29th November, Blood will be performing at Barbados is Music at the Kensington Oval.
Anderson Armstrong grew up in The Pine as the little guy in his group. He was musical from the very beginning and walking home one day he found himself standing face-to-face with the Mighty Gabby. Conversation took no time to strike and before he knew it he was invited to audition at some tryouts. Even his school teacher told him, when he was just 13, that he had a future in music.
These were my school days and after performing The Fly and the Cockroach, I took my cassette back home. I thought there was a mistake because this one said Young Blood on it. I never wrote Young Blood. I put the tape in and, when it clicked – it was the right tape, I understood that he probably forgot my name so just wrote Young Blood.
And that’s where the name came from. So we had to ask… Is that why these days you’re just called… Blood? Yes! Blood, Mr Blood but never Old Blood. Age is in the heart and if you feel fresh, act fresh and speak fresh, it’s because you are fresh. So here we are with the legend from Square One who became the natural leader in everything he did despite the fact that he was the smallest guy there. And he’s not even that small so we can only wonder who he was hanging out with.
Most of the interviews we hold with musicians come back to how it’s possible to make a living if you’re a musician. He wasn’t so good at taking instructions but that worked to his favour. He built up his own recording studio and the music was doing well so he could produce for other people. He had the tools he needed and now he was using everything at his fingertips. There is no doubt that music can come and go like fashion so you better be prepared. Blood worked on a lot of tracks with his own money. He would work with younger kids who couldn’t do everything on their own so that he could really help them become what they deserved to be. And it’s people like this that take the time to welcome new fresh blood into the industry; to encourage them, to motivate them and to help them develop. Give and thou shalt receive.
Business and Music
That first year was amazing and Blood made tracks that all the bigwigs in the music industry frowned upon. He called it Bootleg because it was in the peak of digital music piracy. He made a CD that went around for cheap because that what the listeners were going for. So of course he was going to ruffle some feathers. All of those people who knew best and who had all the experience were telling him that he was going in the wrong direction. He didn’t listen, he just ploughed on and the results were huge. This is a time when Blood became a big industry name. His ability to mix, produce, perform and go commercial. Even against the tide of industry know-how. What had happened is that he had understood his audience. He addressed the issue by going street and it paid off.
And there is a reflection on this too. When the next tracks were produced, Blood took the time to listen to the industry leaders. He wanted to move away from that whole Bootleg idea because it was time to get serious… And it did nowhere as well as the first. So if anyone is ever going to tell you to follow your heart this is a pretty good place to start. More than that, listen to your audience. And don’t make music for musicians!
Change the world
There is a common thread that we find in entrepreneurs. When something in the world is stopping you from accomplishing what you’re doing, change the whole world. Structural inefficiencies in the music industry? Change the music industry.
Blood is an active member of COSCAP (Copyright Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and has lobbied for legislation to change. Even if we look at things in their most simple form it’s immediately clear that Bajan artists aren’t going to make a living in an industry where the formal structure stops them getting paid. Radio-play royalties are critical to musicians and if you so much as delay payments to the artists, life as a musician becomes untenable. It’s hard enough to break into a career and make a name for yourself but if the legal framework doesn’t help you get paid then how is anyone supposed to survive?
Square One took ten years to make their break. How does anyone last ten years without giving up? That’s a tenacious ten years regardless of who you are. It’s not that efforts aren’t made but more needs to be done.
Currently 60% of all radio airplay is supposed to be Bajan music and not one of us will stand up to defend that claim. The law is a nice thing but who is the radio police? Now if we step back and realise the extent to which music is a significant part of our economy, why is it that only 10% of our airplay is Bajan? In fact, half of that money goes abroad anyway once the loopholes are used properly.
So why is there such a strong music import bill?
Blood’s ten years in Square One was a testament to the idea that you have to become a domestic success before you can take on the rest of the Caribbean, let alone the world. Blood used the example of Ricky Martin – just think of the years he was performing back home in Spanish before any of us had heard of him. Maybe he was called Young Ricky Martin when he started and now he’s just Ricky Martin #justsaying.
On the basis that we’re an entrepreneur who wants to change the entire world to get what we want, we have to make sure there is a flow from zero to hero.
Are kids getting enough musical education? There are programmes that exist today that haven’t existed before. BCC is an obvious place to start and they have courses now that no one had years ago. We also have initiatives like Operation Triple Threat, that we wrote about last month, who will educate and train 7-21 year olds in dancing, acting and singing.
And then what? Well it turns out that a lot of our most promising talent ends up working as a teller in a bank or even working in a hotel. We are training and educating our youth and now we have to help them turn their passions into a career, not just a hobby.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are examples everywhere. If only the Central Bank had realised that other countries also had central banks, maybe they wouldn’t have resorted to the hilarious levy that they stuck together in a rush on a Sunday night. Canada is a prime example of a nation that fosters talent and sends it abroad. Celine Dion, Ryan Reynolds, Alanis Morisette, Jim Carrey, DeadMau5 and Justin Bieber all came out of Canada. There is an entire social structure created to boost their talent so they can then go international.
Now does this mean that Barbados has to have a government funded operation that will pay for young artists to grow? No. And frankly, their track record suggests that if they did we would suddenly end up with three and a half calypso artists reviving melodies from the ages of yonder. Forget that time machine. God has given us one direction and that direction is forward. By tweaking legislation to promote and encourage the music industry as a whole. Stop taxing all musical imports and all of the equipment needed to start a studio. Lower all the barriers to entry. Make it simple to create a business as a sole trader and file tax returns. Create an artist’s tax exemption and make it cheaper and easier for promoters and organisers to set up concerts. None of this costs anything, it just means changing some tiny laws and refining old ones. Very old ones. Cropover doesn’t need to be the only time of year that musicians make money.
None of these ideas are new. We just looked around us a little. It’s time to grow.