Music as a source of income
Only a smattering of musicians in Dominica earn a living almost exclusively from music.
It's a challenging industry; definitely not for the faint-hearted. Some even argue that there's no real music industry here at all.
Two of the island's most experienced and accomplished musicians shared intriguing insights about the notoriously difficult struggle to make money by making music.
Internationally acclaimed Dominican 'cadence music' pioneer, Gordon Henderson is based in Paris, France. He has vast knowledge of the local music scene spanning many decades.
Henderson recalled that in his days as an up-and-coming musical performer, it was impossible to pursue music as a profession while residing in Dominica. First, there was virtually no local market because the economy was depressed and the population was small. Second, there was no recording studio.
Worst of all, playing music for pay was considered the domain of the uneducated. "People had no clue that music was for literate Dominicans," Henderson said.
He summed up that situation as a form of "decadence" and he thinks there are still remnants of it today.
This drove many musicians to neighbouring islands to pursue their dreams, including cadence stars Chubby and the Midnight Groovers, he said.
While making a living from music is still extraordinarily tough these days, Henderson believes certain types of artiste have a better chance than others.
He explained that it's easier for lyricists or composers because they can earn money for their work from anywhere-- thanks to the internet. But it's more difficult for recording artistes who have to travel overseas to record. And performing artistes must certainly go abroad to gain recognition, he pointed out.
So, amid all these challenges what does it take to become a successful musical artiste?
Henderson is quite clear about this. Hard work, dedication and a key element-- an original touch that can be easily recognised.
Music producer, bouyon pioneer and General Manager of Fanatik Band, Cornell 'Fingers' Phillip loves what he does and he is one of the few based in Dominica whose sole business is music.
"Like everything else, the music industry has its challenges. When I was growing up, music as an industry was a no-no. Nobody looked at it as something you could survive on; nobody looked at it as a job…" Phillip said.
Speaking from his studio, Imperial Publishing, Phillip remarked that Dominica has come a long way from those days.
Still, he is unhappy that so many look at the music industry as a side job or a hobby.
"We like that comfort zone of having a job," Phillip mused, "But it is not fair to the industry when you step out of your comfort zone and do a mediocre production and put it out as Dominican music."
"Can't we earn a living by going to work at 8 'o' clock in the morning producing music, producing an album, sitting down and spending some time with marketing plans, networking?" he asked.
He said the hard work and commitment lead to rewards like endorsements, opportunities for live shows and better music sales.
"There is an industry and there is a viable industry to earn a living and make money. I honestly believe it can be done."
"As an artiste, you have to have a plan. It may not be the best formula, but if you stick with it and push your plan it will work," he asserted.
Phillip believes a 'Bouyon' artist has a good chance of having a successful career in Dominica, but artistes in other genres cannot stay in Dominica and really make it.
"[For instance] Reggae, the Jamaicans would more have the edge over you so you have to live with them, to be where they are in order to make a continuous impact….The same thing with hip-hop music; the same thing with rap music," he explained.
However, he maintained that musicians who work hard and work smart can do well and a music career should be viewed as an avenue for success
He pointed out that success in music requires the right investments of time and money, and what "success" means by the individual artiste's yardstick may differ from what it means in the industry.
"You can get from where you are by using music as an avenue to where you want to go…but we have to work hard. To be a superstar is not easy," Phillip noted.