22 March 2011

The Secret of making money in today's music industry

I often try to remain the least cynical as humanly possible in regards to the business end of music. But sometimes even I can reach a point where the obvious exploitation of corporations and get rich quick schemes bother me. I am one for free trade, free economy and all the other ideals that can make one rich by his own cunning and hard work. To this end I cannot really place the blame on the schemes that I will be vehemently commenting on in this blog. BUT I can express an utter disgust with extreme prejudice to those who do not take their craft seriously enough to get ripped off by these schemes. There have been a million articles on how to make money in the music business, but I will show you the REAL secret in a few short paragraphs.

So what is this huge secret..SIMPLE..SELL DREAMS...That's right people, all you have to do today to make money at music is sell DREAMS. No actual recording necessary, forget your mixing engineer..You don't even have to make music. All you have to do is find a way to exploit the dreams of those who are so blinded by becoming a "success" that they cannot see the obvious scam in front of them. (I use the word scam lightly here). Sounds crazy? Do a quick search on getting a record deal, or submitting music to industry professionals. You will get the picture very quickly.

I have seen so many companies restructure their business into these "submission" sites where an unsigned artist can upload his music and professional EPK to be viewed by "industry professionals" its sickening. Now for a small fee, your music (that would have never been heard by anyone but your friends and family) can be heard by these "industry pro's." They in turn will tell you if your music sucks or not, then further match you with the best "Opportunities" where you can submit your music for a chance at several mediocre shots at fame. These usually consist of some internet radio station no one has ever heard of playing your song once, or your band being given the high honor or playing at some music festival you have never heard of FOR FREE, while the promoters and organizers make tons of money off of concession stand sales and people humble enough to buy a ticket to hear bands they never heard of. I have seen some sites go as far as to offer you a low "submission" fee to get your music to a Label for a chance to be added to that labels roster.

How can this possibly be a rip off at such low prices you might ask? (The usual submission fee is typically under $20.00USD) Well, depending on how you look at it, it really isn't. They will submit your music to all of these opportunities that they have listed on their site. And you have the same shot as everyone else who has submitted their music. Here is the underlaying problem. If I have 10,000 people submitting to an "Opportunity" on my site, you now have a 1 in 10,000 shot of being selected. Now, if this "Opportunity" is being promoted elsewhere (usually in Trade Publications) that decreases your chances dramatically. Let's say you only paid $4.00 US to submit this music. No big loss right? What's $4.00? (Well in NYC that is a subway ride, a bag of chips and a bottle of water. Enough to keep a starving artist running for an entire day) But here is the real kicker. Remember I said that these so-called "Opportunities" are often printed in Trade publications. The artists who submit through regular channels pay NOTHING. So you have essentially paid $4.00 to submit your music, and have the same shot at your song being picked as the artist who paid nothing. One person benefits from this....the person running the site! If I run this promotion, putting a deadline of one month, I have effectively made $40,000 in one month selling everyone a pipe dream.

Now onto the Radio Promotion sites popping up. Same B.S, different medium. There are a couple sites that will let you upload a certain amount of music for free, in which there is a template to make a EPK, ect....You pay more to store more music on their site (usually around $4-$10 a month). They further come with the "Opportunity" of you being able to send this EPK and your music directly to Music Directors at radio stations. You enter this information manually by the way! So they are not increasing your contacts. All they are basically doing is providing you with your own web page. There are others that will submit your music to radio stations. But these are mostly internet radio stations with a couple hundred listeners AT MOST. While some may say this level of exposure is better than none, I say your an idiot. To pay money to be exposed to a couple hundred people for exactly the length of your song on some unknown internet radio station does NOTHING for you. It is a known fact that most people have to be exposed to a new brand, item or song at least 8 times before they even being to register it in their short term memory. Let us not mention that this type of radio play does not focus on demographics, geographic area or artist marketing. It is simply what they promised; AIR PLAY. Utterly useless to anyone actually serious about being a well known, well paid and well respected artist.

People, please wake up. With so much going on in the world, now is not the time to waste any second. If you are serious about your craft, do your research. Make informed educated decisions about your music, your money management and everything else surrounding your future career as a musician. These sites sell dreams. They also play on your disposable income. To pay $4.00 to submit to this "grand" opportunity won't break anyones budget. They are literally BANKING on that!

