The music industry in numbers: wasteland?
In August 2020 Magazine AM:PM, in alliance with the touch, published his usual infographic on music consumption and market in 2019. That material, full of information about the global music industry —frequent content in this publication—, lacked a homologation between the world statistics that were offered there and the Cuban ones. Readers, like me, were surely left wanting to know data on the national context similar to what the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) provided: industry revenues, main markets, best-selling albums , ranking of artists, among others.
The explanation for this absence is simple: there is no such homologation. For music lovers who love numbers, it is an almost impossible mission to approach the statistics on the processes of the Cuban musical ecosystem. This is a long-awaited goal, and a pending subject. "Adapted" as we are on the Island to secrecy with statistics (and information in general), a balance like that could even be a chimera. Because the closest thing we have been to something similar has been when the Ministry of Culture publishes a balance or study, or when we access the general archive of the National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei).
Is there any observatory in Cuba that collects and analyzes data, trends, musical information? Can we know if music is consumed more than other artistic manifestations? Who consumes it more? If we want to know, for example, how Yoyo Ibarra's numbers move, where do we go? To the Department of Artistic Development of the Cuban Institute of Music? To the Egrem? The information generated by our musical institutions is scattered. Organizing it, processing it and making it available to researchers and the general public is, if anything, a task for yesterday.
But not everything is black and white. For some time now, a different air has been breathed and 2021 seems to come with readjustments. The first indications appeared precisely in this same magazine, when in a conversation with Yolaida Duharte —national coordinator of the Mincult-Onudi-Koica Project: “Strengthening the competitiveness, organizational performance and export capacity of the Cuban music industry”— it was hinted that something was cooking in relation to the serious compilation of statistics, currently absent and / or disjointed.
And it is that working with numbers and putting them to good use can strategically change the music industry in Cuba, since they function as a real thermometer to measure phenomena and draw accurate tactics and strategies in the medium and long term.
music is consumed
There is a recurring idea in the analyses: in Cuba no radio or television program dictates by itself guidelines about which songs are most popular, which artists are the most listened to. Not only is the data missing there, but other ways of exploiting music are not known in the studies, such as the Weekly Package, the uses on-line and other more alternative channels. We live in a strange way with the fact that there are no public statistics on music consumption; we have adapted (misadapted) to it. Although, to be fair, the Pistacubana portal tries to move in those waters and show us the reality of the most heard on the island, perhaps allowing us to understand where the preferences of the audience are. But I already said it, they are isolated attempts.
The Juan Marinello Cuban Institute for Cultural Research is one of the few centers in Cuba that collects statistics for cultural management, especially when it comes to consumption. However, although their investigations are praiseworthy, they are hardly based on surveys that start from the survey as a model, with small and non-representative samples, predominantly adolescent ages. These studies do not seek an evaluation of the viability and effectiveness of management in the music industry; but to provide data that allow reflections on the impact and scope of the cultural actions projected in the analyzed groups. Of course, consumption practices, interests and satisfaction with the current offer can be useful starting points to structure the work in each territory of the country, if they are given the necessary attention.
Regarding music, Pedro Emilio Moras, head of the Institute's Cultural Consumption group, says: "Our studies show that in all population groups, musical consumption is always high and tends to merge with audiovisual consumption, through Technological devices. This does not mean that people often go to live shows or are in direct contact with the demonstration; own and public spaces are used for consumption rather than institutional ones, although attendance at these latter cultural spaces is greater among young people”.
Pedro Emilio also emphasizes that “there is no way to advance without knowing the tastes of the population, nor relegating to the background the search for information that promoters, creators and leaders demand about the behavior of the population in the cultural field. Although the will exists, the efforts and surveys are still insufficient to regularly monitor such a dynamic phenomenon in order to then provide feedback on intentional cultural policies and make proposals to decision-makers”.
The problem —according to the researcher and professor— is also that the surveys require after critical receptions. It is necessary to socialize the data beyond specific workshops, because “it is difficult to make people understand the reality of 'high culture' consumption by a very focused public; or even the consumption of genres such as reggaeton with whose promotion there are reservations by the Ministry of Culture.
