‘Independence’ in 2021 – Delicious Vinyl Island weighs in - Label partners with local outfit
The independent artiste sector has been booming globally, as more individuals aspiring to have a career in music are finding simpler avenues to become recognised. Notably, however, the definition of what makes an artiste “independent” is ambiguous. For many, it means working without the backing of a major label controlling all the rights, while others may explain the term as unsigned artistes, some of whom are financially supported, who are invested in by third parties or have created their own platforms to manage themselves.
Leslie Cooney, co-founder of Delicious Vinyl Island, the Caribbean music imprint from the Los Angeles-based hip hop label Delicious Vinyl, has seen the music industry from all sides. For over two decades she worked with Jamaican reggae and dancehall acts the likes of Tiger, Mr Vegas and Jovi Rockwell, who were all at some point independent. Her definition of independence and its role in 2021 is that there exists some amount of freedom for the artistes, whether choosing to partner with a record label service or not, or knowing the direction they are headed in.
“We are an independent label; I believe the label was an independent in its junior years during a time when independence was revered and it is a similar time now, where acting in such a manner, warrants some of the spotlight,” Cooney expressed.
She added, “Out of independence comes the freedom of creativity – which is how we started – although the business has changed a lot from then ‘til now, presently more artistes are fine with independence but just need some resources to take them from where they are standing to expand the footprint.”
BRINGING A LOT MORE
The label executive says the difference now is that the creators are bringing a lot more to the table outside of their music, including marketing and promotion strategies.
“Those simple things like creative direction helps us to hit the ground running, so we don’t have to orchestrate every part of artiste development. As an independent record label, we work with artistes, often times, without management,” Cooney told The Gleaner. Adding that, “Striving to be managed or to be signed, is one aspect of the business, but my thoughts in 2021 are the same as the ones I had in 1981 – the talent comes first, the music and the honing of the craft, all that comes first. Whereas management, labels, distributors and publishers all come in the right time.”
As it also relates to the pandemic, many independents have not only weathered the COVID-19 storm but managed to establish shelters, so to speak, to experiment with their creativity and innovation safely. The music business has become so accessible, she points out, that now every person pursuing a career within the industry, “wants to be an expert at all of it” and sometimes the skills that are required such as writing, production and performance are neglected.
So, herein lies an important fact that independence does not always mean acting without the support of a team or artistes doing everything on their own. That is the epicentre of Delicious Vinyl Island’s recent partnership with local entertainment industry doyenne, Sharon Burke of Solid Agency.
Cooney said, “The pandemic has focused our team to drill down on the priorities and really make some important decisions about the business model and how we want to move forward. Personally, I focused on what my priorities are which was to concentrate on the stable of artistes that I had started with and to hone in and go hard on that. For many years, I have been the one doing a lot of the on-the-ground in Jamaica but now, Sharon, whom I have known for all that time, will be the quarterback serving in many different capacities.”
Pathfinding through the pandemic requires some level of teamwork, “that is in retrospect that not everybody needs a record deal, you might just need good music and your best friend to help you go out there and hit the streets with it.”
It is still an admirable goal to want to get signed in this decade. She said, “to be signed and get a big cheque is great as long as your foundation is laid, you have dedicated management and a vision that you know where you’re headed, and once these labels agree with that strategy you should be good.” But not all majors have that kind of roll out, it’s more about what the numbers look like, what the talent is worth and the money is not returned with profits, they are not always necessarily in it for the long haul.”
“We are in it for the long haul. Independence can move quickly, when you work with Delicious Vinyl. I think back in the day we acted solely as a label; I think now we are able to provide a lot more consultation. The team can develop out areas like management, touring, marketing, merchandising, promotions and engagements while still a label and distributor having curated a community of professionals, we’re not just as a label out of necessity, you can’t function as that alone, when you’re dealing with overseas artistes,” Cooney shared.
Some of the artistes who will benefit from the partnership are Royal Blu, Runkus, Wayne J and Blvk H3ro and producers like Yaadcore.
“We have a very niche platform dubbed future roots because it covers the Jamaican genres but music that is also a little more experimental and yet conscious in the message. The goals are to expand the brand Delicious Vinyl Island and be a real representative to the culture of reggae and dancehall, to make it credited for what it should be credited it as. We have always tried to partner with the resources to help build the business of music, our deals are fair for everyone involved and we are transparent in our role,” the executive assured. “To artistes, do your homework and research all you need to know about our services and see if what we do, correlates with something you see in your vision for your brand.”