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Are int’l signings good for local artistes? - Pros and cons of inking deals with major labels

Published:Sunday | December 1, 2019 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle - Staff Reporter
Buju Banton
Buju Banton
Charly Black

For every dancehall artiste with crossover dreams, getting signed to a major record label is a top priority. Having a large multimillion-dollar international company working on one’s behalf could be the window to a world of opportunities. Still, while the benefits of such a deal are immeasurable, there are also down sides to joining such a huge team.

News of Buju Banton’s recent deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label has left many questions now swirling in the entertainment sphere. Will the deal be beneficial to Banton as an artiste? Will it open any new doors for dancehall music? Will Banton get lost in the sea of other entertainers already signed to Roc Nation? The Sunday Gleaner sought some feedback, and entertainment lawyer Ron Young gave his perspective.

“I negotiated a deal between Popcaan and Drake’s label, OVO, and I have also done a few other negotiations of that sort with major labels, so I fully understand the situation.

Truth is, there are pros and cons. The pros are obvious. Those major labels have greater spending power, so they’ll give you better advances. They can give you good support in terms of marketing, touring, setting up your merchandising, arranging your visas, and exposure on the international market (US, Europe, etc),” he said.

“However, there are also cons. The negatives that I see, and I’m not saying this has to do with OVO or Roc Nation specifically, but what I’ve seen over the years is that a lot of the times, a dancehall artiste may get lost in a major label’s roster of artistes.

Issue of attention

You have to hope that the major label pays as much attention to them as they would to a US artiste. It’s good that they have him (Banton) on, but we don’t want them to just have him on because of his name. We want him to be pushed to the extent of the other artistes.”

Dancehall artiste Charly Black, who inked a multi-album recording deal with Universal Music in 2017, said he has benefited from signing to an international label.

“It (the record deal) benefits me in many ways. It help me reach out to many people me wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach, and so I’m grateful for that. They are the gatekeepers of the other side of music, the bigger side weh we dancehall artiste will want to be a part of and reach so it has opened doors I couldn’t open,” Charly Black said.

He, however, stressed that artistes should remain vigilant and approach their work with as much fervour as they did before being added to these labels.

“Nevertheless, when yuh signed to a big label, never get complacent. Yuh must always do the work that yuh normally do that get yuh to dem. Das why yuh see Charly Black don’t sit around. Dat is why me still print CDs and do promotion.

“At the end of the day, they don’t know how to really market you like you. If they don’t see how dem can put out a song right now and get three million or five million streams, dem nuh response fi yuh. So it’s good but don’t leave everything up to dem. They’re not in Jamaica so yuh still affi put in the work from your end. And, yuh affi keep your authenticity. Yuh can’t too frighten fi big label, yuh affi hold your own,” he said.

Young shared the view of artistes needing to maintain their authenticity. He said that aside from concerns that the artiste may suffer from a lack of attention, there are also fears that his individual style may be altered to fit that of the label. “Another negative that I would want to point out is that a lot of times these labels, especially the hip-hop ones, don’t necessarily understand dancehall and so the concern that I think artistes need to be aware of is whether the label’s direction will be beneficial to your style and to dancehall,” he explained. “A lot of times we see artistes getting signed to international labels, and then the music quality drops or changes drastically. In the case of dancehall artistes, it’s almost like they would want them to sing hip hop or pop, and that approach doesn’t suit every artiste. So to me, the number-one concern I have is whether a major label will give the artiste the freedom to be themselves or they will try to make them conform to another genre of music.”

Experienced players

“As it relates specifically to Buju Banton, Jay-Z and Roc Nation are experienced industry players. Jay-Z is an experienced industry executive, and so my hope is that they have recognised Buju Banton not only for the quality of his music over the years, but for the stance and the strength of his personality. I hope they’re not going to try and stifle that, but magnify it. That’s what has made Buju Banton successful over the years,” he continued.

Having outlined the negatives and positives of signing to a major label, Young urged the public to be patient with artistes who have entered into these partnerships. He explained that every label’s approach is different, and so it takes time before fans begin to see the fruits of these massive deals. “Some labels have a plan in place even before they finalise negotiations. Others develop their plan as they go along, so the public, to an extent has to be patient and wait to see what happens. I would say you shouldn’t look for anything major for four to six months,” he said.