Road March results : a decade of review

2019 road march result
Click to enlarge

The 2019 Road March results are in, and in traditional post-Carnival fashion, conversations begin about who won and who should have won. But let’s be honest, the new trend of predicting a winner weeks ahead of the Carnival days has taken the steam out of those arguments and points instead to an awakening of the idea of the power of the social media space as a crucible for decisions that have commercial impact on Carnival music.

Laura Dowrich-Phillips and I host the podcast Music Matters; The Caribbean Edition, and we have spent time on the Soca Sessions discussing with producers, innovators, managers, and professionals, about how soca can make a more permanent impact on the global music scene. One of the things that we heard is the “numbers game” that signifies to a modern music industry that we are on the same page. Our Soca music industry, however, has to have more spread. By this , I mean, a lot more songs have to be in the mix. The Road March competition, and by extension, a win is one marketing tool that can be used to move those numbers of streams and purchases upward. Let’s look at some numbers now. (All data compiled from TUCO figures.)

While writing this, TUCO announced the winner of the 2019 Road March, “Famalay” by Skinny Fabulous, Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin.

What is significant about this win over the popular “Savannah Grass” by Kes The Band is how the numbers are not pointing up. The graph below shows the number of plays since 2010 of the winners and runners-up.

Road March count 2010 – 2019. (Source: TUCO)

A few takeaways are evident on first look at the graph:

  1. Machel Montano is the dominant artist in the soca scene as far as road march is concerned. Seven out of the last ten years he has been a winner.
  2. Despite his artistic dominance, Machel has won via collaborations in the last two years. This would be his third having won with “Band of De Year”, a collaboration with Patrice Roberts. (3 out of 10 winners in the last decade were collaborations; that could be the new thing.)
  3. The maximum number of plays counted has declined. Which begs the question, how does TUCO count a play? Is it every tune beginning, or would a continuous loop of a song with multiple repeats be counted as one or many?
  4. Super Blue and Ultimate Rejects were HUGE. More than 500 plays each, no other winner within one hundred plays of their marks.
  5. The huge wins of Blue and UR, and subsequent drop offs, also indicate the cyclical nature of hits—peaks and valleys with a common recurring denominator—in our musical space and the short attention span of our society. (See gap analysis below.)
  6. Machel’s “Waiting on the Stage”, despite the relatively low number of plays, had a dominance that was extreme; more than ten times the amount of the runner up. (See graph below.)
Road March dominance, a measure of how much bigger one song is over the other

The idea of dominance, the number of times more the winner was played versus the runner -up, and the results over the last decade suggest that once a tune has been decided, DJs and bands will drive that tune home deep into our minds. Ten or even eleven times more than the next tune could be seen as overkill, but the numbers also reveal what can be seen as the gap between first and second place is not always aligned with dominance. The most “dominant” tune from 2010 to now has been “Waiting for the Stage” by Machel being played more than eleven times more than its nearest rival, Kes’ “People”. However, the gap between Ultimate Rejects’ “Full Extreme” and its nearest rival, Machel Montano’s “Your Time Now” was even greater than the number of plays for “Waiting on the Stage”!

Road March gap analysis 2010-2019, the difference between 1st and 2nd

As you can see, after a burst of domination (different from dominance) by JW & Blaze, Super Blue and Ultimate Rejects, the Road Marches level off with Machel Montano for a couple years and rivals increasingly nipping at his heels. (Prediction: Machel will not win in 2020.) Our music needs a leveling off, but more importantly, a wider net of product to make a case for both quantity and quality in the music business. (There is never too much music to choose from. We may move onto a new flavour if we have wider choices of great songs, rather than hold on to the last dying breath of a played out hit just to win a road march.)

All these terms, gap, dominance, domination, plays, reach and span are the beginning analytics that must come into play as we begin to take our music into the global industry. The Road March win is another analytic bundle that can be used to sell a song. The method of measuring that win has evolved from number of plays by steelbands at the Grand Stand to plays at NCC-sanctioned, and I assume -licensed, venues or stages nationwide.

The technology to define and measure a “tune of the season” exists—I believe that Nadia Batson wrote a pair of tunes that are summed up by the memorable lines “she pack all meh clothes in a garbage bag” and “I thought yuh hiding, I thought yuh went foreign“—and that tune may differ from the Road March which has to have a certain energy, an African energy even devoid of notions of melody, counterpoint and harmony and veering steadily to rhythm, syncopation and tone which our Caribbean DNA knows how to interpret to make us mashup the place. Bouyon from Dominica, Dennery Segment from St. Lucia, Jab Jab  Riddim from Grenada retain that African DNA. T&T went groovy! The xenophobic exclusion of “foreigners” begun in the 1970s has evolved to the workaround of regional collaboration with a majority local output. Soca is now Caribbean music invented here. Deal with it!

© 2019, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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