Musicians starving while de music playing

Carnival or mas fever as some call it, is fast approaching, as the 2015 carnival season in Saint Lucia is expected to be unleashed in earnest by mid-May. Since the event was shifted more than ten years ago, from a pre-Lent festival to a summer event, there has been some growth, particularly in the size of the major bands as well as participation by visitors. There has also been some measure of growth where the music is concerned, with a number of young and new Soca artistes joining in the revelry, alongside the music staples from calypsonians and panmen. In fact, it is stating the obvious to say that music drives the mas and everything else that goes with it. However, to all of this growth and recent innovation, there has been a down side. The performers and composers have been receiving less and less money from their collection society ECCO and this, the organization says, is worrying. This is due to the fact that not only is it difficult to get promoters to pay licenses, but those legally responsible for ensuring that they obtain a license for the music that drives the street parade and main focal point for carnival Monday & Tuesday, have also been dodging the issue over the years.

This is one area, which the Eastern Caribbean Copyright Organization (ECCO) says it would like to see rectified in 2015. “ECCO has always had a tariff for carnival bands to play music on the road for their revelers,” Steve Etienne says. “However over the years, this has either been waived in the form of sponsorship by ECCO or paid for by the CDF or the organizing body. This year we have already written to the Carnival Planning and Management Authority (CPMA) who has responsibility for Carnival and they have indicated that the paying of royalties for the music the bands play is not part of their mandate and has informed the bands of this,” Etienne further states.

The CPMA has urged ECCO to engage the carnival bands through the Carnival Bands Association (CBA) to address the issue of music licenses which according to the CPMA “are legally due as part of other performances in the parade of the bands on carnival Monday and Tuesday … given that the musical performances are for the benefit of their revelers”.

In the past (although the carnival bands are privately run business entities) bands have objected to the licenses, claiming carnival is a national event and as such licenses should be paid for by the national body. However Etienne notes that in this regard the bands are indeed privately owned and play music for the benefit of their revelers as part of a package that is paid. This is something the CPMA and ECCO is in agreement on.

The CPMA and (the CDF) have in the past paid licenses for the various events under their jurisdictions during carnival as well as for music at the judging point on carnival Monday and Tuesday, Etienne informs. He went on to say that the license ECCO grants is a blanket license which includes all music created by ECCO members as well as music by its sister organistaions in the rest of the world including COTT members in Trinidad & Tobago, JACAP members in Jamaica and COSCAP members in Barbados to name just a few of the organizations ECCO is affiliated with. “Through our reciprocal agreement with other collective management organizations world wide we are mandated to impose licenses and collect royalties for the public performance of any music,” Etienne explains. Further, our members have instructed us that we should not grant any waivers since over the years their royalty earnings during carnival, considered their peak performance period, has dwindled and have been pushing for us to license the carnival bands.” As such ECCO is going all out this year to ensure the bands comply, which will rebound to the benefit of its members.

While countries like Barbados (COSCAP) and Trinidad & Tobago (COTT) have an environment which believe in benefiting their members for music they create for Crop Over and Trinidad Carnival and are compensated with tariffs that are above the norm, for the benefit of their members, ECCO is offering the carnival bands in Saint Lucia and the rest of the OECS a rate of only EC$2.50 per reveler which works out to EC$1.25 each carnival day, per reveler. The organization says that it is prepared to
sit with carnival bandleaders and organizations to further explain how the tariffs and in general how copyright works. It says however, that it will be working with all entities to ensure that the matter is resolved this year once and for all.

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