Tag Archives: Adrian Sherwood

The mechanics of the new record industry

The music business is changing fast and as a label you need to be on your toes to reach the customers and make them pay for songs and albums. Reggaemani has dug deep into the mechanics of the reggae music industry and found some interesting things when interviewing Olivier Chastan, Frenchie and Adrian Sherwood.

The music business has had many rough years, and the reggae industry is no exception.

The list of small, independent labels that have folded contains well-known brands such as Blood and Fire and Makasound. Both were praised and loved by music aficionados and record collectors all over the world. But unfortunately, they didn’t make it.

Greensleeves saved
Legendary label Greensleeves was also on the verge of bankruptcy when reggae giant VP stepped in and acquired it in 2008.

Olivier Chastan is President of Greensleeves and Vice President of VP International

“Greensleeves was in really bad shape and was fast running out of cash,” says Olivier Chastan, President of Greensleeves and Vice President of VP International, and continues:

“It was our biggest competitor, and it made sense to acquire them. Greensleeves was a large music publisher and had hit songs by Shaggy and Sean Paul in their catalogue. They also had a better presence in Europe than we did.”

Olivier Chastan has been at VP since 2005 and knows reggae and the music industry.

“Now the label is doing well. We’ve fixed the financial side. The music publishing is very active with artists such as Etana and Busy Signal,” explains Olivier Chastan.

Fewer record stores and declining sales
Even though Greensleeves’ financial issues are straightened out, there are things in the music business to be concerned about – fewer record stores and declining sales are two key issues.

Adrian Sherwood – founder of several labels, producer and musician – says that running a label is thankless.

Adrian Sherwood is a veteran in the music business

“I mean, you cannot win. You have to maintain visibility and do the best you can,” he believes, and gives an example of why it is so hard today:

“There are not many record shops around anymore, which does not make it easier. Few today actually sell physical records.”

For many years the revenues from record sales have been declining, even though statistics from Nielsen SoundScan show a 1 percent increase in overall album sales in the U.S. for the first half-year 2011.

This does not, however, mean that the rise in units sold will translate into revenue growth.

Recipe for success
For Olivier Chastan the recipe for success is simple, and contains three main ingredients – good control of your finances, embracing new promotional tools and having hit songs.

“You need to keep your costs down and find new platforms. There’s not a platform we don’t touch. Piracy is not a big deal. It’s been going on since 2000 and you have to accept it. We take down illegal links from blogs and such, but don’t spend our day on it,” explains Olivier Chastan, and continues:

“In the U.S. sales of CD and digital download is about 50-50. In Europe it’s much lower. The only difference with digital is that you have no returns. Otherwise, it’s the same job  – you still have to do your artwork and mastering. iTunes is just like any other store for me. The real change is in digital promotion, with the declining power of TV and radio. How do you reach your customers today? No one has understood how to do it perfectly yet.”

“Move with what is going on”
New promotional tools are something Frenchie, producer at Maximum Sound, also has started to look further into. This year the label has begun using Twitter and YouTube. But an even bigger change is putting out their catalogue on iTunes.

“We have to move with what is going on. The 7 inch and CD sales are in decline. The licensing of tracks to other labels as well. So we have to try something else, as the digital format is the one of the future. If we want to keep on putting out music we have to go in that direction and embrace new formats to release our music,” explains Frenchie, and continues:

“You have to take the rough with the smooth. It’s too early to tell, but business wise it is definitely not what it was. Only time will tell if we will still be doing this in ten years.”

That hit song
The third ingredient is often the base for labels, producers, writers and artists around the globe – that one hit song or hit album.

“We need a massive, massive hit,” says Olivier Chastan, and continues:

“The scene is stagnant and making music for a core Jamaican market that is smaller and smaller every day. Why try to imitate T-Pain or whatever else is the flavor of the moment?”

Frenchie fills in:

“The industry is going through changes as more and more people just do things themselves and are going directly to iTunes to release their music and are not depending on bigger record labels to market their stuff. It’s a new strategy for a lot of small producers and artists. Only time will tell if it is a sound one.”