There is no way around the reality that it takes a significantly well planned marketing strategy backed by strong financing to make an indent in today's music market. With the introduction of cheap recording project studios, the internet and these foolish sites, there is even MORE noise added to the arena making it cost even MORE to get out there. Of course, you can always go viral, and of course there are Cinderella stories. But they do not call them stories arbitrarily. All viral hits eventually become funded to make the career of someone. Labels still only take certain submissions seriously for Roster consideration. They still come from high priced lawyers or the A&R department. Just because things are shrinking doesn't mean the game has completely changed.

Save your money! A paid submission is almost never a good submission! Now there are some sites out there that give you some serious opportunities to connect with real music industry pro's. These connections can actually lead you into making a living doing what you love. But the price won't be $5.00. Make sure to read the success stories. Are these sites working with anyone you know? Even if they are working with anyone you know, are they working with people in your genre? Demand to see what placements they have gotten others, what type of radio play and where. What was the frequency of play? Did it make it into rotation? Who is the staff running the site? 9 times out of 10 you have never heard of them, or they are someone who USED to work somewhere meaningful in the market. Now unemployed, you have become their employer without even knowing it.

Let's save the music industry from our own ignorance and laziness. Sell others your dream, do not let them sell you your own!

16 November 2010

Why the Soca Music Business is Failing

Everybody has heard it; there is no money in Soca, Reggae, Zouk ect. You're better off doing R&B, Hip Hop, Pop, World. But that's all nonsense. There is not a form of music on this planet that cannot generate an economy around itself. And Caribbean music has done just that. Caribbean carnivals are amongst the largest vacation destinations in the world. Reggae itself has generated a world wide audience since The Wailers and Soca (through share migration of West Indians alone) has spread to every corner of the globe. So why is it that most artist and producers involved in Soca music are still broke for the most part? I can sum it up in one word:Free. Everybody expects something for free.

Let me clarify and see if their is a logical beginning I could start from. I remember a time when, as a DJ, you either had to be extremely good or extremely popular to be in a record pool. This would get you new music on vinyl. That means, if you did not fall into those categories, you had to invest in your craft/career. This normally meant a weekly (or more) visit to the DJ Church. Some of you might remember it as a record store. Does anyone remember the last time they saw a record store? I still see frames of them around town. But they have turned into the proverbial western movie scene with tumble weed blowing through and unvegetated ground into a prairie of nothingness. At that time, because of the large investments, DJ's used to respect themselves enough to properly market and treat their craft as a business. When they did get work, they commanded a decent salary for the night. This in turn, forced promoters to only hire AT MOST three DJ's for their event. DJ's played for more than 20 minutes, and had ample time to get well into a set, playing all they could from their record case. Hell, then spent hours in the record store screening this music and found it fit enough to buy. Hence it was fit enough to play. He also wanted time to show off his sound system, which is something almost every DJ aspired to have. Conversely, the party goers would usually get exposer to new music during these parties and once in a while by radio. (Back then their was only one large format radio station in New York that played Caribbean music. Now we have none..or should I say no legal stations..just adds to my death theory) They would then visit the same record stores that the DJs were frequenting in and buy an album. Yes I said it..AN ALBUM.

At that time, I can also remember there was a lot less music in circulation. This is because you had to rent a studio, hire a producer, engineer, musicians and equipment to make a record. If you wanted it to be a hit record, ALL the talent associated with the record had to be top notched. You know...EXPERTS in their field. Also, because of the cost of the equipment, it demanded a significant amount of money to produce a record. That meant you either had to care enough about your career to invest it, or someone had to believe in your talent enough to invest on your behalf. In those days it seemed that artists understood that the record was the actual product that was being sold. They also understood for the most part, if the product wasn't good a ton of money would go down the drain.

These things that I previously mentioned did not come without their downsides however. Being an avid soca lover outside of the Caribbean usually meant that you did not hear new music until it was already going stale back in its country of origin. It also meant if a local artist or producer did not have enough funding or connections, his music would only be a local hit, because he would not be able to get distribution outside of his island. Of course, we Caribbean people always have a solution. Many people started bringing back mixed tapes from DJ's when they went back to their native lands. These mixed tapes would then be copied and either given away for free, or worst, sold without any permissions from the actual property owners. This was the first introduction to the Caribbean bootleg market.

