Introduction to REGGAE ROADBLOCKS, A Music Business Development Perspective

Introduction to REGGAE ROADBLOCKS, A Music Business Development Perspective

This book is an effort to highlight and clarify some of the peculiarities of Jamaica’s position in the world as a small island nation with a culture, music and talented people whose influence has wide global impact.

Over the past two decades researchers, international organizations, and government agencies in Jamaica have dedicated time and financial resources to studies, training workshops, and other projects aimed at facilitating further development of the business of Reggae music on a national and international scale. These activities have no doubt contributed to increased curiosity 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.

The number of persons seeking to get involved in the business of Reggae as creative, technical, management and support service providers, has increased over the years. This increased level of interest is not only evident inside Jamaica, but also within the developing markets of the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa, as well as the major music markets of North America and Western Europe. The annual Rototom Reggae Contests for live band performances, have reported figures of 256 entrants from 11 countries in Latin America, and 208 participants from 28 countries in Europe. Concurrently with this increased interest and the international successes of some Jamaican artists, fans and industry practitioners have expressed 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.

In recent years several show promoters and distributors of Jamaican Reggae music in North America, have either reduced the level of their operations, gone out of business, or shifted focus to non- Jamaican Reggae. Many who remain in business speak constantly of the challenges they face in doing business with Jamaican 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 current Jamaican Reggae albums 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.

Accurate data on the economic performance of Reggae inside Jamaica and internationally have been very difficult to come by. This is largely because of the underdeveloped nature of local music trade organizations. This adversely affects their relationships with counterpart international music organizations that play a major role in the collection and dissemination of global music industry revenue information. Music industry performance information provided by the government agency, Statistical Institute of Jamaica is grossly inadequate. Despite the efforts of entities such as the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association/JaRIA, the local industry is still lacking the collective representation required. Valuable lessons could be learned by studying entities such as UK Music. A 2014 UK Music study showed that in 2013 the music industry outperformed the UK economy by growing at 9 per cent, compared with the UK economy as a whole, which grew at 1.7 per cent. Jamaica’s inability to do similar music industry reporting is a significant barrier to development.

The development of Jamaican culture and music must 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. There is no question that Bob Marley’s rise to fame as an international music superstar is due largely to his Rastaman livity, and the incorporation of Rastafari principles in his music. One can also make the case however, 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”.
The business of Reggae music has been the subject of debates for many years, and increasingly so in more recent times.

Among the many issues raised are:

  • Inadequate and ineffective government support. 
  • Inadequate training
  • The ignorance of artists
  • Ineffective management
  • The lack of appreciation of intellectual property rights
  • Failure to adapt and adhere to globally acceptable business practices 

Conflicts, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations regarding issues such as homosexuality, homophobia, criminality, marijuana, and the status of women, have also 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 levels.

REGGAE ROADBLOCKS explores the many issues that have affected the development of the business of Reggae. Its objective is to generate relevant discussions and 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 the author’s efforts to share opinions based on his experience in the music industry at both the Jamaican and international levels. Relevant short commentaries written by the author that have been previously published are included throughout the book, and there are web-links to music, music videos and other publications cited. Excerpts from interviews and quotations from well-known Reggae influencers are also included.
© 2015 Lloyd Stanbury – AVAILABLE AUGUST 20