Over the last three years, Saint Lucian writers and composers who are members of the Eastern Caribbean Collections Organization (ECCO) have received reduced royalty cheques. This is due to the fact that ECCO has changed the system of monitoring the amount of music played on radio. The organisation currently monitors four Saint Lucian radio stations and one TV station and ECCO can access on a daily basis the songs played on Saint Lucian radio. Note that presently there are thirteen radio stations and eight television stations in Saint Lucia.
On average ECCO has indicated that less than five percent of Saint Lucian music is played on Saint Lucian radio stations. This means that of what ECCO collects in royalties, most of this money leaves Saint Lucia to pay regional and international artistes under the organisation’s reciprocal arrangement. We may ask why is this so. Are our Radio announcers (some of whom are artistes themselves) not patriotic or is our music not up to international standard? To the first question I cannot speak but to the question of quality I can safely say that over the years there has been a vast improvement in the quality of music recorded by Saint Lucian artistes in all genres – from alternative, gospel, pop, Hip Hop and R&B to Reggae, Soca and calypso. And, music is now produced, recorded and released throughout the year and not just during seasons such as carnival and Christmas. Nevertheless, the situation which now confronts us has as much to do with economics as with our intellectual property, and we need to do something about it and soon.
In 2014 ECCO’s surplus revenue (revenue above expenses) was over $200,000. Yet the amount distributed to local composers and songwriters was under $50,000. Yes, over $100,000 was remitted to overseas music societies. I strongly believe that the time has come for our Ministry of Creative Industries and, by extension, the government to mandate to our Saint Lucian broadcasters a set percentage of Saint Lucian music to be played on every radio station. This even as many of them are in breach of paying their broadcast license and a pending revision of the Broadcast Act by the Minister with responsibility for Broadcasting.
We need not invent the wheel, but only follow the Canadian model where an average of 40% of Canadian music was once mandated to be played on Canadian radio. This is known as Canadian Content (CANCON) and is part of the Canadian Broadcasting Act. This legislation has assisted the development of the Canadian Music industry and has helped propel Canadian artists Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and others.
With such an initiative our songwriters and composers will then be paid royalties to allow them to invest in new productions and be more competitive with the rest of the world at a time when CD and album sales have virtually gone out the window. Currently our songwriters compete with songwriters from the Caribbean, USA, Canadian and European markets where there is not a level playing field. For instance, the average USA music label has funding to support its artistes by funding marketing campaigns and music videos. Can our Saint Lucian artistes compete with this? The idea of Saint Lucian Content (LUCIANCON) must be addressed, and soon, if we are to embrace a burgeoning music industry here.
Simply put, it’s about Saint Lucian artistes and having access to Saint Lucian airwaves. It is important because even as we embrace 37 years as an independent state, Saint Lucian programmes and music give voice to Saint Lucians, to their talent and their shared experiences. Economically, it means jobs for hundreds of Saint Lucians in an era where unemployment, particularly among our youth and most creative sector, is high. Employment opportunities would range from creation to production, distribution, marketing, performing and so on. The primary objective of this move is to encourage increased exposure of Saint Lucian musical performers, lyricists and composers to Saint Lucian audiences, first as they build a home base and eventually to catapult them on to the regional and international stage.
The secondary objective — an industrial one — is to strengthen the Saint Lucian music industry, including both the creative and production components. This system is in place in many countries around the world and has assisted with the development of the music industry in those countries. In essence this is a means of a revenue stream for our songwriters, and artistes by extension. We need to be proactive and support our music industry by enacting such a system in Saint Lucia. And it is up to the musicians, writers, composers, performers and all who claim to love the land that gave them birth, its culture and artistic expression to raise their voices in support of such a move.
Ian Sanchez is a director of ECCO and an individual who has managed a number of Saint Lucian artistes over the years. He has also been an organizing member of the NG Soca Stage.