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American record label giant warns:
Donít Make Music Purely For Radio

By Terry Joseph
April 05, 2002

CEO of Tommy Boy Records, Tom Silverman on Saturday last warned Caribbean artistes to stick with their artistic philosophy and not design music for radio or major record labels.

Delivering the feature address at the Caribbean Music Expo (CME 2002) awards dinner, Silverman, whose label remains one of the success stories in hip-hop music, said it was time for artistes to forget the myth that radio is the sole vehicle by which songs become hits.

"I think you could not want a better example than The Beatles in this regard," Silverman said. "When The Beatles were number one on the Billboard charts, the song ĎI Want to Hold Your Handí had been rejected by every radio station in America.

"In fact, there are many such examples to support this point and I believe a lot of artistes, particularly new acts, are overwhelmed by the idea that radio will make a bad song good or a good song better.

"Good songs are discovered or made popular by people who like and understand music and there is no guarantee that the people on the various radio stations, be it here in the Caribbean or in the rest of the world, fit those specifications. You must make music according to your conviction. That way the soul comes through and the listener can know how serious you are about your craft.

"It is as bad as designing music to attract major labels. That has not been the history of this industry.

"The same Beatles came to fame on Parlophone and obscure label at the time. Disco came from Casablanca and Tommy Boy, which no one knew at the time, made its mark in hip-hop. Bob Marley, of course, was with Tuff-Gong, not with Epic or Atlantic or Warner Bros.

"Look back and you will not see the famous big-name labels early in the disco craze or hip hop," Silverman said. "In fact, major labels are shrinking or consolidating, since the challenge of Internet music came about. Just this week EMI is carded to retrench some 15,000 of its employees worldwide.

"And please donít try to imitate success. Donít be Bob Marley or Shaggy. Weíve heard that. What labels want to hear is heart, soul, innovation; not what someone else has done, except, of course you do it so much better than the original and even so, you become a cover.

"Tonight I am challenging the Caribbean artistes to develop their own music charts. Donít try to be on Billboard, but develop a chart that Billboard will carry, as they do for several other charts outside America. Again, we donít need another reggae chart.

"You need to study how the industry is moving. Its direction and the possibilities as they shift. Shaggy was the only artiste that could be called big-time last year. His album sales outstripped all others. Indeed, 55 percent of the record sales in 2001 was generated by .032 percent of the 35,000 releases listed.

"You must therefore try to bring something to the musical landscape and not just a copy of whatís there already," Silverman said, adding: "The Caribbean has a wealth of musical talent. It is to bring it to the fore in a fashion that will make the world sit up and take notice, not the radio station or the mega label, but your own people in the first instance."

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