Musicians object to MOU

The Cayman Musicians and Entertainers Association is objecting to a draft Memorandum of Understanding concerning the airplay of locally produced songs partially because it was not consulted for input beforehand.

‘It’s like having Middle East peace talks and not inviting the Israelis,’ said George Nowak, the chairman of CMEA’s Broadcasting Committee.

The draft MOU was sent by the Information and Communications Technology Authority to Cayman’s radio broadcasting community earlier this month. It came as a result of a request of Minister of Communications Arden McLean after a meeting held with radio broadcasters on 20 April.

Broadcasters have been asked to submit comments on the draft MOU and so far, one licensee has responded, said Greg van Koughnett, the ICTA’s Head of Licensing and Compliance and General Counsel.

Mr. van Koughnett drafted the MOU, but said he did so only at Mr. McLean’s request.

‘It’s not an ICTA file,’ he said. ‘I was only acting as scribe for the embryonic broadcasting group.’

During the 20 April meeting, which Mr. van Koughnett attended as well, Mr. McLean expressed the desire for the broadcasters to come to some sort of agreement concerning airplay of locally produced music, and recommended they form an association to address broadcasting concerns as a single voice.

The draft MOU is an agreement just between the radio broadcasters themselves and as such is more of a declaration of intent.

Mr. van Koughnett said he saw the local broadcasting community as his client in this matter, and as such, it would have been inappropriate to send the draft MOU to CMEA or other outside entities. He added, however, that he saw nothing wrong with any of the licensees that did receive the draft MOU to consult with outside entities, including CMEA, about its contents.

Mr. Nowak, who is known locally as Barefoot Man, said that without input from CMEA, a Memorandum of Understanding was not worth the paper it was written on.

CMEA did not get a copy of the draft Memorandum of Understanding from the ICTA, and in fact had to obtain a copy from another source. Even though it was left out of the circulation of the document, CMEA sent a response to the draft to the ICTA.

One of CMEA’s contentions is that any Memorandum of Understanding needs to be specific in stating how much local music it will play.

‘They can’t just say ‘we’ll play more local music’,’ said Mr. Nowak. ‘That could mean they’ll play local music twice a week instead of once a week.’

The draft MOU contains a clause that states a mandatory quota of Caymanian music would constitute an entirely inappropriate approach to strengthening the music industry in Cayman.

CMEA disagrees with the statement.

‘Section 5 [of the MOU] contends that the mandatory playing of local music would not strengthen the local music industry,’ CMEA said in its unsolicited response to the ICTA.

‘There is a fundamental disconnect here. Hit records are created by radio airplay; nothing else. It is precisely the playing of local music [on local radio] that will strengthen the local music industry, as anyone in the Canadian music industry can attest.’

Canadian laws established in 1971 require radio broadcasters there to give airplay to Canadian artists at a quota of 35 per cent of content.

Mr. Nowak said the policy has been very effective in strengthening the Canadian music industry.

‘Canada is now the second biggest source of music in the world,’ he said, adding that the statistic includes music artists, publishers, studios and more.

CMEA is not asking Cayman broadcasters to play local music at the same level as Canadian broadcasters.

‘We are asking all stations to give regular, fair and consistent air time to all good quality local recordings, not just a few selected artists,’ CMEA said.

Mr. Nowak said for radio stations that have ‘island-style’ music formats, a fair figure would be two to three songs per hour. He noted that Jamaican artists typically get about five or six songs per hour on stations with those formats.

However stations that have formats in which there are few local artists producing that type of music, Mr. Nowak believes fair is much less.

‘Rooster (101.9 F.M.) deserves credit,’ he said. ‘They play about one local song an hour, but they only have maybe 45 to 50 local country and western songs to choose from.’

Mr. Nowak said about 80 per cent of the locally produced music is island style music, and there is no excuse for stations like HOT FM, which plays the island style format, not to play local music.

‘That is a station that should be playing two or three [locally produced songs] every hour,’ he said.

CMEA monitors the local radio stations for local content and Mr. Nowak estimated HOT FM only plays one or two local songs every three hours.

Mr. Nowak stressed that he was not making the argument just to promote his own music.

‘I’m representing everyone here,’ he said. ‘It’s very important to me. It’s the principle of the thing.’

He noted a High Tide song called ‘Love You More’.

‘There’s no reason that can’t be a No. 1 hit here in the islands,’ he said. ‘It’s catchy, it’s commercial and it’s well produced.’

Mr. Nowak said the High Tide song has gotten some air play ‘only because we’re on [the radio stations’] case’. Another local artist who Mr. Nowak thinks deserves airplay has not been so fortunate.

‘Jah Mitch has twice won the national song contest,’ he said. ‘He’s a superb musician and to this day, I haven’t heard one of his recordings on KISS FM or HOT FM.

‘I’m not saying they never play him, but we monitor those stations and we’ve never heard them play [Jah Mitch].

CMEA responded to comments made by dms Broadcasting owner Don Seymour in the Caymanian Compass last month concerning some of the reasons the dms group will not play some local musicians.

Mr. Seymour said that his stations do not play Michael Jackson either because he had not had a hit record in a long time.

CMEA sees the statement as an excuse.

‘During a recent two hour sampling on Kiss FM, 29 songs were rotated,’ CMEA said. ‘The play list included songs by Ace of Base, Marvin Gaye and the Beatles, along with a long list of other international artists that have not had a hit record for years.’

Mr. Nowak said he’s heard it all before.

‘They throw excuses at us left and right,’ he said. ‘The bottom line – there is no excuse not to play local music.’

Mr. Seymour also indicated that radio stations are private property and they should not have their play-list dictated from the outside.

CMEA said it agreed partially with the statement, but noted that Cayman’s hotels, restaurants and grocery stores are also private property and they show local support by hiring Caymanians and buying produce from local farmers.

‘One the other hand, and this is where we also agree with Mr. Seymour, if that same farmer brings a truck load of rotten tomatoes, the store should not be obligated to sell those tomatoes just because the farmer is Caymanian.’

In responding to the MOU, CMEA said it did not want to see the quality of local music compromised.

‘CMEA has never asked that our inferior products (and there are some) be aired,’ it stated. ‘Indeed, that would be damaging to the music industry here.

‘There are today approximately 1,000 local tunes to choose from and at least 500 of these, all on CD, are of internationally accepted engineering standards.’

Mr. Nowak acknowledged that local production standards cannot match that of international stars.

‘A top name USA artist may spend huge sums of money in one or two days recording just one song,’ he stated. ‘They are assisted by the best producers, best studio musicians and arrangers, not to mention the best hi-tech equipment.

‘A local artist on the other hand may have completed half an album in two days.

‘We simply do not have the finances or luxuries available to us as the hit-makers in America. Give us a break.’

Mr. Nowak said the local radio stations should feel obligated to support local musicians.

‘It’ just the right thing to do.’

Barefoot Man