Is reggae ready for the return of live music?
Duane McDonald
Let's talk Reggae

The reggae music industry is a business, not a hustle.

A common affirmation repeated by many of our professional practitioners over the years and a principle being fought for on the front-lines daily. With the imminent return of live music globally and the expected injection of energy and resources that this comes with, a resurgence is expected but are we as an industry prepared?

As manager of reggae artiste Kabaka Pyramid, I have travelled to over 35 countries, touring the world and spreading reggae music and Jamaican culture since 2012. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to work in small, medium and large production environments locally and internationally and observed closely how the industry operates. As director of Bebble Rock Music and label executive with Ghetto Youths International (label imprint of Damian, Stephen and Julian Marley), I have been able to manage multiple releases of singles, EPs, albums and the like and marvel every day at the constant evolution in how to properly release and promote a record. As a long-standing member and past vice-chairman of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association, I have seen the difficulties in galvanising and organising a music industry towards common goals but thankfully have also had a window into the complicated make up of our community and the various challenges facing members, all while being educated on the building blocks of the reggae music industry's storied legacy.

But who is this reggae music industry of which I speak?

The music industry is a general term for all the parties involved in the creation, performance, recording, promotion and management of the business of music.

Artistes, musicians, producers, songwriters, labels, various types of managers, engineers, lighting directors, DJs, sound systems, publicists, publishers, entertainment lawyers, journalists, visual artists, graphic artists, promoters, distributors, booking agents, technicians, venue owners, studio owners, merchandising and the list goes on.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the dynamics of our business have dramatically changed with the onset of protocols to stem the rise in COVID-19. Entertainment on a whole felt an earth-shattering decline in earnings, none more so than the business around public consumption of this great music called reggae. Tours, festivals and concerts cancelled, parties and sound systems locked off and entire development cycles for artistes' careers put on hold or “pivoted”.

Our industry has done tremendously well to show resilience in this time, and perhaps it was a well-needed push towards the true innovation needed for our business to grow, thrive and catch up with the mechanisms in the context of the 2020s. Livestream events have become a staple, remote collaboration both from a creative and administrative standpoint is now the norm, digital streaming platforms have thrived and so have those who have taken the time to maximise their earning potential. Social media has launched new careers of popular artistes whom up to this day have yet to go in front of a live audience to perform. Additionally completely new revenue streams have emerged on platforms such as YouTube, Patreon, Twitch, Cameo as well as NFTs and other content creation-based earning potentials.

The last two years became an era where artistes had to take a long hard look on their digital footprint and how to earn from every megabyte as opposed to mainly their physical footprint as would be the case pre-COVID-19.

Around the world, popular venues for reggae music are now parking lots or gyms, musicians have become real estate agents, talent buyers and booking agents have turned to farming, tour bus drivers have become Amazon truck drivers, PA system owners have sold off equipment on the cheap and talented artistes have turned away from music in a bid to feed their families.

Thankfully this missing core aspect of our business is returning. Touring lanes are beginning to reopen, concerts are being announced at all levels, clubs and parties have returned and the live entertainment component of the industry is gearing up for it's big comeback.

According to an Oxford University Business College study commissioned by Live Nation (one of the largest event promoters and venue owners in the world), in the US alone the concert business, defined “all live musical performances, such as festivals and concerts, and comedy shows held in amphitheaters, clubs, theaters, arenas, stadiums, and other venues,” was valued at US$132.6 billion in 2019.

According to statista.com in 2019 live music revenues worldwide amounted to US$28.56 billion, fell to US$7.32 billion in 2020 but is now projected to grow to US$30.67 billion by 2025.

A resurgence is coming but are we prepared?

Many people have left the industry in a bid to survive and are not returning, some of our beloved colleagues have unfortunately lost their lives to this dreadful virus and many business relationships and partnerships are no more sake of this two-year period of uncertainty.

It is incumbent on us to ensure with this resurgence of the live component of music and the ability to travel, that we have the support mechanisms and infrastructure in place to meet this demand and take advantage of the myriad opportunities that will either present themselves or need to be created to secure reggae's slice of this multi-billion-dollar pie.

Are there enough trained artiste managers ready to oversee the relaunch of artistes careers in this new normal, to build a team to properly and take advantage of the artiste's talent?

Do we have enough capable tour managers, production managers, engineers and technicians to properly execute tours and concerts on the required level that reggae music deserves?

Is there a shortage of top-class reggae musicians, who are both available and capable of doing the work or have they moved on after two years of inactivity?

How many truly extraordinary young artistes have been in the development stage over the last two years and are ready to take advantage of the open world in 2022 and launch their careers?

Do we have enough persons interested in music administration, entertainment law, journalism, marketing and promotion?

These are just a few of the pertinent questions facing us as we move into this new era. We need to be ready, we need to be experts in the modern tools of the music business, we need to have youth engaged and involved in our industry to learn the business properly while at the same time bringing the energy and innovation needed to support the next wave of Jamaican entertainment we are presenting to the world.

It has been for many the most challenging time of their entire life, but it's not all doom and gloom as for others it has been the most lucrative period for their respective businesses. They say content is king and our content creators have been shining examples in the past two very difficult years for our industry.

We have a legacy and a culture-shifting contribution to the world with both reggae and dancehall music consistently penetrating the global market. To maintain the great work accomplished it will require an injection of capital, recruitment, education, mentorship, data-driven decision making, proposals and business plans. It means significant public and private sector partnerships, it means a change in the national negative mindset towards working in music, and it means an active and constantly evolving reggae industry capable of supporting the non-stop factory of talented artistes that Jamaica has been blessed with.

Live music is returning…are we ready?

Duane McDonald is an artiste manager, production/tour manager, audio engineer and professionally registered electrical engineer (PERB). He holds a degree from the University of the West Indies (St Augustine) in electrical and computer engineering.

He is best known for his roles managing reggae entertainer Kabaka Pyramid and his work with the Ghetto Youths International label owned and operated by the Marley Family. Over the past decade Duane has proudly worked in various facets of the music industry both locally and internationally and considers himself an ambassador for professionalism and integrity within the Jamaican Reggae Industry community. He and his Bebble Rock Music team have taken their brand and Jamaican culture to many of largest platforms for Reggae Music in the world.

He has also served as vice-chairman on the board of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association and technical director of JARIA's Reggae Month celebrations

with Duane McDonald

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