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Intellectual Property The New Frontier: A look at the Vincentian music industry and its comparative advantage


Part 4
Chapter IV

by Richard MacLeish  15.SEP.06

With the advent of technology, there has been a proliferation of recording studios, which has in turn enhanced the quality and numbers of recordings. It is from this environment that Kevin Lyttle rose to fame and fortune. Recording at Sky Studios, Lyttle’s “Turn Me On” took the region by storm, then captured Europe and Japan, before turning on Atlantic Records in the US:{{more}}

Lyttle’s website states.
Since Kevin’s signing with Atlantic in the fall of 2003, “Turn Me On” has been on an absolute chart tear globally, and at this writing the single is nearing the million mark in international sales. It hit #2 in the UK, where it stayed in the top ten for a remarkable seven weeks. It had a ten-week run in the #1 spot in Denmark, while ranking at #2 in Germany, Holland, and Norway, #3 in Australia and Switzerland, #4 in Italy, and #5 in Sweden.

It also rose to #3 on the Music & Media pan-European singles chart. “Turn Me On” has garnered top-five radio airplay in numerous countries, including France – where it hit #1, Germany, Denmark, Singapore, Belgium, Slovakia, and Austria. The single has so far been certified platinum in Australia; gold in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland; and silver in the UK and France (11).

Industry estimates put a Top Ten song as earning between US$50,000 and US$250,000 in performance royalties (12). Lyttle’s “Turn Me On” has also been used in the soundtrack of Will Smith’s latest film, “Hitch”.

With this vast earning potential, how able is St. Vincent & the Grenadines to penetrate this market in a sustained manner? How will the Vincentian music industry turn the world on to its unique flavour?

A recent survey of industry producers characterizes the current state of the industry. Of the seven main music producers approximately 190 songs were recorded in St. Vincent & the Grenadines in 2004, with an estimated EC$205,000 generated from mechanical fees, royalties, and sales (13).

Most producers enter into shared rights contracts with Vincentian artists, who are unable to finance the cost of recordings. Statistics for the remainder of the industry, mainly revenue earned through performances and competitions (Carnival) by the artists remain undocumented. In addition, the other genres, Hip Hop, Dancehall, Reggae, R&B, and Gospel, which have gained much airplay on local radio stations, remain largely promotional in practice.

There is no local collective agency, nor is there any licensing system for radio stations at present, so royalties from airplay, commercials (radio & TV), and club use by Disc Jockeys do not factor into revenue streams.

The legislative framework that will govern the industry here is summarized as (14):

• The Copyright Act, 2003 which commenced on 30 November 2004, expanding the scope of protection and enforcement of copyright and related rights.

• The Trade Marks Act, 2003 which commenced on 18 May 2003, providing a mechanism for the addition of value to local goods and services by way of branding.

• The E-Transactions Bill, 2004, which promises to open cost-effective avenues for gaining access to larger markets.

• The Small Business Development Bill, 2004, which seeks to offer fiscal incentives and technical assistance to small businesses engaged in arts and cultural activities, entertainment services and tourism-related services.

• The Information and Communications Technology Incentives Bill, 2005.

Asked what were the pressing issues they face, the producers surveyed listed the challenges to the industry as mainly:

• Piracy/Enforcement of Legislation

• Lack of a collective society to administrate local royalties

• Knowledge of the music industry

• Lack of Public and Private sector recognition of the value of the industry

• Access to larger markets

• Collaboration by stakeholders

These issues speak to an industry that is fragmented and individualistic. Artists have yet to see the value of power in groups. This collective power gives members bargaining strength and political power to achieve effective change within the industry. As one of the producers surveyed puts it:

The main problems stem from a lack of foresight in the formation of a meaningful music organization. It’s a situation where ninety-five percent of musicians, song writers and entertainers see no value beyond composing, recording, or performing a song. Therefore, it becomes a constant uphill task trying to (create) a music industry in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. The St. Vincent Calypso Association, of which I’m an ordinary member, doesn’t see any thing beyond Carnival competitions and receiving donations from Government and the Private sector. Secondly, they don’t even trust any of their fellow Calypsonians to lead them.

This individualism is further borne out by the experience of Hitz FM and the leading calypso tents in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. In the years 2000 – 2002, Hitz FM, in recognizing the value of the calypso tents Intellectual Property (IP), purchased the rights to exclusive broadcast live, the Preliminary Competition of four of the tents. The broadcast rights were exchanged for advertising space for the tents’ activities during the Carnival seasons.

Prior to this, radio stations would carry the Preliminaries live, without any consideration to the ownership of the IP. Indeed, tents were expected to pay to promote their shows, and allow stations to carry their shows live, while not enjoying any of the broadcast fees the stations charged the private sector.

The move by Hitz FM effectively locked out other stations from the most attractive events of the tents, while affording these tents a level of promotion never before experienced. Hitz FM went on further to digitally record the performances and produce a compilation for future airplay, as well as master copies for the tents to use as a marketing tool.

In the three years these compilations were produced, none of the tents took the initiative to replicate them for sale, and for the benefit of their membership. Individual members focused on selling two-song CD’s of their seasonal compositions, instead of the more marketable compilations, with dubious results (15).

• Continued next week