The latest studies undertaken have been limited to geographical areas of the capital and, although the results throw up some interesting clues, the bias in the research is visible. The last National Survey of Cultural Practices dates back 10 years. The reasons? The economic factor, the cost of infrastructure and mobility, the need to join Onei, to train those responsible for its application, who will then process the large volumes of data.
In 2011, the date of the survey in question, the romantic song surpassed popular dance music as the most listened to genre. It would be interesting to see the new results of an exercise of this type in 2021, when the trend could be totally different (once again, in the absence of a rigorous study, we fall into the field of speculation).
When Laura Vilar, director of the Center for Research and Development of Music (Cidmuc), spoke with AM: PM Regarding the promising proposal to compile statistics on Cuban music —originated as a result of the aforementioned Mincult-Onudi-Koica Project—, he made it clear that this machinery “has not really started to work yet”. He told us that he software with which they worked to collect the information is still in an initial testing period; and, only in 2019 could it be programmed thanks to the work of the Center for Information Technology Development in Public Health (Cediscap). Added to this are the difficulties brought about by the pandemic, especially the restrictions on physical interaction, which have made it impossible to implement the system nationally, which is — Laura emphasizes again — in an incipient stage.
This initiative would be the basis for the creation of a National Observatory of Cuban Music, which, based on this Information and Analysis System, would provide the required studies on trends in Cuban musical creation and its production processes. However, although building this repository symbolized an unprecedented idea, it was initially unplanned.
The idea, according to Laura, was to create a basic tool to find out what the state of the industry was by making a general diagnosis or a specific survey of music. Along the way, they realized that they needed a more complete, sustainable and useful product over time. The idea of the Information and Analysis System arose then thanks to the need.
Some general data, however, had been available since mid-2017 when, by way of diagnosis, the Mincult-Onudi-Koica Project was launched: in Cuba there were 17,000 professional musicians, 33 music schools, 303 facilities for live performances, 2,232 cultural institutions, 286 stores for sale in physical format, four musical instrument factories and four record companies (state and institutionalized).
That way of approaching the investigation, although preliminary, coincided with the established methodology of capturing total statistics, which, being so general, leave a lot of material to cut. But to put together the repository of the 2020 Information System, they had to start from what already existed: the official —and public— statistics of the Onei, and the complementary ones of the Mincult.
"Musicology has been concerned with this issue for a long time," says Laura. “Cidmuc has been created for 43 years and from the beginning Argelier León and Leonardo Acosta spoke seriously about the industry and its numbers. In the 1980s, the musicologist Carmen María Sáenz and the ethnologist Jesús Guanche paid attention to the numbers of peasant music. Zoila Gómez, together with some sociologists, also carried out statistical studies with an eye toward musical editions. Unfortunately, many results of these diagnoses were not and have not been taken into account.
Accessing the data to update the studies that are required on the sector depends on the good will and disposition of the Cuban Institute of Music (ICM), record companies, music and technology companies, management companies and research centers. . For an initiative such as the Information and Analysis System developed by Cidmuc to advance —which today incorporates provincial information based on the figures provided by the Development Department of the ICM and the different music companies—, it is necessary to dig, convince, bother and reveal; when the result would be an extremely juicy diagnosis to be used for the benefit of the Cuban musical ecosystem.
On the other hand, no information system, no matter how effective it may be, can give everything. Parallel and complementary research is necessary, and must take into account —in the light of an interconnected and digital century— the trends and tools to measure them provided by applications, platforms and social networks through complex algorithms.
We turn on the alarms again: the statistics in the Cuban musical ecosystem are scattered and so are the efforts to reverse the situation. As long as the surveys are the only method to be applied, and they remain only on paper and are not publicly disclosed to be used by scholars and industry players; we will continue plowing a wasteland. Hopefully the announced effort of the Cidmuc as a result of the aforementioned conclusions, start walking soon and we can see the fruits. Other actors (I am thinking of allies with experience in information management, local, regional or international projects and ventures) should be welcome to this enormous and presumably fruitful task.