Local artistes struggle to get in tune with music streaming
With no immediate sign of a booming vinyl record industry making a return to the island, Jamaican music, despite its good standing on the international scene, is still suffering from poor sales.
The death of vinyl also affected overseas artistes for a while. However, with the breakthrough of streaming services like Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music, Sound Cloud among others, foreign acts have begun to see major improvements in sales.
Some artistes have even managed to sell platinum and gold records by releasing their records exclusively via streaming services (meaning no vinyl or physical CDs), yet they still manage to pull decent numbers.
American rapper Kanye West released his album, The life Of Pablo, exclusively on streaming platform Tidal in 2016, and to date, the album has been streamed more than three billion times worldwide. The project was also certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Fellow American artiste Chance The Rapper also released his album, Coloring Book, exclusively on Apple Music, for which he received a payout of US$500,000 from the company. The album also won a Grammy earlier this year.
The streaming revolution continued with Canadian rapper Drake breaking records with his latest album, More Life. The project was streamed 300 million times worldwide in its first week on Apple Music.
In the US alone, More Life was streamed 384.8 million times on all services in its first week, setting a new record previously held by his own album, Views, earning the number-one spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart.
In the meantime, back in Jamaica, veterans are left in limbo, with the hope that one day, vinyl will make a return. The younger generation, in the meantime, appears uncertain as to how to tap into the technology which literally sits at its fingertips.
In a recent Gleaner interview, George Nooks said that he had not given up on the return of vinyl.
"This fast-food music is not good for the industry and while I don't worry about sales, I want to see the vinyl make a return. CD mash up the business, and now even CD a dead out, so I don't know what is next. I hear people talking about streaming, but dat nuh cement a Jamaica yet," he said.
Aside from Shaggy, Sean Paul and Charly Black, no high riding Jamaican artistes have achieved platinum or gold status for their records as a result of streaming.
According to artiste manager Lando Genius of Tech Genius Records, this is a total shame, when one takes into consideration how much music is released annually in Jamaica.
"One artiste a release all 200 songs for one year, and none of them not selling platinum nor gold; none of them getting streams online. Seems like our business a live inna YouTube world and inna school bus. We need to be focusing on bigger things than just study the music and pay attention to what the international artistes are doing. You follow foreign artistes and bring freaky things into the music, but to follow their business model, you can't do that? Vinyl is not coming back, and we need to face the reality and get with the programme. See Junior Gong gone wid Tidal, but what about the younger youth dem who supposed to know about technology? It's a shame if you ask me, and it's time we take music as a business," he said.
According to the RIAA in a recent release, 1,500 paid streams is equivalent to 10 downloaded track sales, which is the equivalent of one album sale. The body also noted that 150 streams will now be equal to one download sale, the figure previously being 100.
Since the RIAA made the decision to certify songs gold and platinum based on streaming, several albums have benefited from the change. Coldplay's Ghost Stories album went platinum, The Weeknd's Beauty Behind The Madness album went double platinum, and Michael Jackson's Thriller went 32 times platinum.
Record producer ZJ Chrome, who recently achieved streaming success on Spotify courtesy of Christopher Martin's Paper Love, says that in order for Jamaica's music industry to benefit from streaming, it must rid itself of YouTube uploaders.
He also said that producers and artistes should align themselves with reputable distribution companies and request distribution via streaming outlets instead of settling for a mere email blast.
Paper Love is the only reggae song to cross the 10 million mark on any streaming outlet outside of Junior Gong's Welcome To Jamrock.