Reggae, dancehall and technology
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, September 19, 2021
With Roshaun “Bay C” Clarke
I have spent many years dedicated to the genres of Jamaican music.
From the foundational sounds on which I grew up as a fan of the music to my formative years as a performing artiste, these have come together to create the basis of my love for cultural music and the young and rebellious spirit of dancehall, which embodies my very fibre.
During this journey I have enjoyed the fame, fortune, and popularity that comes with being at the forefront of the culture and also the tedious intricacies of the music industry's back-end. The many other players that create this infrastructure – the producers, mixing engineers, distributors, selectors, radio announcers, marketers, booking agents, managers and, most recently added, social influencers – all play as vital a role as the artistes that the fans love.
It has always made me appreciate the full spectrum of our music business.
The latest to strike my interest is the application of technology to the development of our music. In the 1980s legends, such as Sly and Robbie, Steely and Clevie, and the great King Jammy's, brought electric drums and synthesisers to a traditionally live musical landscape. This changed the game forever.
Although this now seems like the norm, this was a technological breakthrough back then, exploding in the eardrums of music lovers. During the 1990s music video technology leaped bounds and we saw our dancehall heroes with big-budget videos on popular American cable television station Black Entertainment Television ( BET) and marvelled at the reach of dancehall in global pop culture.
The early 2000s paved the way for home studios, completely democratising the barrier to entry for young creatives. Some say this was a bad thing, causing inexperienced and unproven talents to drop the standard of quality for our genres, while others say it led to more innovation in the sound. In 2004/2005 we saw the launch of Youtube, Facebook, and the rise of the social media and streaming wave that we are still riding. How do these and future technologies affect reggae and dancehall?
In my opinion, it is always best to embrace new technologies and, in this regard, the early adapters stand the best chance of reaping the rewards. For the living legends who missed the social media wave, for instance, they can testify to this. Like it or not, we now live in a world where the value of our favorite artiste is no longer based on how rare this artiste is, how amazing their songs are, or how many years they have paid their dues in the music business; instead, it is based on how many likes, followers, and views they have. Again, those who adapted to this early on can testify to still being seen as relevant.
It is in the context of this that I turn to the latest technology to hit the music industry, NFTs.
An NFT or non-fungible token, in its simplest definition, is a unique digital asset built on blockchain technology. Blockchain technology refers to the technology that underlines cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and in the case of NFTs, mainly Ethereum. What this means is that, the owner of an NFT can have a digital asset – static image, motion graphic, song, gif, or video clip – that is valued in cryptocurrency.
For some, like myself, it took a little while to grasp the benefit of this concept and how it would work for an artiste. However, if we take one step back and think of the collectible culture associated with physical cards from Pokemon to baseball and the National Basketball Association (NBA), then think of this in the sense of a digital version, we can start to understand the perceived value. But how does this apply to musicians?
Well, at the very least, an artiste (or any creative for that matter) can create an NFT or better yet, a collection of NFTs, around a particular release. A great and proven example of this is the American rock band Kings of Leon dropping their NFTs that had added benefits such as backstage access to concerts, downloadable link to unreleased music, and limited edition vinyl as well. Other artistes such as Eminem, The Weeknd, and Tory Lanez have all had tremendous success with their releases. In the Jamaican music scene, we have seen NFTs released by myself with the BayC coin, Morgan Heritage, and others.
One of the most important benefits of launching your NFT is that it allows you to engage your community of fans and supporters directly without any middle person. You now have the flexibility to create interesting audio, graphics, or visuals that represent your art and sell this directly to your fans. Another great benefit is that, when creating your NFT, you can design it in a way that you get a 10 to 20 per cent cut each time the NFT is traded or resold. So if A buys my NFT for US$200, then sells it one year later for US$250, then I, as the creator of the NFT, would get 20 per cent of that second sale, and this will go on in perpetuity for the life of the NFT.
There are of course risks with this technology as well.
One example is that your fans may not be familiar with navigating the crypto world. In this case there are platforms which allow fans to purchase with traditional currencies via credit card, taking away some of the crypto onboarding needed on other NFT platforms.
In conclusion, though, NFTs can be seen as a way to make your brand as tradable as a stock on your national stock exchange. A person can literally purchase one of the new Bay-C NFTs tied to my upcoming album King Bass and not only purchase memorabilia for this album, but also be buying into the future of Bay C. A supporter may say, “I see Bay-C's trajectory and I believe that in five years from now he will be worth 10 times his value. This means that his NFT will also be 10 times more valuable. Look at it another way, if you knew in 1970 what you know now, wouldn't you buy a stock share in Bob Marley and his music? I think the answer is a resounding, yes.
With NFTs you now can buy into your favourite artiste/brand. It allows for the artiste to monetise their brand in a way that allows the benefits to flow right back to the creator. It's the newest technology and may be an avenue to generational wealth and the new metric of success. But only the early adapters will reap the highest rewards.
Roshaun “Bay C” Clarke describes himself as the bass voice of dancehall. Known for his witty lyrics and signature deep tone, the musician broke on to the Jamaican music scene in the late 1990s and has had a successful career, selling platinum albums twice in Japan and hitting the Billboard charts as part of the dancehall quartet T.O.K.
Since the members of T.O.K went their separate ways in 2015, Clarke has been steadily carving out a path as a solo artiste with the 2018 release of Holy Temple, a 10-track album deeply rooted in spirituality and romance. He is currently preparing for the October release of his latest project King Bass, which he describes as a return to his dancehall roots.