Has Reggae Lost its Value?
By Maria Jackson
March 21, 2008 – Is Reggae music the only genre that releases hundreds of singles on a daily basis? I honestly do not know. However, what I do know is that the way we handle our business in the Reggae industry is affecting its monetary value.
Jamaica releases approximately 600 new songs daily. There are literally hundreds of producers spread out across the island. Some are your well-established heavyweights, while others are simply working with a drum machine at home. Whatever their situation, these producers drum up music by the minute. And, in an effort to be the next big thing or to maintain current momentum, they basically give away their music, all in the name of promotion.
In the normal scheme of things, a track that has been mixed and mastered is given away (hundreds, sometime thousands, at a time) to the media for promotional purposes. The problem with Reggae, however, is that you have a lot of people who are not authentic media reps receiving this music and simply giving it away, or in some cases, selling it for their own personal gain.
The question I ask myself is, why are we mass-producing our music? Won’t anything that is so easily accessible eventually lose its value? I am so baffled as to why people in the Reggae industry run it the way they do. To answer these questions one has to spend a few days on the island of Jamaica to understand the mindset of its people.
Reggae, despite whatever else you hear, is the number one export from Jamaica. Yes, I said it! And, I will continue to say it until the government wakes up and admits what we in the industry already know to be fact.
The island is divided into three classes — the very wealthy, the very poor, and the middle class. Last time I checked the minimum wage was J$15,000 a month, which is equivalent to $195 Canadian dollars. The average rent in a half-decent neighborhood is at least J$18,000 a month. What this means is that poverty is at an all-time high in Jamaica. That is on one hand, on the other hand wealth and good living is also at an all time high. If you are an artistic Jamaican who falls under the poverty umbrella, and see an artist such as Shaggy drive around with literally millions of dollars around his neck, or see Buju’s mansion and exquisite studio, it is understandable that you will automatically aspire to attain that or similar fortune.
Here is where there is a huge problem — making music is one thing, making music business is something else all together. I have personally met and hung out with some of Reggae’s top producers, and believe me when I say, they are broke! Their music can be heard five to ten times a day on the radio in cities across North America, Europe or Asia, but because of their lack of business knowledge, they are money-less.
How can you succeed at something you know nothing about? I think the answer is trial and error. My concern is that all these trial and errors are costing the Reggae industry its total value. Here is what I mean. Right now, I can get almost any Reggae music (and that includes Dancehall) without spending a dime. Don’t think this is true because I am in the industry. The fact is I was able to get free music even before I got deeply involved in the entertainment business. Producers and artists from Jamaica are very quick to email their music out to you, no questions asked. Why is that? Could it be we are releasing so much new music every day that it has become one of, if not the most, competitive industries on the island? With no hard-set rules in place, the name of the game is “get a hit and get rich.”
The flipside to this coin is that there are producers/artists/promoters that are doing very well financially in this game. It seems these people are usually reluctant to teach the upcoming producers/artists/promoters what they need to know in order to succeed. Again, I think this is because the whole industry has become so competitive that everyone is looking out for “number one.”
I can obviously go on and on with this article. There are many areas to cover and things to look at. I contacted a few known producers from Jamaica for their input but they refused to comment, not sure why. I think this topic needs to be discussed, and so I went ahead with it. I do encourage and welcome your feedback. Send your comments, Attention Maria to firstname.lastname@example.org