Jamaican Music Music Interviews

Reggae Music the State of Affairs: “A Conversation George Michailow, Fast Lane Booking Agency” Part 1

Fast Lane International is an international booking agency with global reach.  The agency focus is on North and South America, Africa, The Caribbean, the Far East and the South Pacific, the UK, France and The Netherlands and venues and festivals throughout Europe. Fast Lane represents promoters or artists including: Jimmy Cliff, Eric Donaldson, Steel Pulse, Sean Paul, Akon, Third World, Toots and The Maytals, Buju Banton, TOK, Capleton, Morgan Heritage, The Wailers, Kymani Marley, Julian Marley, Junior Kelly, Bushman, Culture  and Dawn Penn.       
George Michailow spent the last 30 years booking artists and representing numerous promoters across the USA and around the world. George observations paint a comprehensive picture of the different aspects of touring.

Booking agencies have to work with are the numbers:  Music and sales, YouTube views, Facebook likes, downloads, attendance figures and box office grosses  to decide how popular an act really is and what they may be worth in a market. In Reggae Music these facts are often hard to come by. 

Stan Evan Smith: Veteran record executive Murray Elias argues that reggae has run its course say that Jamaicans should accept their forty year run is over, Ziggy Marley agrees with Murray Elias, that the halcyon days of reggae are passed, both argue that there are no artist coming capable of reviving reggae’s great days here in the US, what are your thoughts on these statements?

George Michailow: I agree to some extent if they are referring to Jamaican reggae artists. Reggae itself is as strong as ever and is permeating world culture in many ways. When I was booking Jamaican  reggae acts in the 80’s and early nineties the genre had a loyal  following  that was willing to check out new artists allowing venues to also present unknown artists with assurance that a certain core audience was there for them.

All they needed to do was add “live and direct from Kingston Jamaica” or simply “Live reggae” ” to their promotional ads and posters. Those days are over. Music Fans/Concert goers only go out to support artists (Jamaican and other) they already know and like and it seems harder for a Jamaican artist to get known and liked these days.

Stan Evan Smith:  The Jamaica music fraternity has not embraced the Grammys, given its importance to popular music in America, does having factor in booking reggae acts?  

George Michailow: Grammy nominations or awards aren’t relevant. These days the buzz comes from fans not industry elites.

Stan Evan Smith: So many Jamaica based contemporary reggae dancehall acts appeal is limited to the ethnic market in North America is this reflection of the quality of their music or is there a larger issue?

George Michailow: It depends on if Urban Radio in the market embraces them which give certain artists more recognition and box office power beyond the “ethnic” demographic. As far as the “quality” of the music there may be a message but to me it is lost in the style of delivery. I see less musical creativity.

Stan Evan Smith:   You argue that groups like SuperHeavy are the future for reggae in America, why do you think so?
George Michailow: I personally liked what Super Heavy did with “Miracle Worker” I think that star power and collaborations help increase acceptance. Did Eric Clapton’s cover of “I shot the Sheriff” bring new fans for Bob Marley?  I think it helped. I see a brighter future for music that incorporates new elements and innovates. I believe humanity is evolving and music must evolve with it.

Stan Evan Smith: You say that reggae music has to stand on its own and the marketing and promotion requirements rules are the same for reggae as it is for Rock, Blues, Gospel please explain what you mean?

George Michailow: I stand by that statement because these days reggae has grown past the “Cult” and ethnic following therefore you can no longer market to that niche. In the old days Reggae was relegated to Reggae shows and slots. While those may still exist you can also hear a good reggae tune on progressive radio, especially in Europe.

Stan Evan Smith: You noted that to success in the American market groups have to be universal to be accepted. American Reggae bands understand this and they relate to a much wider demographic, talk about how this affects the Jamaica based reggae acts?

George Michailow: American reggae bands work harder to connect with their audiences than most Jamaican Reggae artists who are still living in their past paradigm of uniqueness

Stan Evan Smith: For reggae acts to increase their demographic reach and increase their popularity they have know how they relate to their fans. You contrast the difference between Steel Pulse relate to their fans and how dancehall acts relate theirs, please explain?

George Michailow: No disrespect to Dancehall artists I may not be able to be objective here because it I find it easier to relate to the socially conscious music of artists like Steel Pulse. I have a better personal connection to them.  It’s that vibe their musical tastes that reaches me. I can’t speak for everyone because this may be a matter of personal taste and preference.  I have to admit that my exposure is also greater for that reason to that certain sound and vibe.

Stan Evan Smith: Touring is integral to artist brand, contemporary Jamaican reggae dancehall acts aren’t touring how will contemporary Jamaican reggae dancehall acts be successful in mainstream if they do adapt to the paradigm of developing their brand?

George Michailow: Is it a fact or an opinion that touring is integral to an artist brand?  Maybe that’s changing also. It’s not that easy to tour. And it is costly. It’s a numbers game. If an artist needs $3000 a night to cover costs but based on past history they are expected to gross less than that at the box office and can be offered even less than the anticipated box office gross to cover overhead and reasonable promoter profit, what do you do?

I have always felt that the music must precede the touring or an artist will be playing to very small audiences. You can’t sell hard tickets without at least some existing fan base that wants to see you out there. Once an artist is certain they have that existing demonstrable fan base it is the responsibility of the artists to go out there and perform for them and work on growing that fan vase and audiences.  Of course there are the occasional soft ticket opportunities like festivals or similar events but there is stiff competition for those slots and an established artist will get preference

Part 2 of this interview will be published next week

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)
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About the author

Winston Stan Evan Smith

Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator for Jamaicans.com