As the annual State of the Music Symposium (SOMS) draws near I feel compelled to republish this highly informative article on VP Records principal, Miss Pat Chin. It is one of the best articles I have seen and thought readers who missed its publication in Billboard would appreciate it. VP records will be represented at the SOMSII by Randy Chin and Richard Lue who will be talking about music sales and, music and film respectively. Now in its 2nd year, the SOMSII will see topics such as artiste management, music education and artiste welfare being tackled by stalwarts in the business. Stay tuned for more on the Symposium. For now read about Miss Pat Chin….
When Patricia Chin, cofounder of Queens, N.Y.-based reggae indie VP Records, ponders the changes in the music industry since she started out six decades ago, she exudes a spirited resiliency that is inextricably linked to VP’s survival for nearly 60 years in a competitive marketplace.
“We are still selling music, but we are just doing it in different ways now,” says Chin, 77, affectionately called Miss Pat, as she surveys VP’s cavernous 10,000 square foot warehouse in Jamaica, Queens, once stocked floor to ceiling with vinyl and CDs, now housing a fraction of that inventory. “I am fascinated to have seen music sold as 78s, 45s, then 8-track tapes and cassettes, CDs and now digital — we don’t have to manufacture anything to have our music reach around the world.”
A petite, effervescent woman of Chinese and Indian ancestry, Miss Pat along with her late husbandVincent “Randy” Chin, set the foundation for their US based company in Kingston, Jamaica in the late 1950s. Fleeing the island’s escalating political violence of the l970s, Vincent and Pat migrated to New York, establishing their U.S. reggae distributorship in Queens in 1979, designated by the initials of their first names, VP Records.
“Vincent’s brother had opened Chin Randy’s Records in Brooklyn so he went to Queens which was fortuitous because the borough was then home to several music distributors and he was in that overall mix,” notes Aaron Talbert, VP Records’ vp of sales and marketing. Eventually VP took over the space belonging to Raymar’s Memory Lane Distribution and retained their longstanding employee, Rhoda Bernstein, who helped the Chins learn the rigors of the US music industry, as they sold to reggae shops in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Thirty-five years later, the VP Records empire, run by Vincent and Pat’s sonsChristopher (CEO) and Randy (president) Chin, encompasses the flagship record label (established in 1993, named Billboard’s Best Independent Record Label in 2002, 2003) subsidiary imprints Dub Rockers and 17 North Parade; a digital distribution arm VPAL (VP and Associated Labels, available to independent artists), the Riddim Driven merchandise/clothing line, a touring/live events division, an online record store, and an online radio station (Randy’s Radio), which broadcasts from VP’s primary retail store also in Jamaica, Queens; a second retail store in Miami is run by the Chins’ daughter Angela and her husband Howard Chung. With their 2008 acquisition of former competitor Greensleeves Records and its publishing arm (which administered more than 12,000 songs), VP Records became the world’s largest reggae label/publisher and now has satellite offices in Johannesburg, Kingston, Rio de Janeiro, London, Tokyo and Toronto.
VP celebrates its 35th anniversary in the U.S. with a special edition of their annual two volume (singers and deejays, i.e. toasters) compilation series Strictly The Best, inaugurated in 1993. Both volumes (numbers 50 and 51, released on Nov. 25) include bonus discs featuring classic reggae and dancehall tracks from VP’s exhaustive catalogue. The most successful edition of Strictly The Best, Volume 31, released in 2003 has moved nearly 93,000 units according to SoundScan including tracks by dancehall stars Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder, both of whom were signed to Atlantic Records via joint distribution deals with VP as well as Hot 100 charting dancehall hits by Beenie Man “Dude” and T.O.K.‘s “Gal Yuh A Lead.”
A traveling, commemorative 20′ x 40′ pop up exhibition depicting VP’s decade by decade achievements, VP commissioned artwork by Michael Thompsonalongside photos of artists representing the label’s impressive roster over the years including Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths, Maxi Priest, Shaggy andYellowman, will be displayed at the inaugural One Caribbean Festival (December 13, 14, headlined by Sean Paul), Broward Regional Park, Fort Lauderdale, Fl, and at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, in Trelawny, Jamaica, Jan. 28-31, 2015. “We are talking to sponsors now because our ultimate goal is to have this exhibition become part of a reggae museum in Kingston, which honor the artists, producers and studio operators that were there when everything started,” explains Miss Pat.
Everything started for Pat and Vincent Chin in the mid-1950s with Vincent’s job supplying the island’s jukeboxes with the latest 7″ records, predominantly American R&B hits. Chin decided that selling the jukeboxes’ redundant discs provided a viable business opportunity. In 1958 the Chins opened their first record store in downtown Kingston, Randy’s Record Mart and established the imprint Randy’s Records, so named for Vincent’s enthusiasm for the (influential) late night American radio program of that era, Randy’s Record Shop (hosted by Randy Wood, founder of Dot Records).
With their move to the centrally located 17 North Parade in 1961 and the construction of a four-track recording studio (Studio 17) above the record shop, Chin emerged as a ground-breaking producer in shaping Jamaica’s nascent musical identity. His early successes included Trinidad-born, Jamaica based calypsonian Lord Creator‘s “Independent Jamaica” (a celebration of the island’s independence from England in 1962) the first single released in the UK on Chris Blackwell‘s then fledgling Island Records.
Chin’s productions also gave early exposure to legendary Jamaican acts at the dawn of the island’s ska era including The Skatalites, The Maytals, Ken Boothe, the late Alton Ellis and the recently deceased John Holt. In the early 70s, the studio was upgraded and Chin’s eldest son Clive took control of the production sessions with the in-house band Randy’s All Stars. Clive is probably best known for his 1971 production of the late melodica master Augustus Pablo‘s influential single “Java.”
Miss Pat, meanwhile, handled the company’s business affairs working with producers who sought distribution and singers desirous of music business knowledge. “Back then I saw the need for a one-stop record store where people could buy everything. Producers Prince Buster, Duke Reid, Coxsone Dodd had their stores nearby on Orange St. (also known as Beat St.) but they just sold their own productions, there wasn’t a middle man (or woman) selling everybody’s records; I wasn’t biased or into politics, I bought from everyone.”
For her pioneering efforts as a female running a distributorship Miss Pat encountered some resistance, experiences she has used to empower a subsequent generation of women, including VP artists, within a male dominated business. “Miss Pat told me when she started out some men only wanted to speak to another man even though they knew she was an owner. But she said, as a caterpillar comes out of a cocoon, you can’t force people’s acceptance, it takes time; that’s why I promote everything she does in anyway that I can,” shared VP artist Etana whose soulful roots reggae album “I Rise” topped Billboard’s Reggae Album chart for the week of Nov. 8 the first female to reach the tally’s pinnacle position since Diana King‘s 1997 release “Think Like A Girl” (Columbia).
Miss Pat is now chronicling her unique challenges and triumphs in an as of yet untitled autobiography, which spans the evolution of popular Jamaican music from its initial dismissal in its birthplace to a flurry of major label interest in dancehall in the 90s and 00s and now a renewed wider interest in one drop reggae. Despite the changes, Miss Pat’s objectives “to see young artists develop their talents, learn to produce and sell their music” have remained the same.