Monetising the reggae brand
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, May 30, 2021
How do you monetise culture?
That is the key question for music industry players as we all chart our way forward into and beyond this pandemic era.
Yet, in the face of ongoing curfews, lockdowns, travel restrictions and unequal global access to vaccines, Jamaica's music industry has continued to search frantically to find ways and means to innovate and maintain income streams. Without access to regular tours, large-scale stage shows, beach parties, holiday events and regular weekly parties and club events, this has been difficult. Faced with changes in the platforms available for showcase of their craft, many artistes have sought out new frontiers, using social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to build their networks and enhance their net worth. Dancehall and reggae artistes, ever adept at how to cut and paste, have found new energy and new vibes inside these new frontiers. There are online parties, clashes, reality-show type series, talk show series and a range of online interview programmes. Is it even about the music or as many now suggest, is it about the brand?
Every artiste has a signature brand that is brokered on the larger brand connected with the genre(s) with which he or she is associated. This brand is a specific signature that imputes the artiste and his or her offering, resonating with his/her internal or external fans, and drawing attention to what he/she delivers. The Bob Marley brand continues to resonate across the world, decades after his death. This translates into serious economic rewards with his estate valued at US$150 million in early 2021. A mixture of Rastafari, peace, love, organic “naturality”, a connection to the earth, marijuana and a unique spirituality that encompasses his persona, the Bob Marley brand has reverberated across generations and levelled geographical, language, racial and cultural borders. Connected to this brand is the power of the 'ites', gold and green imputing Rastafari and its connection to Ethiopia, now used as a stand-in for reggae, Rastafari, Jamaica. And even beyond that, ites gold and green has been stripped down to impute a hip, cool, hype and cosmopolitan sensibility that is connected across high-profile runways and grounded on the earthy organicism that is Jamaican.
How do we monetise Jamaican music for its creators? An obvious point of injection is of course the collection of royalties of various sorts from the rights management agencies both local and international. Today, dancehall and reggae artistes and their management have access to information from a variety of local sources like Jamaica Association of Composers Authors and Publishers (JACAP), Jamaica Music Society (JAMMS), Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA), and a range of international sources that should ensure that artistes benefit from all the royalties and rights vested in their intellectual property. Yet, many have still not capitalised on all the opportunities that exist here — some are signed to international entities like American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or have signed with a rights management specialist in the UK or other country, while ignoring the local entities. The stories abound.
But what excites my imagination far more is the notion that dancehall and reggae artistes can innovate additional income streams that are brokered on their own unique brand. This is a very popular activity with US-based artistes. For example, fragrances have long been a very popular product line with artistes. These include Diddy (Unforgivable), Rihanna (RiRi), Britney Spears (Curious, Fantasy), JLo (Glow, Glowing, Still), Beyonce (Heat, Still), Mariah Carey (Forever) and Nicki Minaj (Pink Friday). Many of us followed the story of music producer Dr Dre's Beats by Dre (Beats Electronics LLC) and the rise of its very popular headphones, with the parent entity eventually sold to Apple in 2014 for US$3 billion. And, when hip hop mogul, Master P launched his line of automotive rims back in 2005 (P Miller Rims by Ashanti) to complement his clothing lines (P Miller Clothing, Respect Denim), his idea was that he wanted to add a Master P flavour to what already existed — the aesthetic update of cars of all ages and types, even in the hood. Along with his musical career, Master P's business ventures include food, clothes, real estate and television network. In 2020 he launched his own food line “Uncle P's” as a direct competitor to others like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's that were under fire for racist stereotypes in their packaging and names. His estimated net worth of US$200 million positions him as one of the wealthiest persons in the US' hip hop scene.
For Jamaican artistes, the experiment with branded T-shirts is very popular, and several expanded into clothing lines. Alkaline's Vendetta brand of male and female clothing is very popular with his followers, and Cham (formerly Baby Cham) has an appealing line of male and female Lawless clothing. Vybz Kartel's moves in this direction early in his career included his signature Vybz Rum, a very distinct connection to entertainment and partying around which his career was oriented. His release of a brand of cake soap was metaphorically connected to his song of the same name, but also a singular method to earn additional funds. You will also recall Kartel's television reality series Teacha's Pet, that was abruptly ended with his arrest and later conviction for murder. In all of these, while maintaining his musical output, Kartel promoted products oriented around his signature brand, and were geared towards increasing his net worth from a variety of income streams. To date, no other dancehall artiste has been as energetic about expanding his/her brand beyond the obvious musical output, except one.
Of all the female artistes currently visible in Jamaican popular music, reigning Queen of the Dancehall, Spice's innovations at monetising her brand stand out as impressive and cutting-edge.
What I find exceptional is how all these connect directly from her artiste persona and delve into the body of her fan base with ease. From her Faces and Laces line, featuring makeup and a line of colourful wigs geared towards her female fans, to her Graci Noir clothing line with options that cover the range of body sizes that are particular to black women, these 'money moves' broker on Spice's persona and speak directly to dancehall's edgy fashion codes, fashionable black women of all body types, and contemporary youth culture. Spice's stint on Love and Hip Hop Atlanta brought her front and centre into the eyes and minds of a broader market, including those in the USA, and she has capitalised on this to her credit. Spice and her team continue to use the online frontier to market these products, even as she continues to make her musical mark. Kudos.
I truly believe that monetising one's brand as a dancehall or reggae artiste is a key component of the outward stretch that our Jamaican artistes must engage with. The opportunity to market and sell innovative products online has increased exponentially and must be grasped with both hands, especially by those whose brands hit global recognition. Beyond the obvious output of music and lyrics, the market is wide open for an innovative range of products that speak to the breadth and depth of Jamaica's popular and very marketable culture.
Donna P Hope, PhD is professor of culture, gender and society at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies. A staunch advocate for Jamaica's popular music, she has been a global representative for Jamaican music and culture in the print and electronic media, and on many academic and popular stages. Hope has worked on various committees in Jamaica's Ministry of Culture, as well as with the annual Festival Song Contest (JCDC) and, over the years, has contributed to local events including Sting, Reggae Sumfest, and Reggae Sunsplash. She was the Programme Chair of the inaugural Global Reggae Conference in 2008 and subsequently organised and chaired three International Reggae Conferences in 2010, 2013 and 2015 at the UWI. Over the last 25 years, she has written and published numerous articles and five books on the music and culture.
Professor Hope is the Founder of The Dancehall Archive and Research Initiative (www.dancehallarchive.org) which aims to preserve, innovate and disseminate information about dancehall culture. Since 2020 her team has spearheaded the innovative online Dancehall Vibes seminar series and continues to work with stakeholders in Jamaica, Europe and Latin America to make share information about dancehall culture.
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