By Cecelia Campbell-Livingston & Clinton Lindsay
One of the perks of hitting the big times in the entertainment arena, is the prospect of earning major US dollars by performing on various concerts and stage shows in various countries overseas. It is long understood and accepted that Jamaican artists only accept Uncle Sam’s dollars wherever they perform, except for Europe and maybe Canada.
However, for some time now, overseas promoters have been complaining about the high and sometime, ridiculous fees Jamaican artists have been demanding for their services. The fact that Jamaican artists rarely earn much from their recordings, except for those who are properly managed and are registered with the major publishing firms like BMI, and PRS, ASCAP, among others. These artists’ only real means of earning a living is by performing on stages all over the world. So when they are offered employment, their demands can be overbearing. “Many of them come with huge demands. Considering you have to pay them, buy tickets for band and entourage (which can amount to 15-20 persons and that usually includes two first class) and put them up in the finest hotels, provide transportation (nothing less than stretch limousines!) and give them per diem (up to $85 each for artist and manager) even though the American Federation of Musicians recommends up to $30! This is very unreasonable,” claims one irate New York promoter, who recently spoke to Jahworks.org.
In contrast, one promoter said he’d prefer to work with some top name entertainers from the USA. According to this promoter, “these American artists give less trouble and are more reasonable in setting their prices.” He said in addition, most will buy tickets for their friends and will order cases of champagne, instead of buying a Guinness and petting it for the whole night.
Top acts from Jamaica, like Beenie Man, Sanchez, Buju Banton, Beres Hammond, Capleton, Bounty Killer, Luciano, and Sizzla, can demand anywhere from US$15,000 – $30,000. And in addition, they still attach an unreasonable rider to their contracts, demanding all kind of perks! In the United States, as quiet as it’s kept, there is a three-tier price level for Jamaican artists. The highest price (the top tier) goes to the Jamaican promoters. The misconception is that most of them are believed to be drug dealers and can therefore afford it. The next tier goes to the black Americans, who are considered real promoters doing business as usual, another fallacy deployed by some booking agencies in misleading managers to “give away the store,” and the bottom tier (the cheapest) goes to the white promoter, who will take the artist to the next level. This, another misconception, has worked really well for these white promoters who can, and in most cases, get the hottest artists coming out of Jamaica for little or nothing.
According to a New York-based promoter, “It is much cheaper to bring up three good sound systems from Jamaica and let them give dancehall lovers a good show. They turn out anyway and will still be able to dance to the songs from their favorite artistes.” Another peeve from promoters is that these artistes are problematic and refuse to comply with the ground rules of the law. For example, a weed-smoking artist will disregard a hotel’s rule and regulation regarding smoking, and will light up a spliff wherever and whenever he feels like. On many occasions, promoters are requested to vacate and then have problems finding other suitable accommodations.
“They turn up at your club and you tell them that no weapons are allowed inside, they insist that their body guards have to come in with it. When gangster rappers perform they don’t give you any hassle, they just ‘work with the program,” the promoter shared. Bringing up one top artiste from Jamaica can prove to be very expensive, “They are too difficult to work with. In the end, whatever you budgeted to stage the concert, you just won’t make it back at the gate,” he explained.
Another promoter from the tri-state area says he has been totally turned off from using local performers. “It’s strictly Yankee artistes for me. It’s less headache and less spending,” he informed. According to him, he is totally turned off by the un-professionalism and indiscipline that seem to surround artistes from out of Jamaica. “They need to get rid of the ego trip they are on and be more realistic in their approach to the business,” he cautioned. “The writing is on the wall and they don’t even realize it, but sooner than they think rap artists will be replacing them in no time.” He further states that one can get a million selling rap artist from anywhere from $10-20,000 including all perks! And you are guaranteed a crowd.
Another negative that seems to mar Jamaican acts is the fact that violence seems to shroud almost every show they work on. When they are not disrupting things by setting the place afire, fights break out or shooting takes place. For these reasons, many reputable halls and theaters will not accept certain Reggae acts without hiring extra security and demanding a very high insurance policy from the promoter, which has to be delivered at least 24 hours prior to opening time. This means more money out of promoters’ pocket.
However, there are those Jamaican artists who do understand the economics of promoting. They will make it easier for promoters to have a successful show. And will even cooperate with the timetable and requests of their employers. They will do the radio promotions and interviews, and will make the guest appearances at the special locations identified by the promoter. These artists will also express a sympathetic attitude to the promoter if things don’t work out as expected. The longer in the business, the more mature and understanding the artists. On the other hand, there are those ego tripping entertainers who don’t even think that it is their responsible in helping to promote the event for which they are paid to perform at! Rehearsals and sound checks are two other areas where promoters always take a beating from Jamaican artists. Some artists do not show up for either, so promoters end up securing rehearsal time that is not used, or paid for extra hours for sound checks, when artists think it is not necessary.
It is a known and acceptable fact that most Jamaican artists do not honor or even respect the contracts they or their managers have signed. Most promoters will not take their cases to the courts for any legal course they may have in recouping any loss incur due to a breach by artists. And unfortunately, Jamaican artists are aware of this hesitancy by most promoters. Therefore, they behave with no fear of being punished for breaking/breaching their agreements. As a matter of fact, they are quick to tell a promoter they will not perform if their un-contracted demands are not met! Promoters usually give in, because the consequences of the artist not appearing maybe worse than the demands.
With those high asking fees, artists should come prepared to extend their full intention to cooperate with the promoters, who have agreed to pay the high fees. This cooperation between artists and promoters, would ensure that everybody goes home happily. One Miami-based promoter informed Jahworks.org that “I love Jamaican music but obviously these artists see themselves as bigger than Snoop, Will Smith or Busta Rhymes judging by the whopping figure they ask for. I don’t see why I should hand my money to them on a platter – knowing I’d never make it back at the gate. These artistes need to get with it. If they don’t wake up and smell the coffee soon – then they’ll wonder why they are not getting any shows overseas,” he shared.
The bottom line is, it is not just the high fees, there is also a huge production expense that goes into staging a decent concert. These artists should be more considerate toward the promoters, who in most cases are their fellow countrymen. Jamaican artists tend to be more sympathetic when their promoters are non-Jamaicans, and that is not right. Promotion, like any other business, carries a risk factor. A profit is not guaranteed to anyone. And promoters and artists must work hand in hand in assuring that both parties achieve their goals.