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A dubplate is an acetate disc – usually 10 inches in diameter – used in mastering studios for quality control and test recordings before proceeding with the final master, and subsequent pressing of the record to be mass-produced on vinyl. The "dub" in dubplate is an allusion to the plate's use in "dubbing" or "doubling" the original version of a track. The name dubplate also refers to an exclusive, 'one-off' acetate disc recording pioneered by reggae sound systems but also used by drum and bass and other electronic music producers, DJs and sound systems.
These dubplates will often be either unreleased recordings (which may or may not end up being made available to the general public) or exclusive versions or remixes of existing recordings. They are often used as a market research tool to assess the probable sales of a tune once it is released, as they are far cheaper to produce than a pressed vinyl record. However, because they have a limited lifespan they can only be used about fifty times.
Vinyl dubplates are a recently developed format which allow extremely durable recordings to be made (lasting 90% as long as pressed vinyl) and are more suited to cases where no release is imminent, or the release date is a long time away.
A dubplate special, also known as a dubplate or special, is an exclusive version of a piece of music, usually (re-recorded) by a reggae, dancehall, dubstep, drum and bass, grime, bouyon, soca, chutney, hip hop or any other genre artist that the sound system is able to solicit for the dubplate. Although CD is now the preferred format for these recordings, the use of the word "Dubplate" (commonly abbreviated "dub", particularly in the drum and bass scene) to describe them has survived.
These recordings are often used for competing in a sound clash, in which rival reggae or soca sound systems compete with each other to produce the most imaginative or unusual dubplate specials. The exclusivity of the recording is made evident by changes to the usual lyrics to include the name of the sound system that has commissioned the recording, often remarking on the prowess of the sound system in question, and sometimes the weaknesses of the opposing sound system(s) in a given competition.
Dubplate Specials are an essential tool in a sound clash – the more exclusive the better – but they also form an intrinsic part of the Reggae industry. A notable example is the special of "No, No, No (You Don't Love Me)" recorded by Dawn Penn for a number of sound systems in the early nineties. The special recorded for Saxon Studio International sound system replaced the lyrics "No, no, no, you don't love me..." with "No, no, no, can't test Saxon", referring to the invincibility of the sound system. The song became an international hit, and Dawn Penn endorsed several other sound systems with the same lyrics and continued to do so for many years.