Sunday, March 22, 2009



By Josanne Leonard

The International Indie Music Summit which took place for the third time at MIDEM went by largely unnoticed by Caribbean participants who made the expensive trek to the world's most prestigious music industry event. (see Understandably, the business and networking opportunities were paramount in the minds of the twenty odd companies and other industry professionals from Jamaica who were the main stay of the Caribbean at MIDEM. (Cuba also attended). In fact, the Jamaica Stand mounted by JAMPRO was a constant flurry of activity, at times appearing too small for the number of visitors seemingly wanting to do business.

If numbers are any indication of what is to come, then things look promising for the firms and professionals who did attend. But there was much to be gained from attending some of the sessions and networking with
Independent music companies from all continents, especially those in emerging markets, to glean how some of the challenges facing Caribbean music businesses were being met in other places. More importantly, there were very crucial discussions taking place around the rapid changes in the music business driven by the new digital landscape, discussions that are as complex as they are wide. Even the lawyers had to pow-wow about copyright in the new digital world since it raises issues that are challenging for the most astute of legal minds. Another area where many of own legal firms now have to play ‘ketch up’.

Sitting in as a Caribbean observer at the Board meeting of the Worldwide Independent Music Network
and other indie music sessions, the reality of how much ' education' is needed in the Caribbean about this business of music hit home. As the lone Caribbean voice at some of these sessions, I could not help but sigh resignedly over numerous attempts to interest participation from regional businesses, governments, trade and investment agencies and the media so that information and market intelligence could be shared not only with those at Midem, but with industry players and the public here at home.

I had not been to Midem for over ten years since I believe these forums are only as useful as we are prepared for them. While individuals have been able to do some business successfully, the Caribbean, in my view, has simply not been ready and in many respects, still isn't. In fact, many of the more successful ‘music’ enterprises in the region (of which there aren't that many), have not made Midem a must do on their business calendar. Involved as I’ve been for more than twenty years in the business of music and media, it was apparent that the new world order which has been unfolding in the music business, has been gaining rapid momentum. I decided to break my hiatus and enjoin the pilgrimage to Midem since many of my colleagues, from home and abroad, were converging to discuss new business strategies.

In my usual optimistic fashion, I planned to mix business with more business - record video footage for post Midem programmes, compile interviews with keynote speakers and industry gurus for an upcoming regional TV series on the entertainment business, as well as send capsule reports back home. Well very little of this plan materialised due largely to a luke-warm interest in these issues hence insufficient financial support. I learned too that despite our attempts at, and our loud pronouncements about a Caribbean Single Market, the funding provided by the European Union/Government of Jamaica Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP) administered through JAMPRO and which was used to assist Jamaican firms going to Midem, disqualified me as a professional working with a Jamaican firm since I was categorised as a 'foreigner'. Not only did this result in a serious dent in my pocket book, it hurt my Caribbean psyche. Being the unrepentant regionalist that I’ve been my entire life and with no offence intended to Jamaican friends and colleagues, I’ve since raised it with JAMPRO and the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM). The plain and simple reason being that this must be reviewed and remedied less 'conditionalities' that come with donor funds work against OUR aspirations to grow the Caribbean Single Market (CSM).

Nevertheless, fraught as it was with challenges and disappointment, once I got to Cannes, I could sense the mood of optimism all around creeping back into the belly of the business. Not without hiccups that any good and honest post mortem should address for the future, the Jamaican Stand was visible, energised and rocking (sadly no Red Stripe). There was as much talk about creativity, diversity and good music as there was about business. The conferences, too, did not disappoint. MidemNet, the two-day forum preceding the main music conference, focused on the fast moving worlds of new technologies and digital delivery and this year I'm told even appeared to challenge the main event. And with good reason. It was at these sessions that everything- from mobile music/content to Digital Rights Management (DRM's) and the new economics of music- was being debated, some more heatedly than others.

At MidemNet, as has been from its inception, the Telecom and technology heavyweights came to strut their stuff and mark their turf and this year was no different...with one big exception. The Indie Music community had mobilised and stamped its presence long before Midem 2007 with a campaign that began three years ago in the deal-making halls of Cannes. This year they 'came out to play ‘mas' as we say in the Eastern Caribbean. With the music business in a tail spin and no one knowing for sure where and how it's going to land, a line from 3 Canal’s ‘Talk Yuh Talk’ - “who ent dead badly wounded”- could well be applied futuristically. Among small media start-ups and indie record labels and producers, the mood was distinctly more upbeat. Goliath, the big music/media operators, has been wounded. The industry has shifted from 'bricks to clicks' underscored by the demise of retail giants like Tower Records on the one hand and the consumer-as-producer phenomenon propelled by the on-line revolution on the other. Midem captured it all.

Another significant outcome emerging from the indie music camp was the launch of Merlin, the world's first global rights-licensing agency for the independent sector. Alison Wenham, President of the Worldwide Independent Music Network (WIN) said Merlin is the culmination of several years of work and is designed to be a vehicle for licensors and licensees alike. In an interview with Midem Magazine, she expressed optimism that independents globally and as members of WIN would now be able to achieve parity with each other and with the majors when it comes to gaining a fair share of the revenues now being generated by the new business models. The day after it was launched, Merlin was able to clinch its first international deal with the US based digital-music service provider Snocap. Interestingly, on January 30, reggae superstar Shaggy who reclaimed his freedom at Midem, posted an announcement on his myspace page that his new single "Church Heathen" was available through Snocap.

As stated before, Midem like other trade shows are useful if there is a plan. But they are also expensive and prohibitive for most of the small companies, artists and mom-and-pop type enterprises operating in our creative sectors. So why then do we make these treks as individual islands? All over the Palais des Festivals, country stands and pavilions housed multiple entertainment interests. The Brits at Midem, the Germans at Midem, all operating under one banner while pursuing their individual business interests. Why not then a Caribbean Pavilion at Midem? It points to a short sightedness and lack of co-operation in the region and one we would be wise to arrest. 'Dependent' as our governments appear to be on donor funds to promote our creative industries the new way, one ponders what will be our fate the next time someone decides that we need to get on with as happened with our preferential agreements for bananas and sugar. It's high time we rally around our common goals and interests, pool our resources and get busy being effective in growing and thus reaping the value from our creative sectors.

For me, the highpoint of Midem 2007 was the sheer magic of what makes this business…not the fancy gizmos and speculation about the next big thing to was the music and in particular the mix of Superstar Shaggy and the eager and talented young artists like Etana and Tessane at the 'Sounds of Jamaica' concert. The women ran things! Yes, the venue was much too small given that Shaggy was the headliner! They came in their numbers and could not get in so someone dropped the ball there big time since it was a wonderful opportunity for the new artists to be exposed. And yes, a Trini found me in the heat of the palais room that had been transformed into a mix between a dancehall and a Shaggy unplugged.

Jamaica and JAMPRO in particular must be commended for its usual aggressive marketing...hopefully it will lead the way in forging a Caribbean presence at Midem and other significant events in the future. One hopes, too, that those who did make the trip reap their just reward.

For me, Life without music is not one I can easily contemplate, so when all is said and done, I give thanks for the people who bless us with good music

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