Grandnephew of Treasure Isle record and Rocksteady pioneer Duke Reid, reggae has been in the family history from before the name Reggae was coined. Carrying on traditions, his first tutor in Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong studio was his father Errol Brown who was none other than Bob Marley’s sound engineer.
Following in the footsteps of his Granduncle, he has his formed his own label dubbed Jukeboxx and is one of the most sought after producers in Reggae music. Following on the back of a successful 2008, Shane Brown has teamed up with VP/Greensleeves to release Silent River/Nylon riddim.
Marvin Sparks caught up with Shane Brown to discuss Jukeboxx records, Demarco’s departure, his recipe for Busy Signal’s recent success and how a Reggae producer makes money in these tough economical times.
Marvin Sparks: What techniques did you pick up from working in Tuff Gong as far as engineering?
Shane Brown: Analogue; it was all analogue back in the days at Tuff Gong. That was one of the greatest lessons. Just being in that analogue era. That was a very important and vital part of my upbringing in music. Another thing was their technique of recording acoustic instruments. A lot of modern engineers, right now - that era has passed the by so they don’t know about acoustic engineering. That was a very next important technique that I learnt. Being able to mic a drum kit and a piano.
Marvin Sparks: What advantages are there when using live instruments?
Shane Brown: Well from my perspective, when you are doing a one drop rhythm nothing can beat that live feel from a drummer, with even the fills and the accents from the drums than a drum machine which is just a sequencer. It has no feel to it like a live drummer. Also, for a roots rhythm, a live bass can never be replaced by a keyboard. And with the horns, the keyboard ones don’t sound organic.
Marvin Sparks: Is there a particular reason why you don’t use live instruments for Dancehall rhythms?
Shane Brown: Because you have so many different elements to a Dancehall rhythm, so for the elements that I want, it can not be produced by a live drummer. I may have four different kicks and different subs, so you get more subs and ultra-low sounds which can’t be done by a drummer.
Marvin Sparks: Would you say you have a trademark sound that separates you from others?
Shane Brown: The trademark of my Roots rhythms are more of a back-in-the-days sound where you hear the live instruments that I just spoke about. My trademark is more of a live sound. For my Dancehall rhythms, I more stick to old school Dancehall. You are not going to hear me with a riddim that is going at like 120 beats per minute. I stick to a slower movement with a groove - that’s my thing. I don’t like the riddims too fast.
Marvin Sparks: What motivated you to start Jukeboxx record label?
Shane Brown: Well, I was just an engineer and I wanted some growth in the business. I found myself producing for other people, so one day I just kind of said to myself ‘Why not do my own production instead of staying stagnant?‘ Just ambition; I wanted to grow.
Marvin Sparks: You’ve already got two artists under the label who are very popular in the scene right now. What did you see in Busy that made you take him on?
Shane Brown: The first thing I saw in Busy was I admired his style and his flow. But then I gave him a roots riddim called the Statements and his delivery on that riddim made me think he was very unique. He can deliver on a Dancehall, a Hip-Hop and even a Roots riddim. Not every Dancehall artist can deliver on a Roots rhythm. That was the first thing that drew me to him; his talent.
The second thing that drew me to him was seeing such a talented artist being somewhat stagnant and not growing quite as quickly as I think he could have grown.
Marvin Sparks: From a UK perspective, he never really followed up the success of Step Out. He has definitely made a big impact over here since joining Jukeboxx, and followed it up consistently. What did you say or do to help him grow?
Shane Brown: The direction I saw for Busy, was not just to think Jamaica but think outside of that box. Luckily for Busy, he is naturally a person that is willing to experiment with different sounds and techniques. Next thing is to be more press friendly - more people friendly. It doesn’t make sense having this talent and no one doesn’t like you. Thirdly, we got his image a bit softer. Just because you are a dancehall artist doesn’t mean you can’t dress and look presentable.
Marvin Sparks: The other artist who is doing well is Demarco; how did your working relationship begin?
Shane Brown: Actually Demarco is not with this camp anymore.
Marvin Sparks: Really? Since when?
Shane Brown: Since this month [January].
Marvin Sparks: Why was that?
Shane Brown: We weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. So I now have Peetah Morgan. He is the latest addition to Jukeboxx.
Marvin Sparks: With Peetah and Gramps doing solo work, are Morgan Heritage splitting up or just doing solo projects?
Shane Brown: It is important to note the group has not broken up. After so many years together, Morgan Heritage is a brand, and they have to preserve that brand so they can only do certain types of songs within that brand. But yet still, each individual member of the group has different types of music that influences them and different types they would like to do. Like you can’t get Morgan Heritage doing a song with a heavy Dancehall beat. So now you have Peetah singing on a Dancehall beat.
The group hasn’t broken up but individuals within the group are doing different things, and it can only be better for the group. It’s a wider audience. If Peetah or Gramps are doing a couple Dancehall tracks or a couple Rock tracks collectively as a group they are still Morgan Heritage, and they are getting different fans. Each member of the group is actively involved in the others project.
Marvin Sparks: Demarco built your popular Dancehall riddim ‘Warning’ as well as Busy Signal’s smash-hit ‘Unknown Number’ last year. Will there be much of an effect as far as output and quality of riddims?
