It was just before Christmas too that I visited my regular music merchant - The Music Shak - looking for this season's soca music. All that they had at the time local and recent, and I'd already purchased those, were Isaac Blackman's single and a new Digicel-sponsored compilation, Reggae Roadblock II. A quick trip to and conversation with the proprietor of Cleve's revealed that local artists typically release their albums after Carnival, and sometimes long after Carnival. Generally they would press singles for distribution to the radio stations and the major bands during the season, and none more than that limited number.
The problem with that approach is that there is high demand for the music, as is evidenced by the number of phones that now use tunes like Crazy's "Sweat", Destra Garcia's "I Dare You" and Machel Montano's "One More Time" as ringtones. And according to a good friend of mine, the cry when you hear a good song is no longer, "flash up unno lighter!" It has become "turn on yuh Bluetooth! Ah ha' to get dat tune!"
Unfortunately though, the artists and record companies would appear to be unaware of the fact that there is a market for the music, preferring to cry long tears over illegal duplication and sale of tracks. The funny thing is that I am sure that I'm not the only person - local or foreign - that would prefer to purchase music from authorised sources. The music is simply not available at the time of highest demand, unless you have a hookup with a deejay or someone in the industry.
Interesting though is that on that same day before Christmas, I saw an acquaintance, Nigel, selling burnt CDs on Frederick Street. Also known as BDangerous of the local hip-hop group Spotrushaz, Nigel though was selling his group's music on a themed mixed CD titled Mary Warner. For TT$20, you got a 20-track disc with the address of the Spotrushaz' website and advertisement for Mary Warner gear on the label. What was even more interesting was that Nigel didn't have to be in the street doing the meet-and-greet with the public. Spotrushaz has an album in music stores and handful of music videos in circulation. The group could just have easily distributed their music in stores.
The Reggae Roadblock II collection is the second of a series featuring the new crop of local reggae and dancehall artists, most of whom only have one song on the compilation. The CD is professionally done, and my only criticism is that it doesn't feature the tune "Reggae All Stars", performed by the full slate of new local reggae acts, including Million Voice, Isasha, Prophet Benjamin, King David, Jah Melody and Blazer.
What I'm getting at though is that were the local soca artists to make their music available, people would buy it from legitimate sources.
It no longer costs what it once did to press a single or album on vinyl. A blank CD in a case costs TT$3 maximum at retail. In sufficient bulk, they can be purchased for as little as fifty cents each.
Every twelve-year old with access to a CD burner knows how to master a music CD on a standard desktop computer using electronic audio tracks. From there, a CD can be duplicated in as little as five minutes. Most burner software will also automatically generate a CD label from the track names, reducing the work effort even further.
Consequently, for a modest investment, an individual artist can produce a CD for sale and distribute it themselves or through the major music stores. Given artist syndicates - like Bunji Garlin's Asylum Crew and KMC's Red, White and Black - a group of artists can produce simlar compilations of popular tracks to what the pirates assemble and put those out for sale. In both cases, the individual and syndicate can appeal to a generally right-thinking public to buy only from authorised sources. Priced right, these artist-produced no-frills discs will cut into pirate sales. The public doesn't care about fancy packaging, because people are willing to buy poorly printed CDs from characters pushing battery-powered rigs in the street.
Don't think that this is at all a new idea though. Hip-hop and reggae artists have been bypassing the major record labels and producing mixtapes and riddim tapes since before the days of the double cassette deck. In fact, many major artists still generate mixtapes and low-cost promotional CDs for fan consumption in between major album releases.
So what's stopping local artists from stepping up? Or is it simply easier to have CoTT decry the pirates as well as the adoring public for buying from the pirates, this even though the pirates provide the only outlet for consumers to purchase popular local music while its still hot?