Kelly Dudley aims to make 21st Hapilos a ‘forever business’
For the last decade, Kelly Dudley has been running a race to compete with digital music-distribution services worldwide. With the launch of 21st Hapilos Digital in 2009, sparked by the idea that dancehall music was seeing improved growth on the global stages, the intense business mogul made it her duty to raise the profile of the genre.
Dudley, who has been with the company since its inception, told The Gleaner, “Before Hapilos, dancehall music had very little presence online, and with the digital revolution that was happening, it became necessary to create a presence for the genre.”
She noted that the rise of independent distributors like Hapilos who share in or assume the marketing, promotional, legal and other support needed to create hits means that artistes now have the choice to enter into professional distribution-only deals to release and circulate their own music without a traditional record deal or having to take care of the responsibilities themselves.
“Artistes opting to go independent instead of signing record deals in the Jamaican music industry by releasing their own music through distributors like Hapilos can be a good thing for the industry. Through this process, artistes can gain the experience they need when it is time to navigate a traditional record deal. When stakeholders in the industry become informed and experienced, then the entire industry benefits,” Dudley said.
She added, “We consider Hapilos a ‘forever’ business. As long as there are artistes, producers and record labels creating music, Hapilos will be there to promote, market, and distribute music.”
Hapilos sings its praises as the original distributor of Vybz Kartel’s Clarks, which features Popcaan, who, at the time, little was known about, and the company continues to create pioneering fields to recognise emerging talent, including its ‘Producer of the Month’ programme, which, according to Dudley, is only the beginning of the plans it has to engage its clients.
Of her promotion to the position of president in October 2016, Dudley explained that her main goal was to improve transparency and accountability to clients, develop new partnerships and revenue streams in key and emerging markets globally, and increase client support.
“My overall goal coming in as president was to redirect and keep the company true to our mission statement, core values and vision,” she said.
A rare find, Dudley has proven that an individual does not become president of a major local company by mistake – or by making any. Dudley shared, “It feels great being a woman holding down this position in a male-dominated field, but I have earned the respect of my peers and clients – both men and women – based on my professional acumen and not my gender.
“I have seen where female artistes and producers have not got the same respect or have to work twice as hard for half the respect reserved for their male counterparts. This is unfortunate, and I am committed to help changing this (among other things),” she continued.
Dudley says the Hapilos legacy, already a reality, the intention is to further secure that legacy and the legacies of the music creators. The company has already improved accountability by giving all its clients access to the digital sales dashboard to view streaming statistics, from location (with most downloads of Jamaican music taking place in the United States) to the amount of money being paid for a download or stream.
She shared, “In 2018, when compared to 2017, audio stream consumption increased a whopping 41.8 per cent, while digital downloads of songs declined 28.8 per cent for that same period. Physical album sales were down 15.3 per cent. Streaming services have completely changed the way music is consumed, and the overall effect of streaming service has been positive for the industry as it allows more consumers more access to more music at a fraction of the cost.”
However, the roadblocks she has met, though not unfamiliar news, involve the informal nature of how the business is carried out within the multibillion-dollar music industry.
“We are still challenged with most reggae-dancehall artistes and producers not obtaining a written agreement in place that details the ownership terms of the music they co-create, so there is no clear ownership path to the music, and ownership rights are claimed by multiple parties, which impedes distribution,” she said, explaining that legacies can not only created in the digital age but recorded for future business.
“In this digital age, total accountability is absolutely possible if the will is there to provide it.”
The lack of paper trail hinders her and the company’s ability to develop partnerships with major platforms like Apple iTunes, Pandora and the like to supply content from local talents.
She urged, “Let’s try to formalise the business of the music by obtaining clear contracts, written agreements for everything, and honour same as it is becoming more necessary to provide documents to stakeholders in the global music industry.”