Shane Brown: It can not effect the output because JukeBoxx has been around before Demarco. We have only done one riddim with Demarco and that was the Warning riddim. The other riddims were not done by Demarco so he is not the backbone.
Marvin Sparks: One of the standout cuts on the Nylon riddim is the Busy Signal ‘ Trading Places’. Talk us through how that concept came about?
Shane Brown: We were in the studio - the thing with Busy Signal is he is a person who is very spur-of-the-moment. We were just talking in the studio and the rhythm was just playing in the background. We went into a conversation where we were just making jokes about people, like people in higher places and just making jokes at them. Someone said ‘Yo, that’s a bad [good] idea for a song’ and that’s how it came about - just from a joke.
Marvin Sparks: Tarrus Riley’s ‘Start A New’ touches on domestic abuse. Whilst recording, did it cross your mind that the song could possibly be controversial?
Shane Brown: You see for me, I like real life situations expressed musically. I’m not afraid of subjects. Once the audience or once a person can naturally relate to something, let’s talk about it. Tarrus came to me with the idea, told me what the idea was, and I said ‘Let’s go for it’.
Marvin Sparks: Speaking of controversy, you produced ‘Gash Dem’ by Chuck Fender, which was banned.
Shane Brown: Yeah, that was banned. Up to now I don’t understand why it got banned, but I guess the system has their reasons which we can’t help. But yeah, that one was banned in Jamaica and again, it’s a real life situation where he was singing against crime and violence. The same thing that you see on the news and in the newspapers is the same thing that we are saying musically to me.
Marvin Sparks: Around the time when the Mavado vs Vybz Cartel war was at its peak last year, many critics came out and said producers should be held more accountable for diss songs. Your name wasn’t called but you did have the two on the Silent River going at one another. How do you respond to that?
Shane Brown: I can’t speak for other producers. At the end of the day I have the final say. It is my song, my production and my label. Speaking about those type of topics, at the end of the day it is still an art form, and as within everything, you have competition. In sports, in politics, in church you have competition. If it can be carried out in a decent manner I have no problem with it. Its just like when we go to watch a movie; I like a good action movie, and there is nothing more gruesome than visually seeing it. I think there is more incriminating seeing the action than listening to it.
Its an art form. I’m not going to say Chuck Norris influenced crime and violence or knock him for doing those kind of movies. I have no problem with these type of songs. If I don’t do them often it is by choice, not because I don’t agree with them.
Marvin Sparks: Have you spoken to both artists and is the war over now?
Shane Brown: What a lot of people need to understand is this war thing is very seasonal. After summer coming up to December everyone is preparing for Sting. Therefore, that is the season for it. But after Sting, there is no way you can start the year off on that note. Both parties are saying they have finished with that.
Marvin Sparks: So is it all engineered then?
Shane Brown: No, it isn’t engineered, it’s just a part of it.
Marvin Sparks: So we can’t expect either one to record a new track on one of your rhythms?
Shane Brown: Nah, that’s not really my vibe right now. I’m more into the girls songs and some party songs. But who knows? If these two artists can keep it musical and not physical its all good and fun.
Marvin Sparks: Have there been examples of songs you haven’t put out? If so, why didn’t you?
Shane Brown: The first thing for me not to put a song out is if it is off key or off pitch. Basically that is it. I am a Godly person, so once they get to the direction where they are referring to God in an ungodly manner that’s not my thing either.
Marvin Sparks: How do you select which artists you work with?
Shane Brown: Well that is an interesting question because there are certain artists that will always be on my rhythms - like Mavado. For example, apart from being an artist we are friends. Busy Signal, naturally, is my artist. Apart from that, I may have a rhythm where I’m hearing a particular artist on it. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of times they don’t work out. But I just have a little vibe of a rhythm and I’m just feeling a particular artist on. If I think working with the artist is going to be a headache I don’t pursuit it.
Marvin Sparks: How does working with a veteran like Bounty Killer compare with a young artist? Do you leave the veterans to do what they are doing?
Shane Brown: No, I don’t leave anyone to do what they are doing. No matter if you a re veteran or a new artist. At the end of the day, I am the producer. If I’m going to work with someone that is aggressive or arrogant to the point where they won’t take direction from me then they don’t need me as a producer in that case.
Working with Bounty Killer or working with a new singer is all the same to me. One thing my dad taught me about this business is once you come into the studio you are no longer a star. You are a star outside of the studio with your fans, but once inside we are all equal and trying to achieve a song.
Marvin Sparks: Which producers influenced you?
Shane Brown: Clive Hunt who was a roots producer from back in the days. Also, Sly & Robbie, Dave Kelly and Tony Kelly as influences from producers.
Marvin Sparks: What are the essential qualities to being a producer?
Shane Brown: First thing is the producer has to know what he is looking to achieve at the end of the day. The producer is the creator of whatever the song is, so he has to know what he wants the song to be or what it turns out like. As a producer, you need to know key and pitch. You need to be able to give direction because the producer is like a contractor building a building. You need to be able to manoeuvre and direct and instruct the artist or the musician to get your dream to light.
