Reggae Music Lessons: Top 3 Reasons Reggae Music Sales Suck and how to change it

I write this totally from the perspective of an internet marketing strategist, as someone who spends 80 percent of her waking hours online reading,tracking trends and who is very biased towards conscious reggae and dancehall artists like Shabba, Lady Saw, Gregory Isaacs,Peter Tosh and yes Bob Marley of course.  This post was inspired by a long talk with a friend of mind who’s in the business as a sound engineer and producer who’s worked in pretty much every studio in the country. So, with biases and background declared, let me get to my Reggae music lessons for the industry.
1. The music, the music, the artiste, the artiste.
Negros, if you haven’t already seen it in the headlines or your own dwindling tour dates and endorsements – the gun and b*tty man  fi dead tunes are so 90s. It may get you a little crowd rail up here, but it bleeds money from your pocket elsewhere, and frankly it’s so typical that it’s the unoriginal and talent-free that ride that path to a “buss”.

Have you seen how the women of Reggae have been holding it down with quality riddims, lyrics and singing…Alaine, Etana, Tanya Stephens, my girl Lady Saw, Tessane, Tami Chynn, Cecile, Tifa, Diana King. Don’t get me wrong some of the men have been wicked too…consistently so…Shaggy, Sean Paul, my name sake Tarrus Riley, Tony Rebel, Assassin, Baby Cham to name a few off the top of my head.  They have proven that true talent, authenticity, a killer work ethic coupled with a love, respect and connection with their fans wins every single time.

Lesson #1: Consistency, quality, understanding that a song is powerful yet simply, a range of emotions set to a rhythm. So whether it’s the “riddim” that comes first or the lyrics, the very best are always great observers, readers, learners and writers. They are ever evolving. Just ask my boy JayZ, a master lyricist, keen observer of life, always learning about the music and the business that makes it valuable to those tho listen and create it.

Lesson #2: The British Observer newspaper listed Jamaica this year, as one of the three island nations that’s always been world renown for its music – the other two are Cuba and Ibiza. And I know for sure, that it wasn’t and has never been the “gyal fi cock up, fish and b*tty man fi dead, buss a shot gun inna one informer head ” kind of “music” that got us there. Moving into the successful future of Reggae music, it has to be a full return to quality over quantity, kick ass creativity over the laziness to rock back on worn out and irrelevant themes. Success leave clues, but only if you’re open to learning them.

2.  The Consumer has Changed

Reggae music is a global phenomenon, so much so much so it’s almost not ours anymore. We’ve given it to the world, they love it and have adopted it. It has been remixed into so many cultures and music forms it ain’t funny and even with that people around the world, still crave the unadulterated born and brewed Reggae from di rock. They believe it’s more authentic. It’s time to give them more of it minus the drama and bullshit. Access to the Internet and by default a wider range of music genres have made the average consumer more worldly in their tastes, evolved in their thinking.  So, If the consumer has moved on from the same ole’ same ole’, why haven’t you.

Jamtap Facebook Social Game by

3. The Industry has changed Forever

First the Gay Thing: Always a Fact,the global music industry has gay people leading, owning and running it. Makes me wonder  if it’s that realisation then resentment by Reggae musicians that led to the rise and spray of the b*tty man fi dead era. It’s 2010, we  must get over this, realise that people are people, and they all don’t find you cute plus they have have way more money than you now. I was told if you want to be rich, then only rich people can teach you how to..  So I’ll gently suggest, you get over you church-going-only-for-PR self, put the bible back in your pocket and stop using your hypocritical hand to beat people over their heads with it.

Focus. Your only job in the music industry now is to study and understand the business of music, then strategise and position your brand ( artiste, riddims, merchandise) for success.

Secondly the Shift that Shafted: Take heart it’s not just Reggae Music’s sales that have sucked for the last couple of years, every genre took a hit. It’s just that the internet and its technologies took the power from the cartels of distribution and record labels whose mindset and slavish record contracts often left talent like Toni Braxton broke, and shifted it to  consumers. Yeah!

This fundamental shift has meant that because of greater access to information, cheaper technologies to create, market and distribute music…the marketplace became crowded with the music of musicians and producers. This allowed the consumer to have access to all kinds of music from all kinds of artiste all over the world for free or cheap, instantly and consistently. They got distracted exploring some new and cool shit and they loved it.

