The Art Of The Record Deal: J’can artistes moving from obscurity to global celebrities (Part 2)

Editor’s note: The below is the second part of a two-part series by Donovan “JR Watkis” Watkis. Part one can be read here.

Deal or No Deal? How do labels break artistes internationally?

Whenever artistes get label deals or if they choose to pursue careers independently, it starts with the A&R process which is to ideate the creative insight, find the financial support, and choose the right songs for a larger audience.

Grammy Award-winning artiste Koffee

Artistes need marketing teams and a budget to grow a presence online and offline. This can be costly as it represents fifty per cent of the overall cost required for musical success globally.

The creative team from a record label supervises the process to ensure the music’s appeal is beyond the niche sonically. When the time is right for releases artistes will need professional publicity and press support for their messages, so that their interviews, viral moments, photos, music videos, etc. are shared with their targeted demographic. Nowadays social media, blogs, and YouTube channels are sometimes more powerful than some mainstream media.

“A record deal for Jamaican artistes should be considered a means to an end but the relationship should never be viewed as the panacea for their careers.”

– JR Watkis

Global distribution can be found easily as an independent artiste but global reach requires leveraging important relationships that only well-connected record labels can provide.

In the case of Koffee her signing to a record label and then signing to CAA talent agency was key to her global appeal and success. She is a modern example other artists from Jamaica could follow to find saturation in other music markets. By signing with CAA she joins a roster of other international artistes and personalities that can be leveraged to support her projects. Her song ‘Toast’ is catchy, unique, and relevant to the times, but when it was announced that former United States President Barrack Obama, his wife Michelle, Kylie Jenner and Rihanna all had her song as part of their playlists, it gave Koffee the competitive edge in the reggae-dancehall genre. Her 2019 Grammy win was inevitable in a year when there were other viable contenders in the category because she was the talk of the town.

Diamond-selling dancehall artiste Shaggy

Reggae Record Sales

Even with extraordinary international validation and the historic Grammy win the biggest reggae-dancehall record of the year ‘Toast’ did not make a significant impact on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Along with her other singles ‘W’ and ‘Rapture’, the song only managed to peak at number 1 on the R&B — Hip Hop airplay charts.

According to Rolling Stones Magazine in a February 7, 2020 article titled: Koffee Makes History With Grammy Win, Signs To RCA,

“Reggae-Dancehall only gets played on the Urban stations in the United States during the summertime.”

Koffee’s hit single Toast was added to former United States President Barrack Obama playlist.

After global fame is accomplished, the challenge is to get fans to buy the music. Even with international endorsements, it is the Jamaicans, who represent the core audience for Koffee and dancehall-reggae music — they mostly make purchases with their eyeballs, not with their pockets. Koffee and other artistes in the genre must find a way to turn cultural capital and fame into sales and financial capital. They can start by making music tempered for radio stations that cater to the paying demographic.

IFPI’s 2019 global music report stated that Asia, Latin America, South Korea, Brazil are among the fastest-growing music markets. Producer Rvssian, Damian Marley, Snow, and Sean Paul have collaborated with artistes from those markets, which resulted in millions of streams. A hit requires at-least 100 million streams.

It is the consistent and progressive sales of music along with the cultural impact that gives an artist sustained international career success, that is the math and magic of the deal.

Dancehall artiste Popcaan is one of several Jamaicans making waves on the international scene.

Koffee: Let Creativity Flow

John Fleckenstein, Co-President of RCA records enthusiastically shared in Rolling Stones magazine recently that,

“Koffee’s success is not gonna end in Jamaica, it’s gonna end on a global level”. He then says “how can we help?”

Fleckenstein’s statement and his subsequent investment in “the end of Koffee’s success” has been the approach of some record labels to Jamaica and Jamaican music in the past. This holds over with artistes who do not understand the scope of the music business and become excited by the signing of a deal. For many artistes, when they sign that’s considered the starting saviour to their careers, so they make a few releases, and when the term of the record deal ends their careers are done. They may know how to perform their works on stage, but for many, they do not know how to create, market, promote, sync, distribute and generate the highest revenue available for their own projects outside of a record deal.

Recording artiste Shenseea

A record deal for Jamaican artistes should be considered a means to an end but the relationship should never be viewed as the panacea for their careers. If so, the record deal is the beginning of the end.

Whether or not an artiste chooses to sign a record deal with an international label, it is their creativity and adaptability to each market that will cause them to stand firm through the tests of time. If they do not collaborate and grow market by market their musical careers will end.

“Artistes are either busy living or busy dying”.

– Lyor Cohen, Head Of YouTube Music.

As for Koffee, she represents a new life, new creativity, and youthful energy for reggae and dancehall music. She should continue to make timeless songs, build her brand, and leverage her celebrity into new territories as she forms a legacy that never ends.

Indeed Bob Marley has died many years now and his music continues to sell, his brand value increases year by year and his message lives in the hearts of eager fans all over the world.

– Contributed by JR Watkis, music marketer, producer and the host of World Music Views on Television Jamaica (TVJ). He may be contacted at