There are some producers in Jamaica, - now I’m not knocking anyone because you have to do what works for you. A lot of people might just come and get a rhythm, and the artist [records] it, and gives back the song, and [the producer] will say they are the biggest producer. That’s not a producer to me, and in Jamaica now everyone is a producer it seems. To me, the greatest thing a producer could have is the know how - what is it that you want to achieve.
Marvin Sparks: Everyone is experiencing these tough times from major record labels and retailers to the small labels. How does a Reggae producer get returns for their product?
Shane Brown: You are asking the right questions you know [laughs]. Right now, I wonder myself, because apart from being a producer I am an sound engineer. I mix for people. But sometimes, I wonder how people can pay me because there are no returns. I mix most of DASECA’s beats. To be a producer in these times, you are better off managing an artist because there are little or no returns from record sales. You better be looking after an artist and keep overheads to a minimum.
That’s the thing about it for me; keep your overheads at a minimum. Every successful camp - like you have Don Carleon, he has a stable of artists; Jukeboxx, we have artists; DASECA, they have artists. You have to have artists that you have control of and are managing because that is where music is right now. Music is like promotion for my friends. That is why I don’t want to [record] everyone. I have to think about my goal, my ain and my objective, so I think that is the best way for a producer to make money.
Marvin Sparks: Major labels give artists advances to make projects with producers usually being paid from that. But in Reggae and Dancehall it usually works the other way around with producers paying artists to record. Do you still pay artists?
Shane Brown: No, I don’t pay artists. None at all! [laughs] I don’t deal with that. I feel an artist should pay me in all honesty. Once there is a financial situation being entertained by an artist, I am not into it no matter who you are. VP sometimes [give advances]. I was hired by VP to do a Sizzla roots album which I am going to start. So they are actually paying me to do an album for them.
Marvin Sparks: So you just get artists to record without payment and it works as free promotion for them?
Shane Brown: That’s exactly what it is. You know what is the hardest thing about being a producer in Jamaica? When you have a hit riddim, everyone, eventually - I don’t know if it is because of this new era with Protools - people just get your riddim, voice it and give it back to you. Or when you are a friend of someone, there are always about 20 artists who want to come and voice your riddim.
Like this year for example. there are 2 riddim’s I’m putting out - 1 by the name of Dubwise and 1 called Rainforest. I am trying my best to keep it at a minimum with just 5 cuts on the Dubwise. Just this morning, before this call, Beenie Man came - he heard the riddim playing on the radio. Now how do you tell Beenie Man ‘Beenie, somebody else is on there’. I stopped mixing the song to talk to you on the phone. So sometimes it not like the producer said he wants 20 songs on the riddim. Really and truly, on Dubwise I need 3 songs, but that’s almost impossible.
Marvin Sparks: You produced what became the unofficial national anthem during the celebrations of Jamaica’s achievements in Beijing. How did ‘On The Go’ by Mavado for Nike’s Olympic campaign come about?
Shane Brown: Olivier Chastan [Vice-President of VP and President of Greensleeves ] and I are good friends. He told me that Nike approached him for me to do a track and he asked me which artist I am feeling to do this track. He told me the concept and everything, I told him Mavado. He said good, because that was the name Asafa Powell called.
We got the concept of the riddim from Nike - a festive, Olympic sounding riddim - then I made the track and called in Mavado, told him about the arrangement and he agreed to do it. Apart from the concept of the riddim, Nike wanted some key points made in the song itself. I gave him a guideline and he done it.
Marvin Sparks: It’s a shame Usain Bolt came and broke the record before the ad campaign and song got big.
Shane Brown: I wouldn’t even call it a shame; it still benefited everyone. Unless you were in the media, people didn’t know who the song was for. Majority of the people just had it as an Olympic song. It wasn’t about Asafa, it was about Jamaica and was like the national anthem.
Marvin Sparks: You weren’t nominated for any awards at the prestigious EME awards even though you a few hugely popular riddims nor was you nominated for Producer of the Year. How did you feel about that?
Shane Brown: It hasn’t affected me. When I saw the names of the producers who were nominated - DASECA and Stephen are friends of mine and good producers. So for some reason they don’t recognise my work or don’t think it was eligible to be nominated then I won’t fight it. I don’t do it for an award; it motivates me to do more work.
Marvin Sparks: What can everyone expect from Shane Brown and JukeBoxx in 2009?
Shane Brown: As far as production, I’ve started the year out with 2 nice riddims. Just expect more variety. Expect a lot of singles: I’m doing a single with Mavado, a single with Vybz Catel, a single with Peetah Morgan, a single with Busy Signal. Some singles in the scene amongst juggling riddims.
Know that, even though a lot of producers in Jamaica - I don’t why but have turned their back on the Roots music, Jukeboxx will never do that. A riddim like Dubwise; people think its a riddim from the past, one that I’ve made over - but it’s all original. You can expect Jukeboxx to be endorsing keeping the original and authentic Reggae music alive.
Nylon/Silent River riddims both available to buy now
For More info: http://www.myspace.com/jukeboxxproductions