by: Maliika Walker
Cristy Barber started her career in the music industry as the Director of Operations for Front Page, the company owned by hip-hop great KRS-One. That is no surprise considering her first tattoo was of the logo of A Tribe Called Quest. Today Ms. Barber is the President of Ghetto Youth’s International, the label owned by Marley Brothers Stephen, Julian and Damian. Her career spans close to 25 years and covers public relations, marketing, promotions, A&R, and artist management. Ms. Barber has worked with artists such as Damian Marley, Stephen Marley, Beenie Man, Morgan Heritage, Spragga Benz, Supercat, Mavado, Queen Ifrica, the list goes on and on. She was nominated for a Grammy in 2003 as Producer of the compilation, Def Jamaica. Cristy credits her success in the music industry to her everlasting love of music and her commitment to keeping her artist’s interests close to her heart as she works tirelessly to expand their audience.
Ghetto Youth’s recently released veteran DJ Wayne Marshall’s album, Tru Colors, which was his first album in ten years. Europe based artist Christopher Ellis,the son of reggae great Alton Ellis, released his debut EP, Better Than Love, last November . This summer the label will release music from father and son. The debut EP by Jo Mersa was released in June. Fans were eagerly anticipating the EP titled, Comfortable, across the globe as Jo Mersa has been touring with his father extensively the past few years and has built up an audience of his own. His father, Stephen Marley, will release, Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life, later this summer. The album will go a different direction from, Revelation Part I: The Root of Life, because this release will explore the branches of reggae music. The fruits of the tree that reggae birthed, one of which being hip-hop.
It was honor to speak with an executive with such a deep understanding of the reggae music industry. Part 1 of our conversation focused on the Reggae Grammy and was published in Island Stage Magazine’s April issue. Here is part II of our conversation. Cristy shares her thoughts on such topics as label services, radio relevancy in today’s market, and reggae’s global presence.
Maliika: I recently attended an event where an artist stated that they no longer make money from their music because companies like Spotify or iTunes give artists what they want to give them, not what they deserve. If you do not know how to perform, then you will not survive in this business. What are your thoughts about that?
I don’t agree with that. I just did three new deals within the last month; it’s an artist’s game at this point. When I started in the industry, almost a quarter century ago, we had like forty major labels, now we’ve got three. There are these new things coming up called label services, where the artist can now do these deals where they own their master, they’re the record label, and they just utilize these label services for a support system. So now, the artist can be there own record label. They can do deals where they own their master. They’re one album deals. They’re making a large percentage of the revenue off the back. The label services just take a percentage.
Maliika: Do Label Service deals offer any kind marketing/promotion?
Some of these label services are offering a marketing and promotion budget but it’s not as much as what the majors provide. I’ve worked at nine major labels in my career and I am an expert in that system; there’s a lot of wasted marketing dollars there. The great thing about being in the reggae industry is that, even when we were making money in the heyday at all these majors, we have always had to figure out a way to make a dollar stretch. So because I’ve been trained that way, this is now the industry for me. When you come out of a major label system, and you’re not used to making a dollar stretch, people freak out. I don’t freak out because I am used to working with a dollar. So right now it’s true touring is essential. I don’t want to release a record unless I have a tour behind it. You definitely want to be a great promoter on stage, and be able to tour. Right now, if you’re smart, and you got the right people behind you, those label service deals are out there to be done. I just did three of them.
Maliika: It’s an exciting new day for artists. How are people in the industry adjusting to these new budgets?
You just have to be smart. Everybody is lucky to be in the music industry right now. So a publicist or radio person may not receive the same fee as they used to for their services. Everyone has to tighten up his or her belt straps. People would like to continue having great clients so people are willing to work with you.
Even with the Macklemore situation; it’s great that you can do something so independent and then when you get the major label involved, you get the wheels moving. It did really help them on a certain level but you can also make a lot of money being somebody like the Lumineers. The Lumineers, are popular and they’re still not on a major label. They’re still going through a label service and they busted off of the label service. So there are ways to do it, if you have the right team and the smarts behind you. It’s a change of events right now in the music industry and it’s a learning curve. Everybody’s getting involved, and these deals are starting to get done. When I started negotiating them a couple years ago, people were just starting to get educated on them and now I can actually have a bidding war with label services. So it’s definitely starting to be something that artists have accessible to them.
Maliika: How can new artists take advantage of what label service deals have to offer?
You do have to have a story. It’s not something that a lot of new artists have the ability to go into. You do have to have something to present to them. But, then again, some do. Because some label services will offer an upstart artist, not a marketing promotion budget but, you have a place to put your music out where you can make the money right off the top if you choose not to use any of their services that they offer.
Maliika: Album sales are not what the used to be. How do you feel about the RIAA sales certifications? I know in some countries a gold record is 100,000 copies but the U.S. standard is still 500,000.
The one thing I really want to fight, besides the Reggae Grammy, is the RIAA here in America. Singles are selling but the album RIAA certification numbers should be reduced to a level fitting today’s market. It’s just not fair. Now very few people are going platinum on their albums and very few people are going gold on their albums genres across the board. You might have had ten people in the year 2013 that went multi-platinum. Mind you that is all genres combined. It’s crazy. It should change. It’s not fair any more.
