Sun | Apr 23, 2017

The rise of the music (PR) machines pt 1

Published:Saturday | November 22, 2014 | 11:00 AMMel Cooke
File A section of the Reggae Sumfest crowd during Dancehall Night 2013

A few weeks ago I had cause to speak to the Twin of Twins ahead of the release of the movie Ching Pow: Far East Yardies, for which they did the bulk of the voiceovers. It was after Reggae Sumfest 2014 and Dancehall Night came up for discussion even before the film.

One or the other Lox, in their own inimitable fashion, spoke about a newspaper report that came out just after the event. I can only paraphrase, not just because I did not write down what he said, but also because there were a couple spots of language that (unfortunately) cannot be published in this newspaper.

not impressed

To put it in a nutshell (and leaving out the names), the Lox said he went to Dancehall Night, from Dancehall Night, went home, slept, woke up and read a particular newspaper's website that a certain artiste had done very well and impressed the crowd immensely. Having seen the show himself and knowing that the artiste was far from impressive, the Twin said he went back to sleep because he did not want to wake up in that world.

I asked if there was a byline on the story, trying to determine if it had been written by a reporter for the newspaper or if it was a press release, although the timing suggested that it was the former. Still, I have had the experience of attending an event and, some time after, seeing a report in a newspaper that speaks about how well a particular artiste performed - which I know is not true. Plus, I have had the experience of reading glowing reports about an artiste before seeing them perform and, when I finally saw them myself, thinking, what the hell is this?

mismatch

The words and the flesh, just do not jibe.

This mismatch stems in large part from the deluge of public relations practitioners and their output which is carried in the pages of newspapers and read on radio (often, it seems, a regurgitation of the newspaper stories, which are themselves a regurgitation of a public relations piece). It reminds me of the Terminator movie series, where the machines take over and the human beings are on the ropes.

Yup, we are living in the era of the rise of the music PR machines, an age where you can't believe much of what you read, which does not have a byline on it (and there are those who would say the stories with bylines are not exempt from suspicion, either).

I can't tell where it began, but I know that, in the early 2000s, there were far fewer public relations practitioners than there are now. These were larger operations, some specific to music or in the public-relations business, generally connected to large calendar events. I may be looking in the rear-view mirror through the rose-tinted glasses of 'the good ol' days', but it seemed that there was more legitimacy to their operations.

Then, the PR business went the way of the studios, when the digital era came in. Just as the business of making music was decentralised from some large set-ups, to several (sometimes seemingly innumerable) operators, the business of publicising artistes and events became a free-for-all, with similar quality issues. Of course, everyone deserves to make a living, but there are the hustlers and there are the people who are legitimate.

I fear we have many more of the former than the latter.

Next week: The intersection of mainstream media and the PR machinery.