This shift,  meant too that it had gotten much, much harder to get noticed, make the traditional charts, get the classic record deal (thankfully for many), get tour gigs and yes make money.

You see, this shift to the Digital Age we’re now in, that upended the music industry, made new and unexpected heroes       ( Itunes etc) and heralds the end of mass market thinking and execution. It’s now a turn to making riches from the niches but in a very, very different way.

Songwrita Facebook Socia Game by Alex Morrisey of Jamaicansmusiccom

How to turn things around

1. Music is Social even more so now because of the Shift.

Screw payola and the traditional charts, think building a community  of fans and developing a strong connection with them. Seth Godin, renowned business and marketing thinker and best selling author said in this blog post Music Lessons –  “The winners in the music business of tomorrow are individuals and organizations that create communities, connect people, spread ideas and act as the hub of the wheel… indispensable and well-compensated.” Please read it.

He also said “Many musicians have understood that all they need to make a (very good) living is to have 10,000 fans. 10,000 people who look forward to the next record, who are willing to trek out to the next concert. Add 7 fans a day and you’re done in 5 years. Set for life. A life making music for your fans, not finding fans for your music.” When you read the article he’ll also explain that part about Permission being the asset of the future. Let me add that he’s not just talking about a Facebook Fan Page community, but email address, cell phone numbers etc. Please Read it.

2. School Yourself to Rule Your Niche.

Additionally, attend some social media marketing and mobile marketing seminars/workshops online and in person locally and internationally, tap your Jamaican and Caribbean experts and Google for some successful case studies in your industry and others. Go where you think your fans are online and on the go. Google yourself, your name and see what people are saying about you. In fact set up Google Alerts for your name, company, song titles.

Then, dive into to experimenting in social media, mobile, ipads, social games, virtual worlds, location-based sites like FourSquare. Learn how you can use these tools to connect with your fans, build a community and talk to them daily and give them the music they want, will buy and show up at a concert for. Where are your mobile apps that people download with exclusives of your songs or video snippets. Gosh there is just so much that can be done.

Lucky for you, well somewhat, the last couple years some people with fearless experimentation experienced some failures and some successes. This experimentation has led to the discovery of successful models that can guide you as to how to go about making your music and money too. For example – Ask Diana King How she used Social Media to build a community around her brand over the last 2 years – how she shared herself, her story and the journey to her next album that has started to payback big time- she just played to 100,000 people in Mauritius. Who knew they had their own version of Reggae called Seggae.

3. Back to the Basics-Great Music. Make your music an aural and visual (while performing) experience that’s authentic, worth talking about, can thrive beyond the payola charts, that connects and moves people to remember and recommend to friends. Hype is only effective when you have substance to make it count. Make that formula work for you and put it on repeat.

4. It’s less about you. More about your Fans. This shift I’ve been talking about requires a different approach to the relationship with your fans. It’s no longer only about making stuff the labels think will sell and spend a trailer load of cash shoving it down our throats with repetitive and interrupting ads, payola charts and meaningless PR to try and make us love it.

The shift means you listen to your fans, meet them where they are and talk to them directly and yes daily (ugh such hard work eh!) ask them what they want to hear from you, what they want more of. It also means you recognise your role and leader and teacher of a tribe of people and what that means. Leading them down the path of misognyny, badmanism and bleaching may get you popular and Range Rovered today, but those fans will be the first to laugh and bail when you’re headed to tax evasion jail. Yeah I said it!

So friends, lots to learn. Lively up Yourself Jamaica and the World’s waiting on you. Good luck!

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  • Wow my comment was rejected, all I did was dispute what was said in the article!

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  • QB

    Great article! It’s very thought-provoking and I hope that more people learn the things that you are talking about.

  • Thanks Orlando. I thank my friend for sharing with me her story and the fact that I am in charge of building the Jolly Boys brand online has given me some interesting insights into some things. Lots to learn about the music business, but I know alot about brand building online and internet marketing, so I’m just applying what I know to another industry. Hope it helps in someway.

  • Thanks Marguerite, just sharing what I know and what’s on my mind as usual and may the chips fall where they may.

  • Ingrid – EXCELLENT article. Thought-provoking. I am not a musician, but I got so much from it about brandbuilding – which is passe – it’s really about community/tribe building – love that – me as leader of the Free and Laughing tribe! My paradigm has just been shifted! Off to read Seth’s blog for more shifting …

  • Powerful & every industry insider should pay attention to this article