Maliika: Some feel that iTunes helps independent artists sell their records easier to the public. How do you feel about iTunes?
iTunes monopolized the market. I’m not thrilled about the way they do business on a certain level. It’s like they have a set percentage they take across the board, no negotiation. There’s no marketing and promotion with them. Nobody has a backdoor to iTunes, although that’s another thing that people are very uneducated about. Everybody has to fill out the same marketing sheet, nobody knows what he or she would be getting until that Tuesday morning (music is usually released on Tuesday). Well unless you’re Rihanna negotiating a big, iPod commercial, but 90 percent of the people in the music industry it’s a crapshoot, it’s like the lotto. You don’t know what you’re going to get on your Tuesday.
Maliika: I remember when I used to get excited about album releases and would run to the record store the day of release. Now a lot of people run to Spotify.
Spotify and streaming in general, it’s where a lot of people are, especially young people. Young people like to do things on their phone and people like to discover music through streaming services. These services have to pay, the artist, the songwriters, and the label for streaming that music. Streaming services do not annoy me as much as the monopoly that iTunes has. But it is what it is. Right now about 70% of any artists digital sales come from iTunes. The other label services combines and makes up the remaining 30%. So technically, you could just sell your music on iTunes because physical barely sells for anybody.
Maliika: I know physical does not sell nearly as much as it used to but I still find myself looking for vinyl, especially within reggae music.
Oh yes, you know there’s a surge in that right now too. There is a movement in trying to design covers like that now, bringing back those kind of old album covers from the 60s and the 70s. I was in a record store recently and ironically enough, I actually have more CDs in my collection than they had stocked in the music department in the store that night.
Maliika: How vital is radio in today’s market place?
What people don’t realize is that radio is as vital today as it ever has been. Radio is still the game. I think the last stats I saw, about a week ago, Pandora and YouTube were at the top. Spotify is only ranked number five of all streaming services which is interesting. With radio, even Sirius Satellite Radio is only ranked number seven. It makes sense if you think about it because you have to pay for Sirius. Now in 2014 one of the biggest car dealers in America, GMC, has cut their contract with Sirius Satellite Radio. That’s how a lot of people end up getting satellite radio, you get a new car and you lease it. Radio is everything, it still breaks a lot of artists. I mean you hear people breaking off of YouTube but you still need radio to play the game. Everybody that you’ve seen win a Grammy this year, whether it’s Macklemore or Lorde, it was radio and video, that broke him or her in the game. Radio is so crucial, but it’s a real hard game. It’s probably the hardest game in the music industry to play. When you have a radio hit, it changes everything. It’s great to be on YouTube and I’ve had projects that sold 5000 copies that have had publicity like you would think it was the new Justin Beiber record. Publicity is great, but radio still moves the needle. It’s just as important as it ever has been. So it’s still a game we have to play.
Maliika: Reggae is a global music. It’s a music that seems like it has a much wider audience outside of the U.S. Do the record sales back that up at all? Are record sales better outside of the U.S.? Does the artist gain more financially in the global market?
There’s a gentleman named Coleman Sisson, who lives in Houston, Texas. And he started Radio Margaritaville for Jimmy Buffett, the first Internet radio station. They sold it to Sirius Satellite Radio. And when they sold it to Sirius, they did this trial thing where they put different people in a room and they played all different types of genres to them. They had them check off pieces of paper of what they liked and they didn’t like. They’d have a, a 14 year old Asian girl and a 44 year old African American woman and then maybe a 32-year-old white man. Coleman asked the heads of Sirius, if there was a genre that you played in this room that, no matter who you put in there, age, nationality, religion, race, that they always say they like it? And they said, it only happens when we play reggae.
The thing is with reggae music, especially with people who aren’t so submerged in it like you and I, it’s that summer music, and it’s that fun music. It’s even what they call cruise music, although half the people on the cruise don’t realize that it’s actually Calypso they’re listening to. It’s that feel good music that people want to listen to and, and unless it’s those records that really break through or those artists that really break through, the record sales have really never been there. Outside of those success stories like a Bob Marley or Shaggy or those times when those singles do very well. The record sales just aren’t there. Touring is really what reggae music is about. It’s always been a live music, it’s always been something you want to see in concert. And America’s has always been the furthest behind in reggae.
Europe is much more versed in reggae music because the majority of the black people who live there are from the Caribbean or Africa.
In the UK, reggae music is considered pop music. So, if you are a white person in the UK living in the urban areas, everybody that you’re around is either African or Caribbean, so you’re going to be exposed to reggae music also because that’s what they listen to. There are places where reggae is popular yet the people speak different languages, Japan and Germany for example, but they appreciate the music much more than North America does. However, it’s always going to be the most popular music in the world that makes the least amount of money, unfortunately. If you are a reggae artist, songwriter, musician, you are doing it for the love of the music. It’s that simple.
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