Jamaican Music Music Interviews

Reggae Music the State of Affairs: “An Interview with Louie Grant, Executive VP, Irie Jam Media”

Written by Stan Evan Smith

Irie Jamboree, North America’s premier reggae festival on Labor Day weekend in New York City ceased it seven year in 2010. Executive VP Grant gives Jamaicans.com the exclusive on the return of the new and improved 2013 Irie Jamboree Music Festival. Jamboree in 2013 will a three day Labor day Caribbean week end celebration with a reggae night, Soca night and Creole /R&B night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

In 2010 Though several factors contributed to the cancellation including the recession, reported significant losses due primarily to unprecedented low attendance numbers, the music industry need to be re-energized because it had become relatively stagnant, reggae music crossover impact and presence in 2012 was significantly diminished.

Irie Jamboree, the annual music festival stage by the Irie Jam Media group boast a solid track record of quality production and enjoys popular support in the community. As such Irie Jamboree had become a tourist attraction garnering press from British newspaper…   Irie Jamboree provides opportunities for valuable public relations exposure for Jamaica for the Jamaican brand. In this interview Louis Grant, Executive VP, Irie Jam Media, talks about the need for Government of Jamaica via Jamaica Tourist Board to support Jamaican festivals in the Diaspora as part of the tourism sector.  Irie Jamboree the festival, like the Jamaica Jazz & Blues festival, is well positioned to help to promote Jamaica’s music and culture.  Executive VP Grant took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the currents state of affairs of reggae, and reggae radio in the USA with Jamaicans.com Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator Stan Evan Smith

Stan Evan Smith: From your perspective, as promoter and radio network owner what are the most significant challenges facing reggae music in the USA today?    

Louis Grant:  The glaring absence of a relevant structure of organization and management to complement the modes in which the industry wishes to perform. This includes, though is by no means limited to aspects which would demonstrate improved displays of  professionalism and reliability  – e.g. simply arriving on time for a booked performance and adhering to contractual obligations; as well as issues regarding creativity and quality – people want to hear something good and something refreshingly new.

Stan Evan Smith: By extension what do you see as the most significant challenges facing mainstream or ethnic reggae radio in its efforts to effectively market and promote reggae music to a larger share mainstream market the USA today?  

Louis Grant:  As I alluded to before, the creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, defeats everything mundane. The challenge of the mundane is critically impacting for the radio business. This is especially relevant insofar as revenues from advertising are concerned. Advertisers want their brand image to be associated with innovative offerings and quality content that attract potential users of products & services. Mainstream, as well as ethnic radio, rely heavily on advertising dollars for their sustainability. Advertisers are selective and the potential to fully exploit those opportunities from quality reggae projects are yet to be fully realized, because with few outstanding exceptions, the quality of the offerings, more often than not leaves much to be desired. To be convinced otherwise would be poor business practice, at best.

Stan Evan Smith: Are the challenges facing ethnic reggae radio the same as the ones faced by mainstream radio?

Louis Grant:  To some extent, yes, as the business model is pretty much the same. After all it’s radio.  However the availability of critical mass in terms of content, target audience and other demographic components will invariably see the “ethnic version” at a disproportionate disadvantage, with particular regard to spoils share.

Stan Evan Smith: What are the major obstacles, if any, in radio preventing reggae from broadening the music’s appeal to mainstream markets or getting bigger audience share?

Louis Grant: The good product in best cases can and usually will, actually “sell itself”.  The organization and the resolve, or the lack thereof, of the “key players” i.e. industry stakeholders, such as you and, I are also critical contributors to creating an environment that facilitates greater exposure and growth.  It all starts with us accepting some culpability to move forward.

Stan Evan Smith: Since reggae music now has gone universal and stands on its own, like all other genres, the marketing and promotion requirements rules are the same for reggae as it is for Rock, Pop, Hip Hop, Country and Gospel. Have the owners of Jamaican brand of reggae positioned themselves or is the music poised to compete at the level?

Louis Grant: The music has served to help chronicle the rich history of our island home in a major way and by extension Reggae music has almost always had universal significance. Jamaica’s gift to the world, Reggae, has been addressing international issues for the longest.  I feel compelled to share with you that as a youngster, the first time as a youngster I heard the word “Apartheid” was via a Peter Tosh song! More recently Buju addressed the atrocities in Sudan and therefore helped to brighten the spotlight on the issue. Bob Marley’s music was censored in parts of Africa, considered “revolutionary”, for his enduring efforts in advocating “equal rights & justice” as he & the Wailers saw it; the list goes on & on.  The music certainly has its place.