There were other more prosperous solutions that became available however. Following in the footsteps of America and the UK, we started to see the emergence of the record store/record label model throughout the Caribbean. VP Records, Straker, JW Records and Crosby's are just a few names I could remember that started a heavy and regular influx of soca music into the American market. This increase in circulation led to more sales, bigger profits and best of all..more world recognition of our indigenousness music.

As time went on however, technology also improved. With any technological improvement, if their is no unity amongst manufacturer's, salesmen and technology specialists, the market beings to fail due to easier availability to the layman. The mixed tape introduced young hustlers to an important fact..They could buy one record in the store, play it on their record player, record it to tape..and sell copies of that tape for a profit. This meant back in the Caribbean, people were no longer supporting the record stores, because they could get the same album on the street, or even better...the best songs on a number of albums, on one tape for half the price. But the good side was more people were buying music. It also meant more local music would reach abroad.

Technology continued to improve, and we continued to abuse. When CD became the standard format of music delivery, we were back in a good place. Right up until the time when consumer CD duplicators became affordable. Then the bootlegging resumed in a bigger way. Bootlegs were able to be done cheaper, faster and on a less expensive medium. That meant the price of a normal album over a bootleg one wasn't even comparable. Technology improved in the studio as well as in the DJ market. Production became more affordable, entry level DJing became essentially free. The studio format began getting smaller and smaller and we began to hear more music from every genre. Then came the black plague of the music industry in general; MP3 format.

By now you may be asking yourself how is this particular to Soca music, as most of the things I have said in this rant have affected the music world in general. Well let me tell you. We Caribbean people seem to enjoy taking shortcuts. So when technology became cheaper, we started short changing one of the most important things about our culture: the music. Because it became so easy to get, people no longer visited the record store. They don't even visit the bootleg guy anymore. They just download it and burned a CD! Of course you do not have to invest any money to be a DJ anymore, because you can just download the music off the internet, load it onto a laptop and go play on someone else system with someone else's Serato box. So Soca DJ's became a dime a dozen. Once that happened promoters stopped respecting the DJ career. Dj's who were dying for exposure were basically begging promoters to play in their parties for free. The market became saturated and the price DJ's were commanding dwindled to just about drink money these days.

Now all you need is a laptop and a mic to be a "studio." So we see the uprising of thousands of new producers and artists. This would normally be a good thing, especially in soca which is known for being seasonal to each island's carnival. But what it did do was introduce unseasoned, unpracticed and unlearned people to the masses. Most did not take time out to study their craft, improve at it, and release a record when it was GOOD. Things went from a studio full of specialized talent in each part of the process, to the producer being a one man army. Don't believe me? Check the credits of a normal soca release these days (If you can find the credits). The music is composed, produced, mixed and mastered by one guy! In a BEDROOM. Not a space specifically designed to capture beautiful sonic landscapes. A BEDROOM. This has lead to is a lot of noise being on the soca market scene.

Noise is not good for a genre as small as the soca market. The buying base is already tiny as compared to world standards, and the culture in the Caribbean is very unforgiving. When the masses began to hear all this noise, it disheartened them even more and they now refuse to buy anything in fear that it would all be terrible. They do not support anything because of a long history of being disappointed. And when they do actually like something, they know they can get it for free. The culture of freeness since the mixed tape has grown into an all out monster.

With absolutely no buying base the business began to fail even more. The product (album) no longer had a viable consumer base and artist began doing away with recording an album. As a matter of fact I would go out on a limb and say the art form of album making is just about lost in soca. It still survives in reggae because the music has become popular worldwide and has been embraced as a year round music. But even reggae sales are in the toilet. Need we talk about the opening sales figures of both Movado and Vybz Kartel albums?

With no more album production and more singles coming out, the decline of the large format studio and hiring of professional studio hands, the increase of bedroom studios and basement producers, and the influx of terrible artist and no monetary entry DJ's, we have gotten to a point that our music is of the lowest quality ever. It is no longer attractive for promoters to fly bands half way around the globe, because most bands and artists just do not have enough material to put on a show or sound really terrible. And now, because most Caribbean artist depend solely on show money to survive, they overcharge for stage performances. Most DJs cannot play past 20 minutes anymore because the culture has changed into having 6 or more DJ on one cast. Essentially, the profit is gone from our music.

