R-E-S-P-E-C-T the business
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, September 26, 2021
With Richard Johnson
Since February of this year when the Jamaica Observer began Let's Talk Reggae— the opinion series which draws on the thoughts and ideas of those in the local music and entertainment industry — I have read with keen interest the views of so many of these players as they seek to move the genres of music from this rock onto an even higher plane.
Among those which have laid poignant viewpoints on the table are noted producer and songwriter Mikey Bennett who called on the industry to look to the clues left by those who have reaped success in order to build a reggae template. Artiste Manager Steve Wilson, in his contribution to the series, noted that it is time to mine reggae's gold. In his article on July 4, 2021, music insider Abishai Hoilett shared in great detail the need to upgrade reggae's business model, while music producer Tara Johnson noted the lessons the music industry has learned during the current pandemic.
Indeed the majority of the op-eds shared thus far in the series have offered us a window into an industry that many Jamaicans only see on the surface. We know of the music which is played on radio, heard via the sound systems and at parties, and in today's day we become familiar via social media and the various other Internet platforms. However, we are not familiar with the inner workings of the music and entertainment industry when it comes to copyright, publishing, performance fees and other areas of the music which is the lifeblood for many a Jamaican and offers that respite and escape for millions here at home and across the globe.
While we hear the cries from the players in the entertainment industry for greater private-public sector partnerships and a general deeper understanding of the role, scope and possibility of the creative industries in the drive to build a more stable economy, the missing piece in this matrix is the role that the industry itself must play in order for it to be seen as a viable, serious and stable force to contribute even more to Jamaica's gross domestic product as that principal engine of growth.
I can already hear the shouts from our singers and players of instruments, who are already responding in chorus, sharing the exploits of our musical trailblazers and the role they have played in creating and maintaining what we have come to know and benefit from as Brand Jamaica. But, before you drown me out with your beautiful melodies and harmonies, let us take some time to examine why as an industry we are still riding the coat-tails of the pioneers. Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh et al are still the names that we lean on when speaking to the standard-bearers.
It is high time we examine what has the industry not done for itself in order to grow exponentially as it relates to the numbers of acts who can sell out a major venue anywhere in the world? While this is not the only measure of success, it is a valid indicator of how we are moving the needle forward.
The answer for me lies in the word respect.
For many of the fathers, and mothers, of the industry, music was never seen as a business. It was something that was done on the side simply for entertainment. We never saw the vast potential of the big music from the little island and as a result we have and continue to view it in less than terms.
In my estimation, one of the solutions to this apathy lies in the development of a culture of respect by all concerned for the Jamaican music industry but it must start with the players in the industry themselves.
Of course artistes, musicians, producers, arrangers, studio engineers, managers, booking agents, record label executives, and the list goes on, all have an inherent respect for the business, after all it is what puts food on their table and pays bills, but there is a deep-seated respect that is too often missing and is one of the factors that results in the music just moving along at a slow or moderate pace rather than living up to it potential of supersonic speed.
The respect, or lack, of which I speak of can seen in the general absence of a business-like attitude to the industry as exhibited by the many of our local entertainment practitioners.
Stories abound which give credence to this widely held view that our artiste 'nuh ready fi di big league' because of the disrespect shown to the industry. I recall one of the few and unfortunately short-lived entertainment industry award shows. A popular artiste had multiple nominations going into the event. After a few of the envelopes were opened it was clear he was going to be the night's big winner. But he was not on hand to receive any of his trophies. When one of the major awards was revealed and he was named winner it was announced that the popular act was in the parking lot and making his way inside. The show halted, presenters stood on stage in anticipation as they wanted on said artiste to make his way to the stage, he never did, resulting in the obligatory ... “we will accept the award on his behalf”.
The artiste was reportedly in the parking lot, but never left his car and after a while simply drove away.
This contrasts with the way these same artistes behave when invited to the international award shows. For many of these show they are required to pay their own airfare and are responsible for their own transportation. They only receive one invitation and are allowed a plus one. The cost of all other tickets to these shows must be borne by the artiste and his team. They gladly go to these events but shun all efforts at a home-grown awards show. The disrespect has also affects these local shows as sponsors are no longer satisfied to pump funds into these events only for presenters to be the ones accepting awards on behalf of the artistes.
There is always the cry for a greater level of assistance, but you turn the spotlight on the average artiste and ask for a solid proposal with evidence of the potential of return on investment and I doubt many of their teams can produce. It is not a case of not being capable of producing same, but rather this is not the way they have operated. They don't respect the industry enough to see it like any other commodity with potential being presented to a financial backer or venture capitalist.
This is the 21st century and as Hoilett said in his contribution to the series: reggae's business model must be upgraded.
It is time for the industry to take a long, hard look at itself. This is the age of technology and global competition, and if Jamaica is to protect its stake in reggae it will have to begin at home. The word respect and all its meanings at various levels will have to be applied by the industry to itself. Remember respect begets respect. So in simple terms the respect we seek begins with all of us. Let's start respecting reggae today.
Richard Johnson is a senior reporter on the entertainment desk at the Jamaica Observer with more than 25 years of experience in print and electronic media as well as related endeavours.
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