The good, the bad and the ugly of dub splicing
Curtis Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Sound clashes were extremely popular in the '80s and '90s, and saw sound systems like Sound Trooper, Silver Hawk, Pink Panther, Black Kat, Bass Odyssey, among others, being immortalised by fans. However, there was a drastic decline in sound clashes in Jamaica, and many systems were forced to take their talents to places like Japan and the United States (US), in an effort to salvage what remained of the sound system culture.
In recent years, corporate brands like Guinness and Magnum have hosted sound clashes in an attempt to revive the culture, an effort which has been welcomed by sound system operators and saw the exposure of some new clash faces from Flava Unit, Red Heat and Bredda Hype sound systems, among others.
Sound system clashes are huge income generators for selectors and recording artistes, who rely on mutual favours to develop themselves or their respective brands. The selectors rely on recording artistes to sell them customized versions of their popular songs as dubplates, while recording artistes hope their songs are played in the dance, so as to earn from their work, as well as benefit from the promotion of the record. However, that mutual relationship is sometimes disrupted, when unscrupulous persons try to cash in on the benefits of sound clashes by partaking in what is called 'dubplate splicing'.
'Dubplate splicing' refers to a process in which original recordings have been modified to a dubplate format, using a computer or an artiste impersonator. The illegitimate recording is now called a 'spliced dubplate', and may be sold cheaper than an original dubplate, or even more expensive, depending on the level of demand or greedy desire of the unscrupulous person. Many recording artistes and sound systems have fallen victim to this practice. Sound systems have lost clashes as a result of spliced dubplates, and recording artistes have lost revenue-earning opportunities, which goes into the pockets of impersonators.
Veteran reggae artiste Super Beagle is one who has fallen victim to splicing for decades, and he tells The Sunday Gleaner that he is ready to stand up against the practice, citing that dubplate splicing is a copyright infringement. The singer says his internationally renowned commercial dupblate single Dust A Soundboy has been spliced so often that it has different storylines and concepts.
"Dust A Soundboy was recorded in the 80s and I believe it is one of the most spliced songs ever. When I did the song I only did one version, which was the sound clash concept. But nowadays mi a hear versions hitting out on certain sexual practice and versions saying who is getting love from woman tonight from who is not," he said.
According to the artiste, while he has no problem with persons who have respected his work enough to offer their own interpretations and versions, credit must be given where due. He says the only person who should sell a dubplate for Dust A Soundboy is himself, or his intro man Fuzzy Jones. However, Jones is now deceased.
"I love music and I do cover versions, too. Suh I don't have a problem with a man doing a cover version to my song, because it's a big hit globally. But when a man a guh voice a dubplate of my song or use computer mek it over and pass it off as me and collect money, now that is where I draw the line. Mi a human enuh, I have kids to feed, too. So if a man want a dubplate, simply find mi and we deal with it the right way," Super Beagle said.
The veteran artiste also expressed disappointment at sound system operators who knowingly accept spliced dubs instead of contacting the original creators. He also disclosed that dubplate prices vary as it relates to the popularity of the song and calibre of the artiste, but highlighted that a commercial artiste could earn anywhere between $100,000 to $500,000 for one dubplate.
"I left the island and lived in the US, where I was touring with my band for years. But I recently decided that I want to come home, because Jamaica is the place to be if you want real inspiration to do reggae music. Because I wasn't around, the youth dem nuh really know mi, although they know my music, but that will soon change. I have a new album coming and I plan to upload a video to let fans know how to find me. No need to splice me anymore, because mi dah ya fi dust the sound boy dem," Super Beagle warned.
Radio DJ and clash selector SJ Lux told The Sunday Gleaner that the practice of splicing dubplates can be damaging to recording artistes in a manner that exceeds financial gains. He says branding and public perception of recording artistes are also at stake.
"Some artistes don't use expletives in their music and when somebody makes a spliced dub of that artiste's music and use expletives, it leaves bad impressions. Some fans are not very forgiving and they will instantly lose respect for the artistes," SJ Lux pointed out.
The Suncity DJ also said some spliced dubplates are poorly produced because some persons who splice dubplates have little or no value for the work of the artiste being spliced, therefore, anything goes.
The iconic and controversial Ricky Trooper, however, said recording artistes were to shoulder part of the blame, as he says they have been charging too much for dubplates. The veteran sound clash selector says $100,000 is too much for one dubplate, when selectors are hardly earning $50,000 for a night's work.
"If one dubplate cost $100,000 how wi a guh buy 10 of dem? When at the same time yu nah mek $50,000 to play for the night. Every sound system man splice at some point of dem career, but dem nah guh admit that to the media. But the artiste dem leave dem with no choice because dem too expensive and that also lead to the decline of Jamaica's sound clash culture. Yu have some youth in the ghetto wey sound same like the original singer and yu pay dem a small change and dem deal wid it ... but a di original artiste dem cause dat," Trooper declared.
The selector also advises sound system operators to form relationships with recording artistes in order to gain their loyalty. Ricky Trooper will next clash in November, when he will match up against Poison Dart from Miami and Reggae King from St Elizabeth.