The marketing rules of today essentially parallel those of any other contemporary genre. The ensuing question then becomes whether the resources, the vision, a real effort & desire, the organization & yes, whether professionalism exists amongst the marketers.

Stan Evan Smith: What can reggae artists and music industry personnel in Jamaican do to facilities or better assist radio personnel in their efforts to help reggae penetrate further into US mainstream market?

Louis Grant: The same that all reggae artists & producers worldwide can do;  deliver the best possible music product at all times; recognizing that we are all on the same side of the court as team players. Therefore if we all consistently pull together in the same direction, more doors will open for our beloved & celebrated music to flourish.  

Stan Evan Smith: What would your advice to reggae radio personnel in the US on how best they can help to expand the reggae brand?

Louis Grant:  At Irie Jam we have an established mantra “of Continuous Improvement” with a view to always ascending to higher heights of programming.  We, as radio, have a fiduciary duty to stay true to the craft, while being respectful of that rich culture & heritage which we are representing.  The overarching philosophy being, that if we pay good homage to, and treat the music with the honor that  it truly deserves, then those looking on will more likely feed off that reverence and in turn have a greater appreciation beyond the “drum & bass effect.”

Stan Evan Smith: What must the Jamaican reggae artist do from the standpoint of radio in help the music become more successful in mainstream radio in the US?

Louis Grant: The same that we must all aspire to do for reggae to be successful everywhere;- strive to be the consummate professional, within and without the studios, stages, boardrooms – everywhere.

Stan Evan Smith: Some time ago the Government of Jamaica reported allocated some US$10 million for Jamaican festivals in the Diaspora earmarked for the tourism sector, given the Irie Jamboree brand as both as a tourist attraction in a major city like New York and valuable public relations exposure for the Jamaican brand, has the Government of Jamaica offered to include your festival in the list it financially supports?

Louis Grant:  No. But truth told, neither have we actively pursued this option or opportunity to the best of our ability, even though we did learn of this outreach a little late into its implementation. Hopefully by now, Irie Jamboree would have established a solid enough track record on credibility and integrity in the eyes of the Jamaica Govt. that would place us on their “short list” of potential candidates for such mutually beneficial strategic partnerships. After Jamaica’s economy begins its ascent from the current economic situation, and if the government wishes to explore partnerships for creative means of promoting Jamaica, this can be an approach to be considered in the future.

Stan Evan Smith:  In 2012 was reggae/ dance hall music was less of a factor on urban radio than in previous years, if so why is this? Can reggae radio do anything to address this, or is it their or the artist responsibility? 

Louis Grant: Reggae radio is exactly that; reggae. Urban radio allows for a greater diversity in its programming. I made reference earlier to the issue of quality. If artistes wish to reach a wider demographic then they must appreciate that they are competing within a wider spectrum for airplay. The product – the entire package to include artist and content – must therefore be of such to satisfactorily compete with other/ these products. Yes, last year was relatively dismal in that regard. Everything is cyclical.  That said, the responsibility is collectively ours, – artists, producers, labels, journalists, historians & educators, sound selectors, club DJs etc. Reggae radio, both terrestrial & new media, will always provide exposure. What I have seen over the years is that “mainstream radio” follows the ethnic radio lead with regard to a “cross-over reggae/dancehall record”. You have to remember that a lot of these mainstream radio DJs play the same clubs as our DJs, so they often get music directly from our DJs to play on their radio stations. That’s actually how Gyptian’s hit single “Hold Yuh” crossed over. Again, the issue of promoting reggae / dance hall to urban radio & elsewhere is all of ours… built on the foundation of proper Organization!

What do you see as the differences between ethnic reggae radio and mainstream radio?   What are the advantages and disadvantages between the two in their effort to promote reggae music?

Louis Grant:  One word, “MONEY”, well, and one other “Ownership.” Those two variables account for the major differences between the entities, and segue into their respective abilities to promote reggae. Make no mistake Ethnic Radio “Buss” reggae/dancehall tunes.  Mainstream provides a greater platform for subsequent exposure to the wider main market.

Stan Evan Smith:  Looking at 2012 sound-scan CD sales number and touring data the US based American Reggae band like Groundation, Rebelution and Soja are faring much better than their Jamaican counterpart, (excluding Jimmy Cliff, Ziggy Marley and Toots) because American Reggae band are working to build their brand in the market. They create a touring history, so promoters know where to go and what you can charge. What can Jamaica based artist do, considering their disadvantage, to catch up or become competitive?

