Soca Music Internationalisation. Is it possible?

Kes in Tokyo, Japan. Click to see video

For many years we, in Trinidad and Tobago, believed that we’ve been sitting on a gold mine, and one day, one of our Kings or Queens of Soca music would break through the noise of one of the major international markets, and adorn the red, white and black flag with pride. While we sit back and watch the likes of Rihanna and Damian “Jr Gong” Marley receive the acclaim that we so badly want, we can’t help but wonder if there’s a strategy that we don’t know about or magic step-ladder that can take soca music to stardom. Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all to internationalization, but hopefully if we discuss it here, there may be some inspiration to be had.

Theories of internationalization are pretty straightforward, so I pulled some relevant points from a few different sources and came up with a list of steps that can help Soca music to get the international spotlight it deserves:

1. Identify the market we want to enter first

We almost immediately think of the US market, but lets remember the size and receptiveness of the Asian markets or even the UK. The point is there are several different measures of attractiveness that determine the potential of the soca music brand in any particular arena. Analyse the potential for prosperity in the large markets based on:

  • The cultural distance (or similarities) of the market
  • The geographic (export) considerations
  • The administrative procedures
  • The economic state of the country or region
Faces of Soca?

Once chosen, it is important to understand the current perception of the soca brand and its parent and sub brands and create a cognitive map that can be used to manipulate the facets of this perception. This can be achieved through some simple primary research in the market (maybe focus groups) to understand what the target already knows about soca music, and how they feel or think of it.

2. Create a solid brand image strategy that includes the identification of brand faces that represent the identity of the brand.

At this stage, it’s important to (with an understanding of the perceptions held by your target) create a brand image that is congruent with the brand’s values and personality. Off the cuff, we know that Soca music is not profane, it perpetuates positivity and grows in cross-cultural collaborative environments. There are several other values that it may hold, and other aspects of its personality.

It’s then important to determine faces of the brand that represent these values the best. Obviously there are several other values and points that must be considered. The brand’s faces and their public behavior, personas and physical appearances will help the target to understand the brand a bit more clearly, particularly in the early stages of penetration.

3. Determine the most suitable strategy of market entry

There are several ways to enter into a new market, (I pulled 6 generic strategies from Thompson, Strickland and Gamble (2010)) they include:

  1. Maintain a national (one-country) production base and export soca to foreign markets.  With the growth of social media, and interconnectivity of systems across the globe, it seems its getting easier and easier to reach international markets. Facebook advertising, as well as Google Ad Words and AdSense, makes targeted advertising easier than it has ever been in history. Outside of the fact that soca music is highly experiential and performance driven, exporting it seems pretty plausible. 
  2. License foreign firms to use the soca template to produce and distribute. Do you think that a foreign firm can reproduce soca the way we do in the Caribbean? Or can an artiste from across the world write and perform soca music in a way that would do justice to the brand? Although licensing agreements would ensure that certain quality standards are adhered to, is this a real option? I think that one of the focal reasons for internationalization is for us to be able to go out there and perform. We may have to pass on licenses.
  3. Employ a franchising strategy. Think of KFC, Wendy’s or McDonalds; these are some of the franchises that we are exposed to here in Trinidad and Tobago. Can soca be packaged in this way so as to be unwrapped and presented by foreigners? Can it be managed by foreigners? 
  4. Use strategic alliances  or joint ventures with foreign companies as a primary vehicle for entering the foreign market. Consider a soca branch at Sony Records or Roc-a-fella. Or more realistically, one of our Soca faces partnering with a major entity in another market to create a production tailored for the specific market. I think this was well done by Fay Ann Lyons- Alvarez for the Barbados market during Crop Over 2012.  
  5. Follow a multi-country strategy. Tailor soca to different targets? Music is fluid and evolving, and that makes this point more palatable than the customization of any other type of product. Are we ready to adjust tempos, drum patterns and maybe even language to make soca more appealing to audiences in different parts of the world? Of course this must be done while remaining true to its brand values.
  6. Follow a global strategy. Maintain soca just as it is no matter where we go? This is sort of the extreme to maintenance of brand values. However, It is a viable consideration. Soca is new in comparison to Rock and Pop music, and one may argue that it must look and feel a particular way for a while before we can begin customizing it. So this point implies that we continue to create soca strictly as it is and export. The flaw here is that soca seems to be changing a little bit every year, right here in the Caribbean.

As we move forward with our treasure chest of Soca stars, we may find that there is merit in banding together and building our brand, releasing music as a unit, popularizing each sub-brand at the right time, based on a pre-determined strategy. Let’s determine the most fruitful market, understand their perceptions, articulate our brand personality and values and decide on our plan of action, together.

Click to access D_13974.pdf

8 thoughts on “Soca Music Internationalisation. Is it possible?

      1. Nigel A. Campbell says:

        You’re welcome. Regarding my comment above, I further noted elsewhere, “with some world music, we see that Cesária Évora and Los del Río became global stars late in the game. So there may be hope for the genre beyond the standard model of a young star taking the world by storm. Further, I don’t think the genre will make TT global, but a star singing anything will pique interest in our native musics, regardless of genre.”

  1. randolf perkins says:

    I think that what we are calling Soca music today is a serious travesty of musical justice, as it relates to the illustrious work that Ras Shorty invented and established in 1973. Not long ago, Soca music seemed to be going places when: The Mighty Arrow hit the world stage with ‘Hot Hot Hot’; when onion and Musical Flames from Antigua were invited to play at the ‘White House’, the US presidential residence; when Allison Hinds was invited to sing at the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa; when Alston “Becket” Cyrus’ hit song ‘Teaser’ and Kevin Little’s hit song ‘Turn Me On’ respectively.took the world by storm. These artistes sang songs that had inspiring lyrics, soothing soca melodies and infectious soca rhythms that were played by indigenous musicians of the highest class and talent. That was real music that caught the musical attention of all and sundry worldwide who love music. But just about that time when the music seemed to have reached that threshold for an apparent take off, it was hi-jacked by these so called modern day soca artiste who continue to make ‘noise’, singing pure ‘rubbish’ and call it lyrics; with single bar monotonous melodies being repeated over and over to the annoyance of any intelligent person who knows what is music and loves it. To make a long story short, I don’t think this ever changing set of synthesized noisy crap they call soca music now can make it outside the Caribbean, beyond our diaspora, and that is just because they too may understand what the crap is about. These guys have to start to learn to write lyrics that make sense and provide people with things to think about life. Do you think intelligent people would buy a Soca album or go to a soca show where the only lyrics they are hearing in every song is about ‘raise your Flag’; ‘raise your rag’; ‘now we going Left’; ‘now we going right’ – pure foolishness! I am sure that is never what was Ras Shorty’s vision of Soca – he must be grieving in his grave when he sees what is being called Soca music today!

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