A shake-up is needed
VP had a smash hit last year with Gyptian’s crossover tune Hold Yuh, which peaked at number 77 on Billboard’s Hot 100. But Olivier Chastan believes that more needs to be done.

“The reggae business needs a shake-up,” he stresses, and continues:

“It’s too much RnB and hip-hop. There is no sense of direction. There are still producers that are doing the Jamaican-Jamaican sound. But where is it supposed to go next?” he asks, and concludes:

“Interest in reggae music outside of Jamaica has declined. It’s low temperature.”

Follow your vision
Adrian Sherwood’s recipe for success, on the other hand, is to not be reliant on hit songs.

“Labels that are doing well do not rely on hit records. Just look at Rough Trade and Island. They had to sell to stay in business. You have to follow your vision and have courage,” says Adrian Sherwood.

But he is on the same track as Olivier Chastan on financials, and illustrates his point with an example.

Pressure Sounds is not doing lots of stuff, but they have low overheads. It is basically only Pete Holdsworth. You have to be a specialist. That is the way of surviving,” Adrian Sherwood believes, and adds:

“It is almost impossible. Today it has to be part of something bigger, like merchandise, clothing and stuff. You have to be insane to start a label today. Just look at the business model. No one would start a label today,” he concludes.

Careful of the money you spend
Keeping track of costs is essential to Frenchie as well.

“You have to be careful of the money you spend on a project as it is very easy not to make it back. And you also have to understand the different markets in reggae today, what sort of music sells on mp3 or CD format and what sells on vinyl. A lot of labels and production houses have gone into management and are doing more and more live sound system shows with artists as well. We are thinking of going in that direction too,” says Frenchie, and stresses:

“Be critical with yourself and what you do. Don’t take what you do or yourself too seriously.”

“The problem is not in the music”
The decline in sales of CDs is also something VP and other labels need to cope with.

“The decline of CDs is going to accelerate, but CD will always be there. Vinyl sales are way up, but from a very small starting point. It’s not going to do anything for the industry as a whole. I mean if it’s growing from two to four, it’s a 100 percent increase. It’s great for music fans and a great format, but people are not going to run out and by turntables again,” says Olivier Chastan, and continues:

“The problem is not in the music. It’s about managing decline. CDs are still about 40 percent of our total revenue. But we have to embrace digital. If somebody starts a new platform tomorrow – we’re there.”

And that seems like a well-thought strategy since sales of digital tracks and digital albums rose 11 and 19 percent respectively in the first six months of 2011 according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Key issues ahead
Olivier Chastan points out two key issues in the coming year.

“To keep promoting and to diversify,” he says.

Frenchie will focus on downloads and maybe launch a live road show or a sound system.

Adrian Sherwood earlier pointed to the fact that a label today needs to be a part of something bigger, and VP is going in that direction. The label now has a clothing line, booking agency, concert promotion and publishing.

Olivier Chastan explains the development.

“You need to be able to manage multiple activities and to think outside the box,” he says, and adds:

“The Jerk Festival that we just put together in New York is a good example. It was not a big stretch from our booking and promotional activites,” he explains, and concludes:

“You can’t stay static. Sales are not going to improve in the next two years. Die or move. Pick your choice.”


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Adrian Sherwood’s recipe for success

UK dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood has this year managed to run his label On-U Sound for 30 years. His curiosity and eclectic taste for music has made him a producer and remixer in demand, and he has worked with reggae artists and world famous rock acts such as Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Reggaemani has got his recipe for success.

Adrian Sherwood has been in the music business since the mid 70’s. He was involved in the formation of the Carib Gems label in 1975, when he only 17 years old. Two years later Adrian and his friend Dr. Pablo started Hitrun, a label that put out his first own production Dub From Creation by Creation Rebel. Both labels released some heavy Prince Far I albums, among them Cry Tuff Dub Encounter I and Psalms Far I.

