by Marlon Madden
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create a high level of uncertainty for live events and large gatherings, officials in the entertainment industry are skeptical whether Caribbean patrons would be willing to pay to “attend” online fetes and just how much.
To date, the majority of the online fetes and “lockdown parties” in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean have been free, with a handful of them attracting some level of sponsorship from the business community.
However, with a level of uncertainty still hanging over the possibility of large gatherings any time soon, those in the industry are beginning to question whether patrons would pay the same to attend an online event as they would if they were to attend a live performance that could sometimes be costly, depending on the venue and the artist.
The issue was discussed during a recent virtual session hosted by the Association of Caribbean Copyright Society (ACCS) under the theme Caribbean Creative SMEs Post COVID-19.
“Pre-COVID at least in Barbados you would have some events for BDS$100 or BDS$200 admission – so in terms of the ability to create value online and charge something meaningful is challenging for me, said Chief Executive Officer of the Copyright Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (COSCAP) Dr Erica Smith “So you have to first get people to be willing to pay.
I don’t know pay how much, and you have to create a business model to allow you to make a profit. So then I start thinking about what does that mean for performers.
You are talking about, potentially until there is some culture change, a smaller audience and lower admission fees in terms of being able to secure live performances and how will they be paid, at what level.
So the business model transformation is something I am really keen to see how it will develop,” she explained.
“I do have concerns that we will see much lower levels of revenue generation and I do wonder about the artist, because in a digital space for them to be able to command the sort of earnings they would have had before, I don’t know,” she continued.
Sharing a similar view was veteran soca and calypso composer Stedson RPB Wiltshire, who said he was not convinced that virtual parties will be able to sustain the industry, at least not in the foreseeable future.
“I know there is a lot of talk about streaming and all these virtual performances, but virtual performances in my opinion in the short-term will not sustain this music industry that we are a part of because the revenue capacity is too small,” said Wiltshire.
“Some people may be able to earn, but the actual performing artist is not going to make enough because you cannot charge the same fees that you charge when there is an actual physical live performance. So I think artists now have to rebuild from the bottom up and work with government,” he said.
The Once Upon a Wine Sweet Soca Monarch title winner also raised concern that the majority of the music was being driven by festivals instead of being made to appeal to a larger audience all year round.
“I think that is a wake-up call. If our music is linked to festivals and we didn’t have any festivals so what is the music for? Is it the same to stand up online and wine in your bedroom, is it the same atmosphere as being in a fete?
No. The problem is the content of our music,” he said. “We need to get broader with the music we are creating.
The problem is that the festival is driving the music and it has to be the other way around – the music has to drive the festival so that topics become broader and we can appeal to wider audiences around the world,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tandra Jhagroo, producer and owner of ZenStudio in Jamaica, said she did not see any “quick fix” for the entertainment industry, which she said was currently in “survival mode”. However, she said “it does mean you have
to apply some rules”.
Jhagroo explained that the rule she has employed in recent months has been to expect about one-third of her patrons to remain faithful when things move online with a charge,
one-third not to disappear, and the other one-third to “not care”.
She said it was then a matter of building on the loyalty from those patrons who remain and figure out how to continuously give them value for money.
She said having constant communication with fans would also play a critical role in getting them to pay for online events.
“You can generate revenue by interacting and constantly staying on these zoom calls and interacting with different people.
There are opportunities that are there that are not in traditional places anymore. If you open up yourself to that you will understand that it is a bit of a rabbit hole and does not have a soft landing . . . but it is survival mode right now, 100 per cent,” she said.