COVID-19 affects streaming numbers, but VPAL upbeat - General manager eyes effect of Apple Music
Last year, popular online music magazine Pitchfork listed three Jamaican artistes on the Top 200 Songs of the decade between 2010 and 2019 (inclusive). Popcaan, Vybz Kartel and Gaza Slim held on to the number 161 slot with their summer blockbuster collab, ‘ Clarks’, and Popcaan also took over the number 100 position for his feature on Jamie Foxx’s 2015 single, ‘ I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times’. Reggae singer Gyptian, however, made the most impressive debut; his 2010 hit, ‘Hold You’, slid into the Top 50, landing at number 49.
Michelle Williams, the A&R at VP Records, which released Gyptian’s 2010 album Hold You, wasn’t surprised by this feat, as she points out that Gyptian’s popularity is expansive and his streaming numbers reflect this. “He is one of the top-tier streaming artistes out of the Caribbean,” she told The Gleaner.
With Apple Music entering the Caribbean as of April 21, after what was viewed as a lockout, but which was actually Apple working its way through various rights holders, many music industry players are watching to see how this will affect the streaming numbers. One such entity is VP Associated Label Group, VPAL Music. “Hopefully, with Apple being in Jamaica, we will see a significant rise in streams out of the island,” Donovan Williams, general manager for the Queens, New York-based VPAL Music company, told The Gleaner. He pointed out, however, that YouTube is the top streaming platform in Jamaica, “but let’s compare and see the difference. At least we will have something to compare.”
NEW ALBUM COMING
The official music video for Hold You has amassed close to 65 million views on YouTube and Gyptian, who recently released a new single, is also currently working on a new album, which will be distributed by VPAL. Established in 2009, the subsidiary offers independent digital and physical distribution for artistes and labels, and has made bold footprints in the industry, securing Grammy nominations in 2012 and 2016. VPAL not only distributes, it also offers digital and physical products worldwide and through its online store. Based in Queens, New York, the company explores multiple genres, including reggae, dancehall, Afrobeat and soca, and also recently signed a distribution deal with a company out of Panama.
Williams is a huge fan of the language of numbers and analytics, and he cites his company’s expertise in this area as one of the attractions for dancehall’s A-listers, including Koffee, Busy Signal, Kumar, Chris Martin, Lutan Fyah, Konshens, Agent Sasco, Richie Stephens, Dovey Magnum, Naomi Cowan, Romain Virgo, Gyptian, Popcaan and Beenie Man. “We have the knowledge, resources and day-to-day analytics that drive the company. We have to look at what’s happening in the world to make determinations. Our analytical data shows us what’s happening in Asia, for example, so we can advise our clients on how to position their product.”
VPAL was the distribution label of choice for Koffee’s Raggamuffin and also Naomi Cowan’s Paradise Plum, and certainly those are feathers in Williams’ cap. But he is also focused on upcoming acts and recently hosted a VPAL Music Fest online, featuring artistes out of Frankie Music camp. “Most of the artistes who are already popular are the ones driving the IG live sessions. So we wanted to do something for the artistes who are upcoming to get them some attention during this lockdown,” he explained.
As it relates to activity in the present, where COVID-19 is the news, Williams admitted that figures went down, but he didn’t paint a picture of doom and gloom.
“There’s so much happening in the market with this pandemic. When Asia and Europe were affected, we saw a decline in streaming analytics, and when it hit the US, sales declined. However, over the past month, there has been an uptick in distribution releases and in streams. Did it hurt us? Absolutely!” he told The Gleaner.
He noted that the online stores remained open and that after the initial reaction and people started to understand what was happening, “then we saw streaming numbers going up”.