The Orange Economy: Digitization, Distribution and Organization in the Caribbean Music Industry

Author: Sonja Dumas

Orange Economy

With a history of commercial success stories ranging from Bob Marley to Celia Cruz to Machel Montano, and a plethora of genres and sub-genres in both traditional and popular culture, Caribbean music is arguably the most complex segment of the creative sector in the region. But while the sector is complex and multi-layered, the objective is clear: make money with (most of) the music.

The total revenue for the global music industry in 2020 🎵clocked in at US$23.1 billion, of which streaming was 56%. That’s right – 56%. So we know where this is going – pandemic or no pandemic. By dint of the exponential growth in the use of online platforms to distribute content, online is an increasingly viable way of distributing music.
What’s the best way forward for the Caribbean?
According to prominent Trinidad and Tobago music producer, Kenny Phillips, “The online market is not going away, in fact it’s going to get bigger.” He continues, saying that regional music producers need to ”understand the new market, the new playground…The consumer of our product has moved. Then, people had to go to a calypso tent.

Now, we have to find a way to bring the calypso to them, to the world.” This view is echoed by Caribbean creative sector analysts such as Jamaica’s Lloyd Stanbury for other Caribbean genres also: “Both well-known international artists and up-and-comers in Caribbean music will have to be more innovative and technologically aware to function in the future.”
Citing the highly popular – and highly controversial – new music genre “Trinibad”, Phillips, who also owns WACK 90.1FM, an ecosystem of live radio 📻 and streaming for the past seventeen years, notes that young producers have successfully bypassed traditional distribution centres like radio and television.
Prince Swanny et al
One indicator that you’re on the serious music map is who wants to mentor you, and who wants to interview you. Prince Swanny, a prominent producer of Trinibad music, was mentored by Trinidad and Tobago/US rapper Trinidad James.

James, in turn, facilitated a pre-pandemic interview for Prince Swanny on the American radio talk show, Sway in the Morning, whose normal line-up has included interviews with the likes of American A-listers like Chance the Rapper and Jessica Alba.

His latest offering on YouTube – Ungrateful, released just over one month ago on September 10, 2021 – has already racked up over 1.1 million views. And guess what? Prince Swanny is a product of Trinidad and Tobago, and still lives in T&T.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of genre, some things remain constant. Veteran sound engineer Robin Foster 🎧 goes to the simple root of it all: “Produce good music. And hire proper agents that can place the various genres in concert markets around the world.” Quality, good management and strong contacts, it seems, are never out of style – on any platform.

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