So now what happens when you need to increase profit and lower costs? You look for things for FREE. (You know whats worst than hiring half talented artists and DJ'S? Hiring terrible artists and DJ's.) Artists don't want to spend money with producers and studios because they are seeing no sales and don't know where their next meal is coming from. Most do not do an album because no one will buy it, and even if someone would, they have no idea of how to effectively market it and sell it. Artist are now relying on stage shows, dubplates and friends couches when they travel overseas to make a profit. They get free beats from upcoming producers who are unproven, untested and just want to get their name out. So now instead of doing one good song, they do 50 bad ones and hope some antics in their music catches the attention of the masses. Producers have to either play in bands or have a day job to survive. They send free beats and do free recordings in hopes that they will get a hit under their belt to attract future business. DJs have been undercutting each other for so long its just not viable if you understand business to even try to network for a gig. (Essentially most networking efforts will leave you at a lost, not profit, by the time you get the gig). Promoters refuse to pay what were standard prices to Artists because its really just not worth having an artist with one hot song on stage for anything above MAYBE a couple hundred dollars. And of course, the listening public just steals the music off the internet, or get it from DJ's in mixed CD's for free.

The spiral continues. Those who have actually been able to cut above the noise now realize that it is more important to spend their money on marketing, because if they are the only ones with money and can out-market everyone else, it really doesn't matter how the music sounds. In the soca music business, saturation, visibility, familiarity and trends make a hit. How many times have you listened to a soca song and asked yourself what the hell is that! Why is this so popular. Then by the following month you are in the middle of the dance floor with a drink in your hand singing it word for word at the top of your lungs? MARKETING!!! How many times have you listened to your "favorite artist" new song for the season and thought it was just ok, then it ended up being your favorite? FAMILIARITY!!! Guess what the artists who cannot afford those marketing strategies do? They give their music away for free! All over the net, on the streets..everywhere..FREE. All in hopes of it catching in so that they can get hired for a stage show. You're better off playing craps at the casino! This "freeness" has become so embedded in our culture I don't know if it can ever be changed. It has single handedly ruined what could have been a viable world wide economy for a genre of music.

The worst part in all of this is I am just scraping the head of the beast. It goes far deeper so I will have do blog this in segments. This is a problem with no easy fix. Monetarily, being a soca artist just doesn't make sense if you like any kind of regular lifestyle. Life is expensive, and when your making $300 to $500 US a show (hopefully profit), that's not gonna take you very far. When you are making a product that you have to give away for free in order to try and sell, the business has become completely illogical. We need to support our own, which is something we aren't very good at as Caribbean people. I do have a solution to the problem, but unlike everyone else, I would not give it away for no gain just to make a name of myself. Sorry folks, no free meals here.

30 December 2009

Being a Real Man? Job vs. Career

Being a Real Man? Job vs. Career

I recently saw a definition to a word that made me sit back and think. The word was job. Job is defined by Google’s online dictionary as occupation: the principal activity in your life that you do to earn money” That made me think again. What was the definition of career? Well funny enough, career is defined by the aforementioned lexicon as “the general progression of your working or professional life”. Yes I checked other definitions, and of course I checked other dictionaries. These two were the most widely accepted explanations of these two distinct words. As is the English language, both definitions are circular. You can’t have one without the other…right?

Let me back track some. What led me to the point that I would be wasting away perfect beer drinking time daydreaming about anything other than a pair of double D’s? Well, it all started because of a conversation with my dear old dad. For a long time I had been struggling with my “job” I wasn’t from a lack of performance, not lack of pay, not because it was too hard; just plain old lack of interest. You see, I had been one of those people who fooled themselves into the American dream being my dream. I was a senior in High School and my parents were breathing down my throat about college. I’m no dead beat; I wanted to go to college too. I mean, who the hell wants to turn down college babes, beer binges and irresponsible keg stand fraternity nights? The only problem was, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I surely didn’t want to be one of those people who waste a fortune in tuition studying liberal arts. If you are a liberal arts kind of person, then by all means go for it. But let’s be honest, for most, it’s a cop out. So I was faced with the most important choice of my existence before the age of 18; what did I want to do with the rest of my life? Looking back on it now, it’s hardly fair. You can’t even legally drink in this country by that age. So I did what any self respecting alpha male would have done. I chose something where I could use my hands, but not labor every day. I went to college and majored in Architecture.

