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



Part 5


Chapter V

by Richard MacLeish


The issue of the appreciation of the value of IP in itself requires sensitization and education of all stakeholders. It is the state that should spearhead the education process through workshops with assistance from regional collection agencies like COTT of Trinidad & Tobago, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The value of the music industry to the economy makes this capacity building imperative. In addition, the state must itself value IP to the extent that it sensitizes the enforcement agents, the Police, to the need to protect the rights of the artists. The state must be a change agent in this regard.{{more}}

In 2001, Hitz FM produced a compilation of Soca songs from which all profits were indexed to the participating artists. The compilation received mixed support. One music purchaser commented that the layout of the album, as well as the line-up was attractive, but he had already purchased the same songs from a pirate for EC$10 less (16). Without effective and forceful action against piracy, the Vincentian music industry will not be self sustaining.

Robbins is of the view that effective change may be achieved through education. Getting the message across to all stakeholders is necessary to create a culture of IP appreciation (17). The education process must be wholesome in scope, to include the primary schools (the next generation of consumers), the lawmen, radio stations, disc jockeys, and the artists themselves.

Robbins states that the natural way to gain influence is to become a power holder, which in many cases may prove to be difficult, costly, risky, and virtually impossible. In such cases coalitions are formed to combine resources to increase rewards for the group members (18). The economies of scale in St. Vincent & the Grenadines dictate that forming a royalty collection agency in these small island states would prove too expensive even with group support.

One possible route to achieve critical mass is to join one of the regional copyright and collection agencies (e.g. COTT of Trinidad & Tobago). These agencies already have the infrastructure and legal support to institute a system of collection. With the proliferation of radio stations within the industry and the emerging popularity of Vincentian soca and calypso music, these agencies may find it profitable to include the island as part of its IP space.

Collaboration among artists and producers may yield savings in replication costs simply by pooling resources to produce compilations, which are more marketable. This would add synergy to the myriad of artists who produce mini albums of two to three singles every Carnival season, and also respond to the changing taste of the consumer who are not album driven.

Arrow contends that membership in PRS coupled as well as co-publishing with aggressive labels in North America and Europe have been the major contributors to his penetrating the world market. In co-publishing, the artist’s original ownership of publishing and copyright is maintained, while the sharing of publishing at mutually beneficial share ratios have proven lucrative to Arrow, who lacks the capacity to personally monitor opportunities for his music in the world market(12).

Difficult access to larger markets

Access to larger markets may prove to be the most difficult task, given the structure and hegemony of the major recording companies. Kevin Lyttle did it through a bit of luck. While legitimate copies were seeded to radio by Lyttle’s management, even more downloaded copies of the tune were passed from fans to DJ’s, generating club and radio chart rankings in countries where the song had not been officially released (11). It is this use of Internet Communications Technology (ICT) that may provide competitive advantage to Vincentian comparative advantage in the dissemination of the island’s IP.

Access to international markets must take into account relevance. The fact that the calypso product has declined in St. Vincent & the Grenadines in patronage may be more a product of irrelevance than poor organization of the tents. With the advent of liberalized radio media in the state, the calypso has lost its appeal as the primary source of political picong. Radio listeners are fed a daily diet of political and social commentary, which the calypso artform has found difficult to better, counter, or even keep pace with

As Arrow puts it, he started singing more “up-tempo” songs so that he could be heard above all the others singing “smut” and political songs (12). Arrow made the leap from calypso king to Soca superstar, selling over four million copies of ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’. Arrow also has had his songs in the soundtracks of at least nine Hollywood films.

Youths shying away from calypso

Fireman Hooper, the reigning and most-winning Soca Monarch of St. Vincent and the Grenadines sums up the decline of vintage calypso (19):

Young people shying away from calypso, from the tents and even Dimanche Gras, Do you think they want to hear this long and unnecessary arrangement of 16 and more bars of music? No offence to the arrangers but is a band chorus, a verse, the chorus, the band chorus, a verse, the chorus, the band chorus again, come on! Cut the thing man! Put some life into the calypso. Don’t forget you have an audience to please. See what Onyan did in Antigua?

Local labels and artists must invest in ICT to keep pace with the changing tastes of the consumer. Capacity building in this regards must also be spearheaded by the state to sustain its symbiotic relationship with its constituent IP. One area of intervention would be access to broadband services. The market, through incentives by the state, must reflect the realities of supply and demand as has already occurred in the developed world. Competition among service providers may stimulate this.

A financial environment more conducive to investing in the intangible IP is needed. Vincentian economist Errol Allen puts this into perspective (20):

In any new emerging business culture, risk should be seen not as a threat as in the physical world, but as an opportunity as in the financial world…. It is not too far fetched for us to be thinking in some small way of leveraging some aspects of our intellectual capital as has been done elsewhere…. Recording artistes David Bowie and James Browne have raised $50m and $100m respectively, secured by future royalties on their records…. Our countries in the Caribbean may be underdeveloped, but our minds certainly are not.

Let us all work together towards the cultivation of a new business culture to take St. Vincent and the Grenadines forward in this new millennium.

Lastly and by no means least, the industry needs definitive measurement as it relates to its effect on the GDP of the state. It is with the documentation of all aspects of the industry, record sales (physical and virtual), employment, royalties, performance fees, etc. that we can formulate strategies and policies to develop, stimulate, and grow this vital component of our overall economic space.