6 months ago

Global Reggae Charts - Issue #13 / June 2018

Inside you can find the latest reggae album, single, and riddim charts based on votes by radio DJs and music directors from around the world.


Reggae Careers in the Internet Age Part IV: Do-it-yourself vs. Labels: How Artists Structure Their Business in 2018 Text: Thomas Euler // These days, there is a lot of talk about DIY (do-ityourself) artists among music industry people. The term refers to artists who forgo the traditional model of signing with a music label and instead opt to take their business into their own hands. By leveraging the possibilities that the internet has created, DIY artists take care of everything from production to marketing and distribution; in most cases not entirely on their own, but with a small, dedicated team – all without giving away the rights to their music. While labels can certainly still provide value to artists, the DIY path is becoming a viable alternative. had to be on the shelves of retailers across the globe. This presented a logistical challenge – one that no individual artist could realistically have managed to overcome. Record labels (the majors in particular) filled that void by building the required infrastructure for distribution and relationships to retailers. The labels basically owned distribution (and therefore could dictate terms to artists, e.g. demanding to own the rights to the music). It was almost impossible to get in front of a sizable audience without their support. As a result, artists had little bargaining power in the world of physical distribution. Artists that have gone a long way in this fashion include: Lil Yachty, Chance the Rapper (who turned down $10mil offers to stay indie) or Major Lazer. And, just as importantly, some artists who formerly had label deals decided to go independent as well. Frank Ocean famously played a trick on Def Jam/ Universal: while still being contractually obliged to deliver a new album, he released an obscure visual album on Def Jam, only to release his proper album Blond the next day — on his own label Boys Don’t Cry. In order to understand why DIY is increasingly popular among artists, it is necessary to understand the underlying changes in the music business world that laid the foundation from which the trend could emerge. The simple answer of course is the internet. But let’s dig a little deeper. - From distribution to discovery - Before the internet and the advent of digital distribution – at first selling files and nowadays streaming – music was sold on physical records. To get it in the hands of as many people as possible, the records That, however, is no longer the case. Distributing digital music takes only a few clicks. While there are several distribution tools, DistroKid is likely the gold-standard. For $20 a year, artists can get their music to all the relevant services from Spotify to Apple Music, from YouTube to iTunes. Thus, distribution is no longer the key challenge in the music market. The bigger challenge today is building an audience. As music (like all other content) is now only a click away, fans nowadays have access to a practically unlimited amount of music. The critically scarce resource is no longer shelve space but attention. A good product is certainly a key ingredient to accumulate the latter. However, and I suppose much to the dismay of many artists, it isn’t enough. Instead, it takes active marketing efforts to make sure people actually find the music. To put it in a bit more technical terms: the internet has reduced distribution costs to (essentially) zero; today’s challenge is discovery (from the user’s perspective) or attracting users (from the artist’s perspective). - Many jobs, different models - At the same time, the internet is also an important global reggae charts | issue 13 / june 2018 4

global reggae charts feature tool for every artist trying to build an audience. While doing so is certainly a lot of work, it doesn’t require nearly the same huge financial investments as in the world of mass media. With the investment of time and effort, artists can go a long way. Using social media and reaching out to specific communities-of-interest (e.g. reggae, dancehall, rap) can move the needle visibly. The catch here, of course, is that no artist can do it truly independently (as in: alone), for the limiting factor is time. Here are some of the jobs that a DIY artist needs to take care of: • booking & tour management • marketing, PR, radio & TV promotion • video production • ticket sales • merchandising • brand partnerships • retail distribution (if applicable) Even though digital tools have made all of these simpler, it’s too much for any one person to handle. Yet, it no longer takes a traditional label to get them done either. There is a whole heap of specialized service providers that get the jobs done, and most successful DIY artist have assembled a capable team – a.k.a. an entourage – around them that manages many of the tasks. As a result, artists structure their business and contracts in many different forms today. There is no longer a norm. Instead, you’ll find all kinds of setups ranging from 360 deals with major labels — where the label basically takes care of everything and gets a cut of all revenue streams, including live performances — to complicated structures where a label might be involved but only as a service provider. For instance, it might handle distribution or marketing but only license (not own) the masters. In other cases, no traditional label (as in: it owns the rights to music) might be involved because the artist works with several specialized vendors. The key takeaway here is: alternatives to labels exist. That’s significant (and should possibly frighten the labels). Because it means artists have a choice. Labels suddenly have to compete with a new class of competitors that handle jobs that would have traditionally been firmly in the labels’ hands. A key difference between the traditional label model and the new service providers is the terms offered to artists – importantly also including the rights. Labels traditionally held the rights to the music of the artists they signed; many of their new competitors don’t. For a business-minded musician, that can clearly be a big factor: owning your own rights not only assures maximum earning potential from royalties but also allows you to control (and benefit from) all additional revenue streams as for instance licensing. Therefore, it’s not surprising that more and more artists don’t feel attracted by the label model and try the DIY path instead. - Why labels still matter - But even though DIY is a significant trend, it would certainly be premature to prepare a eulogy for the labels. Not only are their services still relied upon by many artists, they moreover still have cultural significance. While researching this piece I talked to Falk Schacht, one of Germany’s best-known rap journalists and a music industry insider for 20+ years. He reminded me that many artists still regard being signed to a renowned label as a signal of prestige. Plus, there are still tangible advantages for artists. The first one: security. When artists sign a contract, the label pays them an advance. While going DIY is essentially the entrepreneurial approach to a music career, signing with labels is likely the preferred option for artists who want to avoid the risk that comes with betting big on oneself. Moreover, labels provide the one-stop shop solution to all the jobs I listed above. That’s quite convenient (at least in theory), as aspiring artists can focus on their music without having to assemble – and manage – an entire team of collaborators. However, the main argument which industry insiders 5 global reggae charts | issue 13 / june 2018