Cayman’s musicians moving 
to an online distribution model

There was a time, and not so long ago, when local recording artists were selling loads of CDs in the many gift shops within the Georgetown area. In addition to a T-shirt or rum cake a locally produced CD was a perfect souvenir for cruise visitors.  

A compact disc took up little space in one’s luggage; it cost under $20 and would last forever if taken care of. The tropical-flavoured music came in handy when someone was sitting in winter traffic 3,000 miles north. When the economic situation took a nose-dive in America the same followed in Cayman, once again proving that when America sneezes we catch a cold. Before the economic crisis there were nearly 30 gift shops in Georgetown that sold CDs by local performers such as Hi Tide, Andy Martin, Earl Lapierre, Ratskin MOJ, Tradewinds, myself – and the list goes on. 

Right around 2007 the recession virus made its way across the sea and we in the music business were hit hard. Gift shops were closing left and right and the ones that did remain open placed very few CD orders due to the slump in sales. Now we can’t place all the blame on the recession: more people were pirating music than buying music.  

Many think pirating music is no big deal, that it does not have great consequence on the artist or the music industry. Statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America’s substantiate that piracy not only affects the artist, but others such as the songwriters, recording artists, studio engineers, producers, publishers and numerous others. One credible study by the Institute for Policy Innovation indicates illegal downloading of music amounts to $12.5 billion dollars in losses to the US economy.  

Then there’s another side to the story. More middle aged to older folks who once bought cassettes and 8-tracks are getting their favourite songs from iTunes, Amazon or Rhapsody – legally. iPods are getting cheaper and why buy the whole album when you can buy your favourite song for .99 Cents?  

Independent artists as we are known (one who is not on a major label) have always had a disadvantage in the world wide music market. If you were not signed with a top label you could forget about getting your music in a record shop, Best Buy or K-Mart. Another drawback was that unless you were on the hit charts in the US or Europe it was next to impossible to get your tunes rotated on any radio station. There was even a time when Caymanian owned stations would rarely spin local music. This all changed in 2006 when an MOU between most local stations and CMEA (Cayman Music & Entertainment Association) was signed. A few stations stood firm and refused to sign the agreement, however with pressure from the media, CMEA and the then Minister for Broadcasting, Arden McLean, soon every station caved in and signed the agreement.  

However, even with more air- play of local music the CD retail sales still slumped, in fact world-wide record shops (that also sold CDs) were quickly becoming non-existent. Hi Tide were one of the first local groups to jump on the download bandwagon; they saw the potential in digital audio and joined forces with CD Baby, an online music store. No more begging retailers to sell your music, for a onetime charge of US $49 set up fee for an album you are guaranteed regular royalty payments, well, that is of course if your music sells. CD Baby has paid out some 250 million dollars to artists around the world and CD Baby will get your music to the iTunes store. Now a local artist from the Cayman Islands can be in the same stockpile as Taylor Swift or Bob Marley. 

I took Hi Tide’s advice several years ago and signed in with CD Baby, then with Dultone Records, a Nashville-based company and I’m glad I did. Linking with these on line music stores has helped offset the lack of customer interest in direct physical CD purchases. 

Pay heed local recording artists, make your music available to the world, there is no more room for old technology dinosaurs. They say if you still buy or listen to CDs, the world has already passed you by. Most new cars have switched to MP3 technology, but even carrying an MP3 player is an indication you are falling behind the times. That insane multi-tasker called the smartphone can not only play MP3 files, but also access audio streamed live over the Internet or by satellite radio stations – and here I am still trying to figure out how to use a fax machine.  

A study found that the age group that is the most active in pirating music is the youngest, the teens. My daughters endorsed that study when in consoling words they said, “Don’t worry dad, we don’t know anyone that would steal your music.” TAKE THAT!!! 

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