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Musically Speaking: REGGAE ROADBLOCKS

By August 28, 2015Articles, Magazine

Musically Speaking

A Music Business Development Perspective

By Lloyd Stanbury -Entertainment Attorney and Music Business Consultant

Over the past two decades researchers, international organizations, and government agencies in Jamaica have dedicated a lot of time and financial resources to studies, training workshops, and other projects aimed at facilitating further development of the business of Reggae music. These activities have contributed to increased curiosity and discussions with regard to the global economic potential of Reggae. The studies, training workshops, and other related projects have also served to highlight many of the challenges faced by music industry operators in Jamaica, as well as their international trading partners, as they seek to collaborate to expand and service the global demand for Reggae music.

In recent years there has been an increased level of interest in the business of Reggae in Jamaica as well as within the developing music markets of the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa. Concurrently with this increased interest and the international successes of some Jamaican artists, fans and industry practitioners continue to express concern about the level of business development support coming from government and private investors inside Jamaica. Complaints by artists about exploitation and discrimination are also still frequently heard.
On the international scene many music industry operators speak constantly of the challenges they face in doing business with Jamaican Reggae artists, and there is evidence of significant declines in the business success of Jamaica based Reggae artists. During the 1980s and 1990s more than twenty Jamaican Reggae acts had international recording contracts with major and large independent record labels in the USA, UK, and Japan. By the beginning of 2015 this number had reduced to fewer than ten. Between 2001 and 2005, Jamaican Reggae/Dancehall artists Shaggy and Sean Paul released albums that resulted in multi-million copies sold in the USA and globally. In 2014 the top selling Jamaican Reggae albums, (not including Bob Marley), were “Fly Rasta” by Ziggy Marley, and “Dread and Terrible” by Chronixx, with total album sales between them both of less than 50,000 copies. Almost simultaneously with this decline in Jamaican Reggae business internationally, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of successful North American and European home-grown non-Jamaican Reggae bands. One of the biggest records in North America in 2014 was a Reggae recording by the Canadian band Magic, which recorded sales in excess of 3 million copies in the USA alone.

The global music industry has faced major challenges and experienced significant changes and dislocations since the turn of the century, primarily as a consequence of technological innovations and shifts in the entertainment consumption patterns of the public. Like all other music genres, Reggae has also faced these challenges. There are however some peculiar features to the development, creation and promotion of Reggae music that have caused additional roadblocks to business development and the realization of greater economic and social benefits to primary music producers, and the Jamaican economy as a whole.

The development of Jamaican culture and music should be examined in the context of colonization and slavery. Issues related to the genesis, historical development and promotion of Reggae within Jamaica and internationally, are also inextricably bound with issues related to the development and promotion of Rastafari. It is my opinion that Bob Marley’s rise to fame as an international music superstar is due largely to his Rastaman persona, and the incorporation of Rastafari principles in his music. I will also argue that much of the resistance and lack of support to the development of the business of Reggae stems from cultural, spiritual and political conflicts between principles of Rastafari on the one hand, and what is expected in order to fit and succeed within “the Babylon system”.

Conflicts, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations regarding issues such as homosexuality, homophobia, criminality, marijuana, and the status of women, have surfaced from time to time in discussions about Reggae music business development. Some express the view that despite Bob Marley and other successes, the business of Jamaican Reggae has not realized its full potential, at either the local or international level.

Despite the challenges, Reggae music has expanded widely around the world, more so than any other music form originating from a small developing country. Marketing Reggae music in this very culturally diverse global space requires a level of sophistication that to date has not been acknowledged or applied from within Jamaica. Jamaica continues to operate without a clearly defined national cultural industry policy that provides for structured development of its music industry, including marketing strategies at both the domestic and international levels.
In my first book REGGAE ROADBLOCKS, I explore the many issues that have affected the development of the business of Reggae. My objective is to generate relevant discussions and to facilitate new thinking and approaches to address the various challenges faced by creative, technical and management practitioners of Reggae inside and outside of Jamaica.

REGGAE ROADBLOCKS is not an academic study, but instead represents my effort to share opinions based on my experience in the music industry at both the Jamaican and international levels. Several relevant commentaries previously published online are included throughout the book, and excerpts from interviews and quotations from well-known Reggae influencers are also included. Below is a link to a short audio excerpt from an interview conducted by photo journalist Sista Irie for the book.

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