Commercial Opportunities for Pan Music Role of Corporate Trinidad and Tobago
Written by Simeon L. Sandiford
Thursday, 21 July 2011 22:13


One of the principal objectives of the new Strategic Plan for Pan produced by Pan Trinbago’s Foundation Board is to make the steelband industry the number one non-energy export sector of Trinidad and Tobago. In this regard, how can the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) and the other corporate sectors assist local producers in promoting and marketing pan music both locally and internationally?

I should begin by saying that traditional ways of marketing music are being rapidly eroded by new technologies and business models. For example, digital kiosks, broadcast internet, music libraries, artist-to-consumer electronic commerce and high-resolution multi channel digital audio formats are some of the new vehicles for international trade by the music industry in which global sound carrier sales for 1998 were some US$40billion. Meanwhile, we are still struggling with vinyl, cassettes and compact discs. Against this backdrop, I wish to highlight three major issues.

Firstly, in North America and Europe, large retail chains work exclusively through major distributors who do not buy product. They take no risks. Small independent producers like we, must consign our merchandise to them at minimal prices for retail distribution and wait a minimum of six months before being given an accounting statement. At this point, unsold product is usually returned, inevitably in shop worn condition and the cheque (if any) is issued after a further ninety days. Nine months! Talk about labour. It is a vicious cycle! We just do not have the resources to mount the type of advertising and marketing blitz that would create the necessary awareness to stimulate demand for our products.

Secondly, consider two negative consequences of mergers and buyouts. You may be aware that a number of Andy Narell’s albums were produced by Windham Hill, an independent US label. Windham Hill was recently purchased by one of the majors, which decided that Narell’s work was not profitable. They simply archived the production masters and would not even sell them back to him. Similarly, Sanch produced fourteen albums for Delos International between 1987 and 1995. These were distributed by A and M records, which was bought out by Polygram. In turn, Polygram was itself acquired by Seagrams in 1998. Consequently these albums no longer form part of the Delos catalogue and are available in minimal quantities, only in Trinidad and Tobago.

The third problem is piracy. In 1998, global sound carrier piracy sales were estimated to be US$4.5 billion, about 11% of the music industry’s legitimate turnover. No longer are pirates contented with illegal duplication of cassettes. Using modern technology, they scan booklets and copy CDs in the digital domain, even in the presence of such sophisticated copyright protection mechanisms as Banderole. Let me put this in perspective. If Michael Jackson sells 10 million copies of a release and loses 1 million in pirated sales, he still makes a healthy profit. If, however, we sell 2000 Panorama CDs and suffer losses of 200 due to piracy, the result is that we do not even attain a break-even position. It is all a matter of economies of scale.

At this point I should like to address the need for pan music to hit mainstream airwaves, since radio is still the most commonly used medium of propagation. Without airplay and the resulting awareness, sales will continue to be minimal. This is one of the fundamental issues that the proposed Trinidad and Tobago Event and International Marketing Company must resolve. However, we recognise that Panorama compositions, the quintessence of pan music, are too lengthy to fit into programming slots on a regular basis. One solution may be for Government to establish a public radio station with a mandate to broadcast more pan and other local music genres that are not regularly featured in the traditional repertoire of commercial radio stations.

In spite of these drawbacks, we have found that the light at the end of the tunnel is not necessarily that of an oncoming train. We are continuously seeking creative ways of marketing our products and acknowledge the on-going support of the business community that uses pan CDs as promotional tools and corporate gifts. Customised versions of these cost less than traditional executive diaries and have a longer life span. I wish to thank those of you who have supported us and I would welcome those of you who have not yet done so to join the bandwagon or should I saypan wagon! More specifically, I am asking you to support our millennium CD project Pan Sweet Pan, a compilation of Panorama compositions played at a relaxed tempo. Through this we hope to realise $TT0.5 million for the proposed Pan Development Fund.

Corporate support helps us in a number of ways. Firstly it assists us in achieving a break-even situation for new releases, thereby neutralising the effects of piracy to some extent. Secondly it allows us to market the music of the lesser-known steelbands with minimal risk by producing compilation albums of their repertoire. Thirdly it affords us a means of piggybacking on the export sector with products made from raw materials of totally local origin. In this regard, I am happy to inform you, that audio clips from the Sanch catalogue are featured on the new TTMA/TIDCO CD-Rom, which will be used as a vehicle for developing international business opportunities for the export sector of our economy.

I cannot over-emphasise that pan is an excellent means of export promotion. Fellow members of TTMA, we must exploit the uniqueness of pan and use it as the primary advertising vehicle in our quest for attaining global competitiveness. New and seemingly unorthodox methods should also be employed to promote pan music in places such as barbershops, beauty salons and massage parlours where people congregate, especially in metropolitan cities. As a nation we must believe that pan will become the preferred international music medium for relaxation, rehabilitation therapy and spiritual well being in our stress-filled world.

In recent publication, a research fellow in ethnomusicology stated that “only one in every 250 persons in this world has been exposed to pan” ….I emphasise…one in every 250 persons in a world whose population is close to 5 billion. What does this tell us? It tells us that firstly, we need to brand pan as The National Musical instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. Secondly those of us who interface with the international community on a daily basis, for example officers of our foreign missions, members of TTMA, members of the energy and financial sectors must be mandated to assist in the creation of an international awareness strategy for pan. This will go a long way towards helping those of us in the industry to diversify the economy by exploiting the full commercial potential for the instrument and its music in the global marketplace. Our unified vision should be to ensure that pan music is allocated its own category in the prestigious Grammy Awards.

© 2000 Simeon L. Sandiford