The artistic age gap needs bridging
The money is important but we do this out of love. Almost every artist and performer who's ever sought to make a business of their talents should be able to relate to that statement.
More and more these days though there's a feeling that those who are making the money aren't spreading the love. I'm not even really talking about the money now either and fair or unfair there's still a feeling that those who reach the pinnacle of their respective feilds take little to no responsibility in it's future development and growth.
I think it's safe to say that the days of talent scouting and artist development are over in the music industry. While sports teams across the world and the mickey mouse club seem to continuosly churn out million dollar superstars by training and developing talent from a young age, it's no longer something we really see or feel is happening in the music industry anymore.
As a recording artiste, singer, songwriter and performer as well as the son of one, it's possible I had a greater insight and education in the music biz than your average aspiring artist. It's only now I'm realising the power in my knowledge though as I learnt almost all of it on the job. My fathers generation of artists and film makers worked in a completely different environment to the one that exists now. Most of them wouldn't have even got out of bed for what we make in streaming revenue. With all the years of observation and practice and listening to legends I began my career in a music business in complete transformation and turmoil. Trained for the analog business and released into the digital one.
It seemed nobody knew the best thing to do. Sign a deal or go independent? Manufacture physical units or go MP3? Rent film equipment or shoot it on your phone? Market to TV or Youtube? PR companies or Facebook campaigns? What about piracy? Do they pay royalties? Where does the money get made? What is going on???
The incredible drop in sales revenue was something everyone soon came to accept as most of the major record labels died out one by one. The music business survived and adapted and became different from what it was though. Alienating many artists, labels and producers in the process. I still know of a few legends out there who have yet to digitize their catalog due to a lack of understanding and trust in the new business format. Some straight up retired.
For me personally it's a shame and tragedy that the art has been so heavily affected by the financial and business side of things. Even though the business changed as trends and genres do, the art of making good music never changed. So why does almost everyone agree on a distinct fall in the quality of 'urban' music? Why the feeling of animosity between the age groups and why the feeling that those who made it in the business close the doors on the other talents behind them?
These feelings seem to be aired quite frequently in the Reggae and Hip Hop communities. Everyone in Hip Hop (over a certain age) seems to agree the artistic quality is gone but the production quality remains high and hip hop music is still regularly relevant in the mainstream. Reggae and Dancehall seem to be in all out crisis at the moment with white and mainstream artists able to use it as a gimmick and profit from it but actual reggae artists and producers in general, unable to produce the consistent quality or level of promotion to become relevant in the mainstream.
Everyone has an opinion on why and my personal opinion is that it's a matter of education and brand recognition. My dad chose not to physically help my brother and I pursue our musical ambitions out of a belief that artists should be self made and earn all their own plaudits. While I respect him and his decision I do believe that he could have gotten us the kind of support and exposure that may have made a significant impact in our careers. I could always call him for advice or run my music by him for an honest opinion but he wouldn't pay for our studio time or promotion, or ask influential friends in the media to give us airplay or exposure, etc. His name opened many doors for us but none opened for free to the child of a platinum selling artist. Nobody saw us as deserving of help because as they saw it; we had a rich dad who was at the top of the industry. We weren't the same as everyone else for that reason and I'll always have love for certain artists like Tarrus Riley, Beenie Man and Mykal Rose for never making me feel that when I was around them. I'm not bitter about it as I understand the perspective of the people I mentioned but it has helped to shape my view of the business, culture and situation. Nobody really helps anybody, and they all have a good reason why.
Ask a young artist now about his key and he'll probably think you mean 1000 grams of something to smoke. Not what key his voice sounds best in. There was a time in Jamaica where the government subsidised the training of musicians because it saw our culture as a comodity to be invested in. In the UK the government passed a law requiring 60% of all music on tv and radio to be home made, leading to the rise in popularity of 'Grime' music. In the absence of government sponsored programs and talent scouting record labels willing to invest in the development of young talent, where does young talent get the guidance, direction and foundation to grow?
Dancehall music fans will always appreciate Bounty Killer, not only for his years of hits but also for the amount of artists he mentored and introduced to the public. From Elephant Man to Mavado, the list of artists he introduced would make any record label proud and rich. My whole life Dancehall has been able to rely on his protege's and their copycats for quality content when the genre needs it. Fans trust his track record and opinion of a good artist so if he asks them to listen to someone they will. But who else is known for educating artists and opening doors for them? Who else has a protege or two? There's a 'Prento' in every town but who actually has an apprentice? Similar to banks and business loans nobody wants to invest in people anymore, only products.
Is it fair to expect someone to be your loyal cash cow because you helped show them how? Is it reasonable to expect everyone to come up the same way you did? Is everyone in our field really our competition? If you teach someone how to do something and do it with them won't you earn the money you deserve and gain their respect? Alternatively, why should someone invest time, energy and money into someone or something who may never repay your efforts or generate you any income?
What's wrong with someone having to prove they deserve their success instead of having it half given to them? All of these are good reasons I've heard over and over when asking why more people aren't working together with the older and younger talents around them.
From a lack of trust to a lack of belief and everything that comes with them it seems that the generation gaps are now poles apart, with the disconnect affecting the quality and popularity of the product. Most of the major stars are too old and most of the younger acts aren't good enough to stand out without the help of marketing and promotion and a loyal fanbase from their label days. There wil always be a few exceptions who break through with the help of publicity stunts or who are supported by what little fraternity is left but so much good talent goes unrefined.
A lot of people ask me why I don't sign the artists I develop and the main reason is funding. Without the budget to develop, produce and promote these artists I'm not helping them or myself. I would if I could though and that takes us back to the beginning of the article. Who can help aspiring artists learn what they need to learn to become high quality recording and performing artists? They don't teach it in school. The fans lament and lambast the state of the genre as much as those who operate in it because we're all a part of it and all feel the disconnect. Fans need music so they need artists. Artists need fans but they also need production, education, promotion, protection, management and investment if they're to become what the fans want.
The easy communication offered online sems to have led to an even bigger lack of communication between generations. I think that we've had enough time now to observe how damaging that break in communication has been for our genre and industry. If more established entities educated and endorsed new blood frequently then those new acts would not only be better received but better prepared to represent the genre. That connection would in turn help keep established and ageing entities relevant and updated to the latest technological and social changes. As difficult as working together is, it might be the only way to again have a thriving industry boasting the kind of acts and quality that made the genre legendary.
Thanks for reading...