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Soca artistes count $$ losses

...hit by lack of airplay and global economic downturn
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Arranger Leston Paul

From fete to fete, artistes like Machel Montano, Iwer George, Bunji Garlin, Fay-Ann Lyons, Kees Dieffenthaller, Rodney “Benjai” Le Blanc, Destra Garcia and Dexter Stewart (Blaxx) pleased partygoers. For C2k12, they are set to ignite passions with the infectious music known as soca. As the countdown to Carnivalesque celebrations intensifies, other artistes have thrown their hats in the rings. They, too, can lay claim to producing sweet soca songs and thought-provoking calypsoes. However, there is a major setback—the lack of airplay. Wringing their hands in frustration, artistes have complained vehemently that they are not getting airplay. Even if they do, airplay is inadequate.

For C2K12, the situation is even more grave. Popular artistes like Denise Belfon have registered their angst at disc jockeys. In a Guardian interview (January 12) Belfon said: “What happen? Is only Machel Montano it has as an artiste in Trinidad? I am not taking anything away from him. He had done a whole heap of music for the season. But there are other artistes and the songs that can be played between his whole repertoire that they want to push.” While die-hard fans lament the lack of airplay for their beloved soca sons and daughters, artistes have to count their financial losses, too. They have to deal with the loss of dollars and cents on their soca product and battle the buffeting winds of a global economic downturn.

Among those who shed insight into the grave situation affecting artistes was ace arranger Leston Paul. He has been riding a crest of popularity based on “Archbishop of Pan.” It is a collaborative effort between pannist Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and composer Gregory Ballantyne. It has been vocalised by the Lydian Singers. Paul spoke with a great deal of authority since he is inside the core of the industry and has produced mega hits like the late Arrow’s Hot! Hot! Hot! Interviewed on Thursday, Paul said: “The lack of airplay had been a major problem for years.” He was impressed at the proliferation of artistes who had sought the nearest studio.

Paul added: “This year, more artistes recorded. A lot of them got inspiration from last year. The young fellas are recording helter skelter. They are hoping to bombard the airwaves with products just for Carnival.” Paul painted a sobering picture of the reality of demand and supply. He said: “Now the scenario is really and truly, T&T is too small to accommodate a barrage of artistes. There are too many artistes for disc jockeys to play for a two-month period. It is automatic good artistes will fall by the wayside and beautiful tunes will not be heard and enjoyed.”

He felt the problem could be addressed with proper planning and a prolonged playing time that precursed the Carnival season. Paul said: “You cannot expect to have all these CDs and artistes to be played in a two-month period unless they make it mandatory for it to be played.” At the same time, Paul said they are vying for top honours in the coveted competitions like the Soca Monarch, Dimanche Gras and Road March titles. He said: “While the focus is on these competitions, they are not looking at the holistic survival of the  industry. They are using the music industry as a springboard to be heard and to promote and advertise themselves.”

$$ to record
Zeroing on the dollars and cents, Paul said: “A novice might spend about $5,000 to $6,000 to record a song. It depends upon who is producing it and what company they are going to. They might gravitate to a reputable producer: ie, one  who has produced hits for the last five years or so. No matter if they are new or established, artistes still pay their monies for the works they are producing. Even if they are an established artiste and their career is at the lowest ebb they would still have to pay. “It does not matter if they are in the mix like Kees or Machel. They get a quotation, but it would be a lot more than $6,000.” Paul noted artistes were “taking a gamble” each time they recorded a song. He said: “It’s either you make something or do something and if nothing happens that is the reality for the season. It is back to the drawing board for another year.”

There is the need to create a year-long listening audience. Paul added: “If soca music was playing right through the year and people could make it more sustainable, it would benefit the artistes. The majority of people who are recording would not lose out. They might be assimilated in other ways like videos, jingles, lectures and fetes.” But the grim reality is only a few are getting airplay. “The rotation is airplay only for a few.”

He posed a burning question: “What about the ones who got played last year? What about those who will only get played this year? The lack of airplay only becomes news when a popular person’s career is at an ebb or an all time low. The problem of lack of adequate never exists even when they have a hit.” Paul said it was important for the relevant stakeholders to understand the entertainment industry was “bigger than the individual”. He said: “You have to look at in a holistic manner. If the industry was more unified everybody would gain from it. If you are looking at the business when Carnival time comes again, the majority of people would be crying. It’s only a few people that are benefiting.”

