music and there isn’t much differentiation from what is readily available online.
- Advertisers will stop advertising – No they won’t. It’s true that a lot of advertisers have the misconception that foreign content works better for ads. But just check how many soca songs were used in ads during the soca switch aka the local content quota period for soca. Agencies also being creatives will just adapt and use more local content in their ads which will actually work out better for the respective businesses.
- The overall quality of music will drop – No it won’t. A lot of deejays now develop their playlists from foreign ones. So they actually play a lot of trash, just foreign trash that someone away ordained as ‘great’. But who says we have the same tastes down here? Yeah there are plenty trash local songs too but the deejays just have to do their jobs and pick out the best. And trust me, there are plenty great ones.
- I can’t listen to that – You self will be listening. Why? Because if you don’t currently listen to any local music but know you won’t like it, you’re a follower. And when local music is given a chance and inevitably some songs gain a following you’ll be in the mix following and ‘showing your support’. So don’t worry 😉
As always, let me know your thoughts. If you’re an artiste make sure to check out our studio offerings – our motto is CREATE NEW SOUND and we always try to push the boundaries of music even within this local industry.
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