Then, in 1981, he formed On-Sound, a label that has been widely known for its versatile and creative releases. The labels first records were from the likes of the late Prince Far I (again), Creation Rebel and the late Bim Sherman, a singer that made some of his finest recordings with Adrian Sherwood.

Adrian Sherwood has produced creative reggae for over 30 years.

When I reach Adrian to talk about On-U Sound’s 30th anniversary he is in his studio in London working with Congo Natty, a well known jungle producer and former MC. They are currently working on a new tune by Lee Perry that will out on the compilation Modern Sounds in Dub later this year.

Time flies
When I ask him how it feels to run a label for more than three decades he seems surprised that it has been that long.
“It is flamboyant and weird. It is a blur. Time has just flown by. I am proud that we are still here putting out good music,” he says on the phone, and continues:
“When I listen back, some of the albums sound old, but many are not as dated. I am proud of the many collaborations, like Mark Stewart and Lee Perry. I have done lots of collaborations,” he laughs.

Tough to run a label
Running a label is not a cake walk today. Several reggae labels have gone bankrupt in the last years and French Makasound is sadly the latest addition.
“Running a label is thankless. I mean, you cannot win. You have to maintain visibility and do the best you can,” he believes, and gives some examples of why it is so hard today:
“There are not many record shops around anymore, which does not make it easier. Few today actually sell physical records.”
Don’t rely on hit songs
Adrian believes that the success behind On-U Sound is that the label is small, has dedicated followers and has not been relying on hit songs.
“As a label it can be tough to grow too big. You still have to maintain the overheads and afford to keep the people”, he says, and continues:
“Labels that are doing well do not rely on hit records. Just look at Rough Trade and Island. They had to sell to stay in business. You have to follow your vision and have courage.”

You probably have to have a little bit of luck to. Adrian says that On-u Sound was not created by design.
“My main love is Jamaican music and I do this because I want to do it. I want to work in the area of sound. I love sound. My kids listen to music on their phones. I mean, sometimes you wonder why bother?” he says in a serious tone, and continues:
“I make music for myself. I do my version of the music that I am a fan of.”
Be a specialist
Apart from Carib Gems, Hitrun and On-U Sound, Adrian has also started labels 4 D Rhythms and Pressure Sounds. The former is nowadays run by Pete Holdsworth and releases a number of reissues every year.
“Pressure Sounds is not doing lots of stuff, but they have low overheads. It is basically only Pete. You have to be a specialist. That is the way of surviving.”
When I ask Adrian whether it is more difficult today than in the 80’s to run a label, he gets surprised.
“Are you joking?” he says, and continues:
“It is almost impossible. Today it has to be part of something bigger, like merchandise, clothing and stuff. You have to be insane to start a label today. Just look at the business model. No one would start a label today,” he concludes.
Even though it is tough running a label, On-U Sound has four new albums and 12 reissues coming out this year. The first one – Voodoo of the Godsent from African Head Charge – was put out in March.

Best sounds from the UK 
Today Adrian concentrates on On-U Sound. He says that he rather makes his own music. He listens to a lot of reggae and believes that the best sounds today come from the UK, like jungle or dubstep, or from Italy and Germany, that are also doing well.
He, like many others, thinks that Jamaica has lost the leading role in reggae. However, he seems confident that the tide will turn.
“I think it will come back to Jamaica. But now it is an end of an era,” he says, and continues:
“Jamaica is great. It is such a vital place. They can sing about everyday life, like social problems or killing a chicken. But there is no food to be eaten, because no one is buying the tunes. To make money you have to be able to play your own music, like when you are out DJ:ing. Like in the old sound system days.”

Find young talents
His recipe to continue his own success is finding young talents to work with and train them.
“You have to find the right young people. They are like a good wine and mature with time.”
Hopefully these new talents can be as fortunate and successful as Adrian.
“I think my music is refreshing and original. It is creative and challenging. It is fucking brilliant,” he says, and concludes:
“I am a lucky person and have had great experiences.”

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“Idén bakom Pressure Sounds var att ge ut musik vi gillade”

pressure_sounds_guyAtt driva skivbolag är ingen dans på rosor. Det vet Pete Holdsworth, en av grundarna till hyllade engelska skivbolaget Pressure Sounds.

