BitDepth 771 - March 01

TrinidadTunes hits year four and this is the annual report on the online music store's progress.
Tuning up local music
Rosemary Hezekiah and Lorraine O’Connor at the Woodbrook office of Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

“Iwer is up to number two,” Lorraine O’Connor yells from behind her laptop. “He’s the dark horse in this race; I tell you.”
Her business partner Roses Hezekiah just smiles and nods. The online entrepreneurs are bringing me up-to-date on what TrinidadTunes, their website for local digital music sales is doing in its fourth year.
It isn’t the only thing on their minds this afternoon. Issues with PayPal, which was supposed to be processing credit card payments directly without requiring users to sign up with the service have been falling, instead, into a digital black hole, the payments accepted but not passed along to TrinidadTunes.

“Paypal has acknowledged the problem,” O’Connor says, reading from an e-mail.
“So all this should go away by the time your piece appears,” Hezekiah finishes, arching an eyebrow meaningfully. The website’s users will know when the bold yellow warning box telling customers not to use the direct payment option goes away.
Some of TrinidadTunes’ business problems are much older than this recent hiccup, but the persistent survival of the service is making some of them go away.

Shadow and Ella Andall, who both sold CDs through the hardcopy arm of the business, Trinidad Music Store, finally made their catalogues available to TrinidadTunes in the last quarter of 2010, bringing the number of total tracks available on the service to over 11,000.
“It’s easier to talk about who we don’t have now than who we do offer,” Hezekiah said. “We don’t have Isaac Blackman and Shurwayne Winchester. I don’t know why. We have the Blackman family...oh, and we don’t have Cassie. We haven’t found him yet.”

Sales are up 30 percent over the last two years, songs are now encoded at 320kbps and the new website looks great.
The red chrome of the site with its accents of white and black might have been patriotic, but it was busy, and getting dated. The new design is clean, simple and bold, putting the emphasis on the steadily improving graphics embedded in the songs on offer.
“We had a look at a lot of music download websites over the last four years and the redesign reflects our desire to be the source of Caribbean music, with an emphasis on Trinidad and Tobago,” Hezekiah said.

Secure Sockets Layer security measures have been implemented throughout the payment process, and the business is working with Sean Annandsingh of GoLocal to improve the social networking capabilities of TrinidadTunes.
Soon, users will be able to “Like” and comment on tracks directly on the website, but progress right now is measured. This is as important a time for TrinidadTunes as it is for many of the artists they represent, and being able to move product during the heat of Carnival takes priority.
The website for Trinidad Music Store has now been integrated into the digital download store, but most tracks are download only, and it’s almost impossible to find a song from this year’s Carnival available on a CD.

More compellingly, the ten most popular songs available on TrinidadTunes, a fair reflection of what’s happening this Carnival, are only available, legally, as downloads on TrinidadTunes.
Artistes, it seems, have acknowledged the supremacy of roadside piracy and are embracing direct digital sales as the only sensible alternative. That’s a big win over the situation four years ago when O’Connor and Hezekiah had to explain their business model repeatedly to skeptical performers.

In four years, the customer base has shifted from almost entirely external to Trinidad and Tobago to 49 percent local.
“More Trinis are shopping online,” Hezekiah said, “It seems that they are getting comfortable with buying local music that way too.”
There’s more on the wishlist for TrinidadTunes. Videos are likely to return as streamed entertainment with an option to buy, and the pair are exploring ways of bringing “lost” music only available on old vinyl discs to the store.

But sales are still low. At 4,000 downloads per month on average, O’Connor notes there’s no way they can “eat ah food” off the site’s earnings after 60 percent goes to the artistes.
It’s also hard to explain to artistes how the store can benefit them when they don’t understand the medium. The biggest names on the store promote their presence there enthusiastically, but too many marginal acts simply offer their music and sit back and wait. 
O’Connor and Hezekiah have spoken almost continuously to Pan Trinbago since the store opened about putting the recordings of Panorama up for sale, but nothing’s happened. 

“Last year Pan Trinbago released a DVD of Panorama but no CD.” O’Connor says, rolling her eyes, “What’s that about?”
They both would love to see some government support for what they see as a platform for music distribution to the world instead of a simple music download store.
“Look at Jamaica,” Hezekiah points out, “Reggae put them on the map and there’s so much music that comes out of this country, soca, calypso, parang, steelband, chutney and more. TrinidadTunes should be a tool for pitching our music to the world.”

Local downloads, 13 months later
BitDepth #612:
The Crazy road to online sales
BitDepth #609:
The beat in your box, legally
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