With the technology and social media avenues available today, an artiste can be independent of a record label and still do extremely well. This was the view of international music industry experts at the Decibel Career Fair, Conference and Entertainment Expo which was held from May 1 – 3 at Pier 1, Chaguaramas.
In a panel discussion, titled Do I Need A Record Deal?—The New Paradigm, industry experts Terese Joseph, director of A&R Administration for Universal Group East Coast Labels; artiste consultant, Jason Kpana; CEO of Desert Storm Records, Ken “Duro” Ifill; and local entertainment lawyer Carla Parris, schooled songwriters, artistes and producers who participated in the workshop, on good song writing, marketing and networking, the importance of promoting music through social media, creating a brand and how to use endorsements to their advantage.
According to Kpana and Ifill, record labels are becoming more and more like marketing and distribution houses and are more attracted to independent artistes as half the work is already done.
“They want an artiste with an already existing structure. An artiste who is already marketing himself, has a brand etc,” explained Kpana.
Social media—the great leveller
He said social media has levelled the playing field so much for artistes as they don’t have to go to a record labels any more to get signed, rather record labels come to them after viewing their videos and music online.
“There are so many aspects of social media that an artiste can use nowadays to get recognition. There is Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, Twitter and more.
“You could put your record on iTunes and within minutes the world could listen to you. For those with Samsung Galaxy phones the Milk Radio app is exclusive to those phones and you can upload your songs and videos through this music streaming service and immediately anyone can listen to your music,” said Kpana.
Co-panellist Joseph said the music industry has changed so much, that the first thing labels do is go to YouTube to find artistes.
She named mainstream artistes like Justin Bieber and Kiwi singer Lorde as examples of performers who were discovered by major record labels via social media.
Artistes must be smart when using social media
While social media may seem to be the way to go, the experts also pointed out how important it was for artistes to be smart when using social media to promote their music.
Ifill who has signed chart-topping rappers like Fabolous and worked with major acts like Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Will Smith and Backstreet Boys, said artistes must understand how to properly utilise these mediums to get the recognition they expect in return.
“If you are going to use a sobriquet, a logo or even a picture, you have got to be consistent with this information. They must appear the same way on all your social media sites. Secondly, you must tell your viewing or listening audience where they can find you. So whether it is a hashtag or some other sort of hyperlink, make sure it is visible and that it can take people directly to where you want them to go when they hit click,” Ifill explained.
Additionally, he said the quality of the music and videos must be very high as well.
“Picture yourself as executives going through hundreds, sometimes thousands of songs and videos, what you want is something that stands out. So we look for originality, consistency, we can tell how much research you have done on what’s trending in music by the production quality or what’s not trending but can become a trend. So it’s all well and good to use social media but you have got to ensure you stand out,” said Ifill.
Soca on the international scene
When asked about soca music finding a comfortable home internationally, Ifill who has Trinidadian roots, said the genre was still struggling. He said soca and Caribbean music are currently where hip-hop was 15 years ago—a niche genre without mass appeal.
“It is a matter of expanding on your music. Whether the genre is soca or hip-hop, you have to find a way to present that song in a way that everyone can relate to. You don’t need to change its originality but you cannot leave it to be appealing to just one demographic and expect it to grow or reach the places you want it to reach.
“That’s where research comes in. Check out the music sites, see what people are listening to, what they like and find a way to incorporate that into your sound. So it’s still original but it has some edge,” said Ifill.
Kpana added soca artistes can even do cover songs, taking some of the popular contemporary hits and recreating it with that soca flavour.
“I don’t know if it’s done here, but cover songs are big. A lot of people got signed doing cover songs. It’s really about just being creative,” said Kpana.
Whether the genre is soca or hip-hop, you have to find a way to present that song in a way that everyone can relate to. You don’t need to change its originality but you cannot leave it to be appealing to just one demographic and expect it to grow or reach the places you want it to reach.
Jason Kpana, artiste consultant - Be unforgettable
Don’t let people forget you, branding is important. That’s the advice attorney Carla Parris gave artistes present. She said it was imperative artistes got involved in the business of merchandising.
“It’s important to have an identity. Whether it’s a logo or T-shirts, it is always good to have something fans can identify you with. This makes you unforgettable and even easy to locate on social media or advertisements because it becomes your brand…your identity,” she said.
Kpana agreed and gave the example of the G-Unit line that became so popular and an official brand after rapper 50 Cent created the brand.
“This was not a brand, it was just an idea he (50 Cent) had that became the next big thing. It’s the brand by which he was identified with and to this day still is.”
G-Unit became one of the world’s leading urbanwear brands, alongside brands like Sean Jean and Fubu.
Kpana stressed when creating merchandise or a brand, it must reflect the artiste’s lifestyle and music.
Both Kpana and Parris also expressed that it was important to ensure what ever name, merchandise or logos created, they should be protected legally, having been registered to avoid intellectual theft.
Music industry must be cohesive
The music industry is made up of singers, song writers, producers, musicians, deejays etc, and they must all work together for everyone to reach their fullest potential, the panelists emphasised. They said no one must be afraid to ask for favours.
“An independent artiste may not have all the financial backing to get off the ground, but that does not mean that there aren’t ways in which they could materialise their craft,” Parris said.
She said making connections and networking are great ways for artistes to get a foot in the right door.
“We always hear about artistes complaining about not getting airplay or gigs, but maybe these same artistes are not being smart about how to network,” she said.
She said when it comes to music, performers have to think of every avenue and also think of making connections that might not seem to be obvious.
“For instance, if you are not getting airplay or gigs, how about connecting with film or fashion?
“You could network to have your song featured in a film. You may have to do some remixing to suit the film, but it can be done. So too with fashion. If you shoot a video, a designer’s pieces can be showcased in that video.” she said.
“The point is, you enter into a partnership so you don’t bear all the cost. However, you must always keep in mind that music is a business and you want to ensure that even in that partnership or style of networking your intellectual property is protected.
“Make sure some form of contract is established before entering into any deal,” the attorney warned.
She added other ways to network included offering to intern for free at record companies, studios etc.
“The best artiste is the one who learns the entire business of the music industry.”
The Decibel Career Fair, Conference and Entertainment Expo was hosted by Question Mark Entertainment from May 1 - 3 at Pier 1, Chaguaramas.