Was there something else I would have rather done? Of course! I wanted to be a musician. Travel the open road, wake up with a new groupie in my bed or tour bus every day. Puke out last night’s drugs and alcohol, and do it all over again. But what father (or mother for that matter) would encourage their child to be a musician? In my parents mind, I would spend half of my life starving, and then the other half stuck in the mail room. I also wanted to be a writer, but they thought that I would spend my life in dark rooms living on coffee and scotch with tons of scratch paper and no real life. (Well in their defense they were right once) So they never encouraged me in any of the things that I actually liked.

To make a very long story short, off I go after graduation into the rat race. I get a decent job at a respectable firm. I worked my way up from an intern to a junior designer. I switched firms, got a raise, and got promoted to senior designer. I spent 50 hours a week in the office, behind a desk. The other hours in the day where dedicated to trying to blow off steam at a local club or bar, and then on a local chick or three. I was young, I was making money, had a respectable job, and I was miserable. All of this suffering was because I didn’t understand the real difference between a job and a career.

So now, let’s throw out that girly definition that Google provided us with and get real. A job is something you do to get a paycheck. It can be anything, and it doesn't have to be something you like. The only reason you do it is because beer and cigarette money has to come from somewhere. Chicks dig shiny cars and you can’t pay your Porsche note with unemployment checks. It’s something that we drag our ass out of bed in the morning to do, just for money. This is what most of us have. There are often two categories that we all fall into. Category one is filled with guys who actually thought their field was “the” thing they wanted to do. It was only after college that they realized it blowed. Category two is filled with pansies like me; “men” who had a real passion for something, but feared failure or poverty. So we all took a job.

A career, my friends, is much different. You see, a career is that thing we envy guys like Hugh Heffner for. It is a passion. It is a living breathing animal that hunts down its prey, drags it back to the hut, and then gets laid by all the village virgins. It is a real man’s pursuit. A career is something that you never stop doing, no matter the hour of night or day. It is a lifelong road of travel, that doesn’t stop when the check stops. And it is never only for the check. A career will make you miss lunch and not care; it will keep you up until 4 am just to be out the door at 6am. This is what we all dream of. Chasing that thing we love the most, and being successful at it.

So what prevents us from doing this? One word; Fear. We fear not being rich. Hell, it’s the American way. We like our cars, houses and tits big. All those things cost a lot of money. We fear what society might think of us if we haven’t acquired some material possessions by a certain age, or reached certain milestones in our daily monetary lives. We fear not being able to hold on to Ms. Right or Ms. Right now because of our stature. What you do seems to define who you are. At least that is what you think.

All of this struck me one day while I was sitting in my 9 to whenever, safe, statured, weekly job. I was recently engaged to Ms. Right. I had it all and I was miserable. I knew this for some time. My job (the thing that consumes most of my living and breathing day) was making me absolutely unhappy. Finally, I said to myself, this is complete nonsense. Who the hell does something every single day that makes them unhappy? Only the insane, or people with desperate situations do things like this knowingly, right? I wanted to quit. I wanted to chase my dreams. But I had responsibilities now. I was getting married, thinking of buying my first home, getting a family car, blah blah blah. So as any man would do when he wants advice on being a man, I called my father. (Remember this article started off with a conversation with my dad? I’ll give you a minute to reread the beginning and catch up)

After I finished whining to my father for three beers and 3 minutes, he says: “Son, you have responsibilities now. You don’t have to love what you do; it just has to pay the bills. That is what being a real man is all about.” I expected nothing less. My father was a retired military man, who ended up working in the Post Office until he retired again. He always did what he had to do. He worked every Christmas to make overtime money to cover the loss on gifts and extra electricity consumption. He never bought a new car. He sacrificed until he bought his first home, then his second, and then his third. He didn’t care what he did to make money; as long as it was legal, and it was being made.

