On July 14, MusicTT, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Trade state enterprise, CreativeTT, debuted the first in a planned series of music conversations with stakeholders in the industry–music industry professionals and aspirants in all branches, and media–to apprise them of the developments and potential gains made by this organisation for the benefit of the local industry.
This initial meeting launched the video of a panel discussion with participants who attended the annual South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, in March, under the auspices of MusicTT.
In a video screened for the guests at Home on Scott Street, St Clair, bandleader and producer Joey Ng Wai, rapso artiste Ataklan, music producer Kasey Phillips, music businessman Simon Baptiste, MusicTT chairman John Arnold and communications manager Kris Granger answered questions submitted by local industry stakeholders that lined up with the topical information gleaned from the many panels and workshops attended by this group in Texas.
After the film, an interactive question-and-answer session with assembled stakeholders created interesting conversation pieces. Those assembled questioned the role of MusicTT in the industry, and challenged the fit the organisation had in the existing local music structure. Granger had to reiterate that the specific mandate of the company was "to stimulate and facilitate the business development and export activities of the music industry in T&T to generate national wealth."
With this in mind, it was noted that the small contingent of mainly experienced producers and managers that went to SXSW were chosen via an invitation to participate, posted in February, to represent the T&T music industry, to network and to build capacity, and "to build institutional knowledge," according to Arnold. This was not a performance showcase contingent. That was facilitated by private sector agency ASK Promotions, led by former CreativeTT board member Stephen Howard.
There was a deliberate distancing from that private sector contingent by MusicTT personnel on the panel, although it was ironically noted by Arnold subsequently that public-private partnerships were the way forward for the industry, and making sure that the silo mentality was limiting.
Journalist Laura Dowrich-Phillips asked a pointed question about the knowledge base upon which MusicTT had to build: "If after all the previous trips to international music expos and conferences, why were we still trying to define what we have to do to get traction?"
That question was reinforced by another from Wendell Manwarren, of 3Canal, who queried why are we still not getting the right mix at these events. He spoke from first-hand experience as a participant at Womex in 2007. The sharing of knowledge, although an ideal in such a small economy as T&T, was missing by the industry, as well as the many iterations of state enterprises responsible for music and entertainment: Tidco, Eidico, TT Ent. This series of conversations is an attempt to right that wrong, according to MusicTT general manger Jeanelle Frontin.
Among the things that were bothersome to some gathered stakeholders was the idea among the younger panel participants that the almost wholesale transfer of concepts from the major music markets would work in this small economy. The jargon of US music business marketing sector such as "brandvertising" was introduced to participants, as well as ideas that are ripe in the international space including monetising music videos, were repeated without a contextual reckoning by those panellists.
Deputy chairman of CreativeTT, Shyamal Chandradathsingh, who was part of the live interactive panel after the film tied together a number of these concerns, later noting that another function of the SXSW trip was to gauge how best to select participants for these foreign music expos, who fits best where, and how best to prepare these participants. This subjective choice was to be honed to objective criteria to make sense of any investment.
Entertainment lawyer Carla Parris and Cott CEO Josh Rudder both noted the importance of intellectual property and publishing in the new mix of revenue streams in the modern music industry worldwide. They both acknowledged, regretfully, that this was still not a primary area of focus locally.
Significant in the evening were the conversations outside the official conversation, where some hard "truths" were revealed about the state of the industry, and opinion wrestled with fact to make the case that there was always more work to be done to satisfy stakeholders. A popular mantra bandied about was that there was "no music industry here in T&T" despite the fact that for more than a century local entrepreneurs and creatives have been participating in the commerce of music so much so that data has been collected to suggest that this "industry" contributes to the annual GDP, estimated at $169 million by Trade Minister Bharath.
Another, was the seemingly short time frame for action by the company given that general elections are a couple months away, as is the budget, thus creating an unsure and some say tension-filled environment for effectiveness. Arnold told the T&T Guardian that the board of CreativeTT had a term ending in the third quarter of 2016 somehow neglecting the protocol of board resignations if a new government comes to power.
MusicTT in the meanwhile is actively recruiting participation from stakeholders via tender documents for proposals for consultancy services for preparation of a strategic plan for the music industry, this one after an unsuccessful previous tender round before Carnival by CreativeTT, and other proposals via an open call, an exercise which is planned to happen biannually. This first engagement with the stakeholders was noted as a step in the right direction.