Paul appealed for solidarity and unity among artistes. He said: “Hundreds of CDs come out. A lot of people record stuff and the situation would get worse, if the artistes don’t get together as a unified body.” Comparing artistes to masmen and promoters, Paul said: “The average artiste just makes crumbs compared to other people in the industry. The guy who is singing in the tent just makes crumbs compared to the money other people make. That is the reality of the situation. It is left to the artistes to change it.”

Soca artform must be sustainable
Chairman of Caribbean Prestige Foundation (CPF) William Munro says he had approached radio manager Brian Haynes to ensure a couple of hours per day were allotted to playing the beautiful soca music. Munro said: “I feel the hurt for the young people. The office has pointed out to me the lovely tunes which are not getting airplay. Everybody wants a number one. They want all the hits but they are not giving the younger artistes a chance to be heard. It is easy to see why some of them get frustrated. You go into the studio and people are not hearing your work.” Munro spoke about a more sustainable intervention.

He said: “I am working on a document to make some recommendations in terms of agriculture, sports and entertainment.” Commenting on the judging structure of the Soca Monarch competition, Munro said: “You have to judge by the CDs. You can’t ask everybody to sing. Some of them are frustrated when they don’t make it to the semis.” Meanwhile, Munro vowed to do whatever was within his power to contribute to the development, maintenance and sustainability of the artform. Guardian Media Limited is the official media sponsor of the soca monarch competition.

Ajala hoping for airplay
Another artiste who chose to vent his frustration at not getting airplay for C2k12 was Keith Sutherland (Ajala). In his heyday, he ruled the roost with gems like Tidal Wave, Bring Down the Riddim, White Horse and Jump Up and Get On Bad. To date, he has recorded Hey Pray (a nation building song), Dutty Meh Up (J’Ouvert Jam), Horsey Remix and a pan song Return of the Marsicans (Tribute To the late Lord Kitchener). He said: “I feel the pain of people like Denise Belfon. So many good artistes are not hearing their work. What is happening? How long can it continue? Machel is saying he is going to release a song a week. I find the situation is ridiculous?”

Sutherland felt the authorities should get involved to prevent the situation from escalating into “something unpleasant” or heading for a downward spiral. He said: “Something has to be done. The stakeholders, the media all have to come on board. Why is it only the same artistes are on rotation?” Zeroing on the financial aspect, Sutherland said: “Recording costs have gone up from $9,000 to $12,000. You can’t be spending your hard-owned monies and not getting it back. “You can’t be dropping off your music to the radio stations and it is not being played.”


He felt T&T should take a page from the royal treatment meted out to Jamaican artistes. “T&T should do like Jamaica. It is 90 per cent reggae and ten per cent foreign. You hear a lot of dub. Soca/calypso needs help to grow internationally. The Latin markets are growing. But the soca music is just there. Even the Grenadians are supporting their artistes. You see posters. Other islands are booming it up. Just now the outside world would say T&T is killing the mecca.” Sutherland said: “T&T is the mecca. But it is ridiculous what they are doing to the industry. There are about 12 radio stations. So what is going on?”

He said the long term growth of the industry would be affected if it continues. He added: “The recording rate has increased by 300 per cent. People are tapping into their talents because of the recession. Some people can’t get an 8 am to 4 pm job, so they are picking up a guitar and making music.” He noted Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism Winston Peters had been doing a “great job,” but there was still more work to be done in the calypso arena. On a lighter note, he said people meet him and say, “What happen Ajala you stop singing? I respond: “Does a bird stop flying?”

Internet saves the day
Paul noted the Internet was saving the day for frustrated artistes who were not hearing their work on the radio. He urged them to avail themselves on that site. He said: “There is an emerging medium...Facebook and the social networking sites. A lot of artistes are using it to promote their stuff. A lot of people have computers and cell phones with the social media and they are playing songs they want to hear from their favourite artiste. They are searching for artistes they want to hear.” Paul said it should be used as a spinoff to get work out of the Carnival season.

“After Carnival everybody knows those same stations switch off to play urban popular music from the North. The avalanche of tunes are lost.” He appealed to the conglomerates and the business community to intervene and assist the artistes. Meanwhile, Sutherland has sensibly taken advantage of the Internet and launched his work there. “It was launched on 500 radio stations worldwide. DJs and programme directors have access to it.”


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