He closed the conversation by saying, “You have a long life and successful career ahead of you. Don’t blow it on some sort of early mid-life crisis.” That is when it hit me. I had no career. I was only doing enough to get by. Sure I was good at my job, but I never tried to excel past where the paycheck would support my current bills and habits. I never pursued learning more, or being involved in it after work. I did my job, and went home. That is a far shot from a career. I looked over at my aging father, and my mind was set. I respected my dad, but I did not want to end up like him. He merely existed all these years. Now he was a retired man with nothing to do. I was his biggest accomplishment. (and probably, biggest disappointment)

The following day, I went to work and knew it would be my last. I looked around the office and the midst cleared. It was like waking up in the Matrix and being offered to choose between the red or blue pill. I looked at all of my co-workers and subordinates. No one was smiling, no one was interested in what they were doing. Everyone was just on auto-pilot, getting by. As a matter of fact, the one guy who was always happy was probably the best employee I had at that place. But he really loved architecture. That was the difference.

So my friends, let’s stop fooling ourselves. Most of you are probably sneaking to read this article from work. Most guys are on some social networking site, blog, sports or porn site all day. If it’s not the internet, it is some other distraction. Did you ever stop to think the kind of time you could be investing in something you love, instead of what you were investing trying to be distracted from your job? 40 hours is a lot of hours! That doesn’t include the travel to and from the office, or the time you spend the night before preparing for your day. So it’s really more like 40-60 hours. If you can afford to, let go of that fear. Being a man is really about looking fear in the eye and breaking his jaw. Being a man is about doing what is the hardest and succeeding.

Unfortunately, most of us come to this realization when it’s a bit too late. We have a wife, kids and drinking habit to support. There is just no time to stop now and start over. Well to you naysayers I say, find a way. Be a man. Grow some balls. I know we all have to do what we have to do at the end of the day. But there is night. Build whatever it is you have to build until you can do it with your day too. You can never succeed at something you are not passionate about. You will only get by. Do you really want to wake up in your late 60’s and ask yourself what did you do with your life? Stop existing and start living my friends. There is more happiness to be found in a career, than there is money to be found in a job. After all, some dude wanted to do nothing but sit on the internet all day eavesdropping on his college buddies’ girl pics. He was passionate about it. Today Facebook is one of the most visited destinations on the net worldwide.

I did quit the day job. I never looked back. Since then I have become a semi-successful writer and a starving musician. Ms. Right is still here, and will be Mrs. Right very soon. It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes I don’t know where the mortgage money is coming from. But I will tell you this; waking up with peace of mind everyday and doing what I love with my day has improved my life in ways that money never could have. It’s noticeable. I smile again, even when I’m not drunk. So, for me, the struggle is worth it. My passion will make me money because I will only continue to learn and excel. Finally I am a real man. And guess what? My father just went back to get a college degree for the first time in his life. I guess he knew his own advice was half good and half bullshit. Just a little food for thought. Cheers.

24 November 2009

New Patterns in Dancehall Music..Daggering and Lock The Block

It's no secret, music has always been a copycat business. As soon as one particular style, pattern, chord progression or piece of equipment becomes popular, everyone else hops on the bandwagon to try and emulate the success of the creator. I used to loath this lack of creativity in the music business, but now I have just accepted it as part of the everyday life. I don't have to remind any of you of the Autotune craze that is still at the forefront of pop culture today.

Dancehall has been no exception for this rule. Around 2004 with the growing popularity of riddims produced by the likes of Stephen Di Genius McGregor and Don Corleon, dancehall took on a completely new format. Heavily autotuned vocals, trance style syth progressions, and military drum rolls permeated the genre and captivated the dedicated dancehall listeners. It was an exciting and welcomed change as the genre had felt stagnant for quite some time. But then, as all new patterns go, it was heavily imitated, sampled and duplicated. Let's be honest...every artist releasing music right now is either trying to sound, or does sound like a Vybz Kartel/Movado clone. It has left a lot of real music appreciators in turmoil, jumping over the reggae isle to more soulful music the likes of Jah Cure and Gyptian.

But of course, there are still some originators out there and this essay is dedicated to those new releases that have taken dancehall back to a heavy drum, bass and music driven genre. First on the list is the new daggering music. Even though I think you have to be insane to enjoy that dance style, there were a few producers and artists who saw the value of blending soca and reggae together to make a wilder kind of cross culture music. (Big ups to Traffic Ent, Charlie Blacks, Alfonso Splendid and so many others). This music has not only revolutionized the dancehall scene, it has turned the dance floor into a Hollywood stunt stage!

