Songwriting Workshop Key Feature Of Island Music Conference

An immersive two-day workshop focusing on addressing the art of songwriting, which some of Jamaica’s most acclaimed Reggae/Dancehall producers have identified as one of the greatest deficiencies in contemporary Dancehall music, will be a key feature of the Island Music Conference (IMC) come February.

A total of to 25 songwriters will be selected for the workshop, which is to be led by renowned producer and songwriter, Mikie Bennett, who will provide instruction and guidance on how to formulate “compelling punch lines and effective rhymes”.

The IMC, which will run from February 21 to 25, is predominantly set for the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston and is being chaired by Dancehall megastar Shaggy.   

The addition of the workshop as a conference element, comes following much debate over the last year, about songwriting woes, by producers such as Jon FX, Nigel Staff, Don Corleone and veteran deejay Bounty Killer, who lamented the dearth of hit songs in contemporary Jamaican music, unlike the 1990s when the Dancehall genre, especially, scored global hits after hits.

According to the IMC organizers, participants at the songwriting workshop will be guided through what is expected to be an “immersive musical journey, which promises a unique opportunity for aspiring artistes and songwriters to enhance their skills and creativity.”

In January 2022, Ruff Kutt band leader and producer Nigel Staff, in lamenting the songwriting issue, had said that the fundamental reason most current-day Dancehall releases have been failing to chart, and have low sales, was that they have not been written using the requisite tried-and-tested formula for songwriting, which had been mastered by many of their predecessors and some of their contemporaries.

Staff had said song structure and formula were key determinants of whether a song will be a hit or not”, but that these elements were missing from the majority of nowadays music.

“We are not making any songs.  An whoever waan vex wid mi vex wid mi, wi naw meck no song,” Staff, who co-produced Sean Paul and Keyshia Cole’s Give It Up To Me, and provided key musical support Shabba Ranks, Bounty Killer, and Beenie Man, had stated.

Staff had also pointed out that almost half of the songs which have surpassed one billion views on YouTube were from the Reggaeton genre, which has its roots in Dancehall, and had been written with the Dancehall formula for hit songs.

“My thing is, no matter the genre, the songs have to be great songs. The people decide what will be a hit song.   You cannot write a hit song; you write a good song… a cultural song, a mama song, a gun song… And what has been happening in the last I dare say ten years, we have not been making songs,” Staff had stated.

“Whether it’s trap dancehall, whether it’s dancehall, whether it’s reggae, whatever it is, when you look at the rest of the world when you look at reggaeton, they are making solid songs, songs that have intros, songs that have choruses.  We are not doing that; we are a bag of lyricists. We have succumbed to lyricism…,” the ASCAP Pop Music Awardee said explained.

Ten months later, in November 2022, Staff had said that Dancehall still had an opportunity to regain its place on the global stage, if the songwriting issues are addressed.

“The industry has a way of sifting through and allowing the cream to rise to the top… We have to start with the songs though… When we can get back to proper song-writing, not lyrical prowess: song-writing – we will be back in the game front and centre,” he had explained elsewhere.

JonFX had pointed out in September 2022, that the reason most new-day songs coming out of Jamaica had been failing to score decent numbers on streaming platforms such as Spotify, was due to the majority being improperly produced and the fact that they lack the format for all Dancehall hit records:  intro, pre-hook, chorus and bridge and did not have “the basic rudiments of music structure,” particularly melodies.

“What artistes are doing, they are writing to the beat.  But the song- it’s about the song.  We as musicians should write to the song.  Not you get a bunch of beats and you have to write the songs to the beat, because then it takes out the musical elements out of it,” Jon FX had explained.

Dropleaf producer Don Corleon in May last year, had also posited that songwriting, and not necessarily the beats or genres of music, was what had been militating against many new Jamaican artistes from becoming hitmakers.  

In elaborating on the dilemma of Jamaican music, Don Corleon, had  zoned in on proper songwriting and structure, as the key missing element from songs, which, was to the detriment of artistes.

“All of that, the beat, the juggling, the trap, has nothing to do with it.  The songwriting is the main problem.  Look into my eyes (Bounty Killer) is legendary and the beat has no dancehall element.  But the lyrics makes it dancehall.   It’s written perfectly… good written song is a good written song and I can give u tons of examples like that,” he explained.

“That’s what lacking.  U can put anybody on all these classic beat (but) if it’s not written properly and in a way where all can relate to, not gonna work,” he added.

As for rhyming, in November last year Bounty Killer had said that even though that skill plays a critical role in songwriting, but it had seemingly been shelved by the upcoming cadre of Jamaican artistes. 

“The art of the pronunciation a mek it rhyme – those are the things we practised.  Nowadays, man just seh words, dem nuh badda rhyme again cause nowadays the song dem nav nuh rhyme… I understand the story, but it nuh rhyme. Back inna the days, we mek everything rhyme and I don’t know how we do it… It’s like rhyme a run out now cause people nuh rhyme again and a so we’re used to creativity cause it force you fi go the furthest fi find the line fi rhyme. Nowadays, people just lackadaisical and just say anything,” Bounty had explained on an episode of The Cut.

In addition to the songwriting workshop, IMC 2024, will showcase more than 15 panels featuring prominent music executives and practitioners engaging in discussions ranging from the role of AI in the music industry, the nuances of publicity, branding strategies, Artiste Management 101, to effective money management.

It will also include keynotes addresses, Vivian Scott-Chew and Wyclef Jean, and the IMC Showcase and the Style & Film event.

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