Major labels a force in copping a Reggae Grammy
As reggae artistes wait with bated breath to hear who will cop a spot in the final five when the Reggae Grammy nominations are announced today, the importance of having the support of a major recording label is once again rearing its head. With a number of reggae artistes having released critically acclaimed bodies of work throughout the Recording Academy’s eligibility period from September 1, 2019, to August 31, 2020, it’s anybody’s guess who will nab a nomination. Although the category is considered hugely competitive this year, industry insiders believe the nominees could come down to the artistes who have the backing of a powerhouse record label.
“The Grammy season is always an interesting time for artiste. The nominees for Best Reggae Album are inevitably controversial because for both the nomination and the award, it’s the number of votes albums get after meeting the eligibility requirements. The albums released through collaborations with North American and European record labels naturally will have an advantage,” said music analyst and brand marketer Donovan Watkis. “Every year, more and more artistes are beginning to see the importance of aligning themselves with major labels. This year, Popcaan’s Fixtape was released by OVO. Buju’s Upside Down 2020 was powered by Rocnation and Island Records while Protoje’s In Search of A Lost Time and Lila Ike’s The Experience were supported by RCA, the same label that released Koffee’s winning EP, R apture, last year.”
“The reason why these major labels play such a great role in who gets nominated is because they have a team of Recording Academy members on staff ready to support their label’s projects. They also have the key connections to lobby others to vote in each category their projects are up for nomination in,” he continued. “The independent albums that I believe should get nominated are Tarrus Riley’s Healing, from which the smash hit Lighter came. That album is perhaps the most culturally relevant of all the albums released over the last year. Other projects like Dexta Daps’ V ent and Vybz Kartel’s Of Dons and Divas had relevance to the reggae-dancehall ecosystem and deserve a shot, but in this Grammy game, organisation is the superpower and major labels have that.”
Julian Jones Griffith, the man who was at the helm of Charly Blacks’ Universal Records deal, agreed. “The acts with the major label backing or teams who have been lobbying behind the scenes will stand the best chance (of getting nominated), and there’s quite a number of them. It will be a battle of whose team/label is playing the Grammy ‘politics’ the best,” he said.
Popular media personality and former host of TVJ’s E-Prime, Debbie Bissoon, told The Gleaner that while it pays to have the support of a major label if one aspires towards a Grammy nomination, the latter is not the ‘be-all and end-all’ of music. She said that although there is prestige behind becoming a Grammy-nominated artiste, there are acts who will choose their independence over a shot at the golden gramophone simply because sometimes the sacrifices they would have to make under the control of a major label would be too much.
“Having that backing of such a label comes with a lot of things that not a lot of people, especially independent artistes who want to hone their product and their material, would easily give up. Sometimes these labels are not just giving these artistes the opportunity to release these projects with their names. Sometimes there is a cut in the contract to say these labels own the music. So we have to understand what this support comes with in the long term. It’s not all about winning Grammys even though after you win, it can be a career game changer. And so it really boils down to what you want for yourself as an artiste. There are several artistes who have never been nominated for a Grammy but are still amazing international acts who are touring and adding value to their craft.”
Speaking to independent acts and the value they possess, Watkis said that if they wanted, this group of artistes could make as much noise on the Grammy scene as artistes who were signed to major labels. He said that if these independent acts could band together, their voices could be just as loud and just as powerful as the organisation behind powerhouse music entities.