And of course, there are those releases that almost fall on deaf ears because of the lack of star power on the track. One of the most interesting I have heard lately comes out of the Mad Architect Music camp. The track is called "Lock The Block" (performed by Zeego Zarro featuring Viper) and can be heard on their website at the time of writing this article on this link (http:///www.madarchitectmusic.com/latestrelease.html). I don't know if it is because of the experience of everyone involved in the creation of this track, or the fact that the producer is from Trinidad and working with Jamaican artist who have been living in the US for a while. But this track definitely stands out as different, authentic and a breath of fresh air to the dancehall community. The track is almost a storyline of a Jamaican hustler experience, with a party like feel. It's really weird actually to hear a hardcore track that makes you want to dance and not kill someone. The bassline is sick! Reminiscent of The Metric Riddim with its over processed feel. And the best part..NO AUTOTUNE ON THE VOCALS.

Two brand new voices also help bring this track to life. Zeego Zarro has a straight up voice that doesn't sound like anyone else in the business. His dj style is unique and his delivery is at the level of the pro's. Viper has a voice very similar to Mega Banton. It is not so similar as to confuse you (he definitely has his own sound and style), but it's just enough to make you say, "Doesn't he sound like such and such." His lyrical ability is enough for an entirely new article. Let's just leave it at impressive.

The only place this track falls short is a lot of lyrical references to things specific to New York. Most people outside of New York just won't get it. But then again, one listen to the heavy bass and instrumentation of the riddim, and those who cannot appeal to the words will definitely be moving to the thump of the bass.

04 May 2009

Soca vs. Reggae? Who wins?

Growing up in the Caribbean, or another part of the world where Caribbean culture is very apparent, we have all run into this argument. Both sides claim credit as being the best party music, both claim to be the most original, and both have created a unique culture amongst it's indigenous and foreign fans.

If we were to base it off of worldwide influence, who could we say claimed the title? Dancehall has made its way to commercial radio limelight outside of Jamaica for over the last 20 years at least. Now claiming fans of all colors, races and ethnicities, it would be a fair assessment that it has claimed its space in the forefront of world music. Hell, its an official genre and recognized by the American culmination of "good" music, The Grammy's. Soca is not. But, most forget one thing...CARNIVAL..That is right, carnival in Trinidad and Tobago (as well as the other leeward and windward islands) is probably the biggest attraction of any celebration in the world, earning a cult like following from all islands, continents and corners of the globe. Is it the music? Probably more like the atmosphere that the music creates. But at the end of the day, a shining star in a clear glass case that dancehall cannot claim.

I believe for years the "Soca vs. Dancehall" debate was really an inherent "whose island is better" argument, which spilled over into the Caribbean's most popular and recognizable trait...Music.. But in these times it seems we are on the cusp of a major change. For the generation of the late 70's through 90's (my generation) we have had many, many cross over artists. The biggest in my mind to date is a toss up between Byron Lee, and Beenie Man's number one soca hit, "Jump and Wine." Since then, we have seen an influx of reggae and soca artist collaborating and musical masterworks, with sayings, nuances and dances crossing the cultural borders. Even the BPM's of some reggae songs of late can rival that of a Groovy soca song. So it just seemed fitting that eventually, along would come a spider, and spin a web of fusionary bliss between the two.

Yet, that attempt has only helped to add fuel to the argumentative fire. Tony "The Mad Architects" debut riddim, entitled "The Major Riddim" was supposed to be the beacon light, symbolizing the union of two cultures, ideals and musical styles. But it has turned into a bigger competition from both sides of the musical isle. (Yes "isle" is purposely misspelled, clever I know). This fusionary music style (name of genre still pending) has sounded the call from soca and dancehall artists, squaring off of the riddim to settle the argument. However, fortunately, and unfortunately, it doesn't seem like we are any closer to settling the beef. The soca artists have come up with some songstry ballads that are sure fire hits; while the dancehall side has stringed together some lightening like lyrics, along with well placed punch lines and hooks, placing them amongst the top of this riddim's elite.

So who will win this epic battle? Who has taken the lead? Seemingly this will be and endless saga that will never end with a clear victory. But it sure is fun to witness!