Pressure Sounds grundades 1995 av vännerna Adrian Sherwood och Pete Holdsworth. Skivbolaget var ursprungligen dotterbolag till Adrian Sherwoods On-U Sound, men blev snabbt ett eget bolag.

Pete Holdsworth var inte ny i musikindustrin när han var med och grundade Pressure Sounds. Han hade spelat i två band och dessutom stått på scenen tillsammans med legenden Lee Perry. I dag är han närmast en veteran i musikbranschen.

Idén bakom Pressure Sounds var enkel – att ge ut musik båda gillade.

– Ursprungsidén var att ge ut musik vi tyckte om och som vi trodde att andra också skulle gilla bara de fick chans höra den. Vår långsiktiga plan var att ge ut omkring tio plattor, säger Pete Holdsworth.

Att arbeta på skivbolag i dag är enligt Pete Holdsworth inget för den som vill tjäna en förmögenhet. Konkurrenten Blood and Fire gick exempelvis omkull härom året. Men det berodde egentligen inte på att de inte sålde några plattor, enligt Pete Holdsworth. Snarare på att de hade för höga kostnader.

– För oss handlar det om kärleken till musiken. Det här är inget du blir rik på. Om vi skulle vara någorlunda logiska hade vi lagt av för länge sedan, berättar Pete Holdsworth och fortsätter:
– Vi har alltid gjort vår grej i liten skala och med små medel. Vi lånade 10 000 pund när vi skulle sätta igång och tog ut väldigt lite lön i början. Till och med i dag arbetar vi med en liten budget.

Pressure Sounds har under flera år hyllats bland reggaefans, och gett ut mängder av skivor som annars aldrig skulle fått särskilt många lyssnare. Men det rör sig knappast om några okända artister eller dåliga plattor – snarare har Pressure Sounds envist lyckats lägga vantarna på det ena guldkornet efter det andra.

–  Jag tror att vi har lyckats väl eftersom vi alltid varit oerhört flexibla. Dessutom har jag bra hörsel och litar på mitt eget och andras omdöme. Jag fattar det slutgiltiga beslutet om vad vi ska ge ut, men jag lyssnar även på andra, säger Pete Holdsworth.

Fokuserar man på återutgivningar av plattor finns det naturligtvis massor att välja mellan, och ibland kan man säkert missa fynd. Pete Holdsworth säger att Pressure Sounds gärna hade gett ut plattor från Studio One, men de hamnade istället hos konkurrenten Soul Jazz.

– Vi har missat många plattor. Jag hade ju gärna arbetat med Studio One och Harry Mudie, men han gör ett utmärkt jobb med att ge ut plattorna på egen hand. Prince Buster skulle nog också vara ett bra projekt, menar Pete Holdsworth.

Safe TravelPete Holdsworth har svårt att ge några direkta favoriter ur Pressure Sounds-katalogen och säger att han brukar vara mest förtjust i de plattor han jobbar med för tillfället. Men några sticker ändå ut, och han passar på att skvallra om vad som är på gång.

– Jag har lyssnat en hel del på Safe Travel nyligen och Life of Contradiction är också bra, men det ändrar sig hela tiden och jag kommer ofta tillbaka till skivorna långt efter att vi gett ut dem, säger Pete Holdsworth, och tillägger:
– Vi har några riktigt bra rocksteady singlar på gång och sen en ny More Pressure-platta.

Fyra snabba till Pete Holdsworth

Bästa reggaelåt
Bob Andy är en speciell låtskrivare, och låten Life gillar jag riktigt mycket.

Svår fråga, vokalgrupper är min grej just nu.

Bästa producent
Jag är tvungen att säga Lee Perry. Men Studio One är Jamaicas bästa skivbolag.

Bästa skivomslag
Omslagen från 60-talet är rätt galna. De har en skön oskyldig känsla som ger dem en speciell skönhet. Speciellt de från Studio One som har ”silk screen printed label”.


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