Tessanne has already won


Sunday, December 15, 2013

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JAMAICANS all over the world are riveted by the inspiring story of Tessanne Chin and her journey on the US show The Voice. It reminds me of the enthusiasm and unity seen during the Reggae Boyz' 1998 Road To France and the release of the song Rise Up, which became a hit.

I have longed to see a return of that kind of euphoria, and thankfully Tessanne has delivered where the current Reggae Boyz have not. Many Jamaicans want Tessanne to win. There are others who do not want her to win because they want her to have control over her image, music and the ability to possibly choose a better deal.

Back in 2002 my brother and I had launched the first project under our company Random Media, a website called Realvibes.net that eventually had the largest collection of Caribbean music videos on the web (the site later became Realvibez.tv and in 2005 became YouTube's first Caribbean media partner).

A group of party promoters called Hybrid Entertainment did an event called Blink in Miami and were advertising on the site. They took us to meet an up-and-coming singer who had just released a song, Rock U, featuring Kid Kurup. Her name was Tami Chin and we immediately agreed to promote the video and help in any way we could.

A few years later, Realvibez was working closely with a clothing line called Rockers, which was licensed from the Jamaican film Rockers, and I negotiated to get free clothes for Tami, now re-christened Chynn, to wear in some music videos to promote the brand.

She wore them in two music videos, Why and Arguin', which both featured her now husband Wayne Marshall. I distinctly remember bringing the suitcase of clothes to the house, showing Tami the pieces and then hearing a female voice jokingly ask if I had brought some for her as well. That was my introduction to Tessanne.

After that, I followed Mile High Band, looking forward to the day both these amazingly talented sisters would shine globally and fly the black, green and gold high.

I give you this background to provide the context for my suggestions that follow. If Tessanne wins, that will definitely showcase the positive side of Jamaica and our 'Out of Many One People' culture to the USA and the rest of the world. Winning the competition would entitle her to a sizeable cash reward and a record deal with Universal Music Group.

Few Jamaicans know that Tami's debut album was called Out Of Many...One and was released in 2006 by Universal Motown Records. Life can be more interesting than a movie for sure. If Tessanne does win, then Universal would have the experience of what mistakes they made with Tami and better understand how to market a Chinese Jamaican singer to a global audience.

My suggestions are simple and based on a two-hour conversation I had last weekend with a well-known Jamaican who broke two major acts internationally with artistes under his management selling millions of records, but who wishes to remain anonymous.

Rihanna, a native of Barbados, has done fantastically well specifically because they did not position her as an R&B singer from the Caribbean. They went with a Black Eyed Peas approach where you could not pigeonhole her into
one genre.

They launched her career with a catchy club single that featured an artiste that gave her instant street credibility but was not too hard -- Elephant Man. That song, Pon De Replay, reached number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. It was certified double platinum, selling more than two million copies.

It got Rihanna to the table and then she had to prove herself with her follow-up If It's Lovin' That You Want, a more sultry song that showed her dancing ability in the video. It did not perform as well, but the debut album Music Of The Sun went gold, selling over 500,000 copies. A solid debut for a new artiste, especially one coming from the Caribbean and targeting a mainstream audience.

Tessanne is not Rihanna, and Universal should not try to copy that exact formula, but there are lessons to be taken from this case study. Rihanna landed her record deal with Def Jam after performing a Whitney Houston song for Jay-Z and LA Reid. Many of us Jamaicans have been dying for Tessanne to sing a Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey song to really showcase her vocal range and cause our television sets to explode.

If Tessanne takes the deal, her new label should not seek to pigeonhole her or focus on her accent, regardless of what Christina Aguilera keeps saying. Also, she should not be working only with people who wrote for singers like Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry and Rihanna.

Tessanne can write very well, and the Jamaicans who know this would also love for her to perform Hideaway, or my personal favourite Messenger, and show the world that her original music can stand toe to toe with anything out there.

There is also the possibility that Tessanne might not win (hopefully not because Americans would not want to see a "foreigner" win their competition). If she does not win, then she still wins.

She will have her pick of any label in the world and be able to extract more favourable terms. If I were her manager, I would try to retain creative control over the album and her image. As a fan of crowd-funding, I would actually only seek out a distribution deal with a major label like Def Jam and self-fund the album, launching an online campaign to cover the production costs and the music videos needed.

Jamaicans everywhere and many Americans would throw money at her to prepay for the album. I do not see why she could not raise more than US$250,000 for that album. This would allow Tessanne to retain control, bring more money back to Jamaica and create a platform for her to break other Caribbean musicians who show an aptitude for the business. Tessanne, you know how to reach me if you want to talk more.

Most importantly, though, is that Tessanne won the minute all four judges spun their chairs during the blind auditions. Everything else since then has been brawta, and we recognise it for that. She could get any deal she wanted from that moment.

I would be remiss if I did not mention how proud I am of my wife Kathryn and her company Kaizen Interactive, which has been designing all the flyers that co-ordinate the Twitter watch parties around the USA and Jamaica at
no charge.

David Mullings is co-founder and CEO of Keystone Augusta, an investment firm based in Orlando, Florida. He was the first Future Leaders representative for the USA on the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board and can be found at facebook.com/davidpmullings and twitter.com/davidmullings.




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