Louis Grant: I don’t think artists should necessarily “compete” with other reggae artists, particularly based on geographic location reasons, rather, they could probably consider touring with others with a view to get into otherwise previously unchartered venues where possible. Alternately tour package organizers &/or agents could try to direct eligible Jamaica-based artists/musicians, managers to newer venues when on tour. The irony here is that though revolutionary, reggae at its core is a most powerful unifying force.

Stan Evan Smith: Established American artistes tend to command big salaries and at times have a big entourage, these artists are usually able to attract a crowd of 40,000 or more, how do you as promoter deal with Jamaican acts that do not have similar market draw but demand the same salary and perks?

Louis Grant: We too have paid our fair share of dues, but along the way we have found few who are reasonably fair and professional. We have managed to establish a track record which I’ll be presumptuous enough to say, gets us fairly decent deals with highly eligible, in-demand artists. However there are some external factors that often add to the challenge viz. the occasional promoter who will do events overpriced; artist work-visa issues;, and a plethora of other impacting concern factors.

Stan Evan Smith: Artist salaries for mainstream promoters tend to be market driven, the acts ability to draw big numbers, and as a promoter you need to make a profit to stay in business do you think the Jamaicans artist and their team understand these dynamics?.”

Louis Grant: The thing here is that the artists often are more flexible with “mainstream” promoters; understandably to some extent since they are essentially trying to extend their reach to another base. But the burden then falls on us because with slumping sales, stage shows, dubs plates, etc. are more of an actualized revenue stream for these artists in today’s environment.  We all have to understand that there has to be reasonable balance.

Stan Evan Smith:  As a promoter do think that Jamaicans artistes are, at the level of pricing, the travel fees, travel party and the requirements are overestimating their market value causing promoters to shy away from doing shows? Or have they adjusted to the changed economic climate?

Louis Grant: Like every other business and as pertains in almost every other industry, some do and some don’t. The more astute will survive/endure in the long run, so is the nature of the game.  I try not to generally place everyone in the same basket. The perennial optimist in me certainly hopes, that most has, and if not, will eventually adjust. 10% of something is always more than 100% of nothing.

Stan Evan Smith:  Given the fact that there are more mediums playing reggae music in the US than any other time do you share CEO of Solid Agency/ promoter of Fully Loaded, Sharon Burke, assessment that stage shows are declining because reggae/dancehall music isn’t getting enough airplay in the USA

Louis Grant: I think that there are any number of variables that collectively have led to this steady decline of US based stage shows, not limited to but certainly including, reduced airplay, as suggested by my colleague and friend.  Others contributing factors have been mentioned/alluded to prior. The decline in the number of artists who possess valid travel and work visas; the unavailability of some popular artists due to imprisonment; and the economic conditions, are a few.

Stan Evan Smith:  Do you think Jamaican reggae artistes need to learn to promote their music better and they need to start producing quality music?

Louis Grant: Yes, to some extent marketing and promotion is somewhat lacking. They’ve been left wanting on the part of many artists and their managers. However there are those who are more professional in their approach and who do a relatively decent job in their efforts.

Stan Evan Smith: In closing do you have any advice, positive signs or predictions for the future of reggae music in general and here is the USA?

Louis Grant: Well Stan, I could certainly start with you, and the simple fact that you always encourage positive discourse with a view to aid & abet the Reggae cause, especially throughout the Diaspora. Personally I have been forced to strongly think about my own views and by extension give further thought to the outlook of my own organization  – Irie Jam Media – in this our 20th year of existence, and perhaps more specifically,  just how we help to impact the reggae movement in the NY tri-state area and beyond.

Reggae is Jamaica’s, and perhaps more specifically the “common Jamaican” and Rastafari’s gift to the world.  All stake holders – all o’ wi, – this should include all Jamaican’s and friends of Jamaica- should truly honor, protect, nurture and serve this our very celebrated heritage and culture; the music.

 In its purest form reggae is “unity music”. Let us all unite to realize its potential, take it to higher heights, and pay homage to legendary forebears… Get up stand up for the right place of reggae in the world- pun intended.  Remembering that this “gift” to the world, the message-music, the world beat, that we gladly share; should we fail to properly protect it, may become just that… a gift, given away. I would like to inform the public that for our 20th Anniversary, Irie Jamboree will be returning in 2013 for Labor Day Caribbean Week inside the Barkley center in Brooklyn.    end three nights (Reggae, Soca and Creole),

Stan Evan Smith is the Host of State of Affairs on The Keys Blog Talk Radio.  (www.thekeys107network.com)
Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator: Jamaicans.com (FL)Contributing writer: YUSH .com (UK).
Contributing Editor: Everybody’s Magazine (NYC)
Sends comments to Email: [email protected]

About the author

Stan Evan Smith

Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator for Jamaicans.com