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The entertainment industry is tricky

Alick Macheso launched his latest album Zvinosvitsa Kure to a packed Chitungwiza Aquatic Complex. He must be feeling relieved when one considers the media reports around the concert and launch. Macheso is legend material.

By Admire Kudita

He even had Jah Prayzah supporting him and Jah Prayzah is one of the top musicians in the country. Alick Macheso is a consummate musician — a bass player of serious talent. He needs this moment to last so badly. Music fans are like ladies of the night sometimes. No permanent arrangements. Yes, every artiste has die-hard music fans whose patronage sadly may not always be enough to help an artiste pay his bills.

How do we measure ‘top’?

By Zimbabwean standards, if an artiste can draw enough of a crowd to fill the Harare International Conference Centre auditorium without having to include a foreign draw card and if an artiste can be able to fill venues week after week and command hefty appearence fees then he is “tops”.

Additionally, if an artiste can be enlisted as a brand ambassador by private companies and have his shows underwritten by them, then he is a top artiste. The proverbial 15 minutes of fame in showbiz is about five years long. It is a period in which an artiste experiences a hot streak.

In Zimbabwe, the gender of the artiste is usually male and usually that artiste is king and has the richest pickings. The music gods have tapped him to eat, and to eat on everyone’s behalf! It is really his time of “fatness” — the fat years. Hopefully he gets to buy a house with his proceeds. This is a basic measure of success.

The lean years will descend certainly and dangle on an artiste’s neck like an albatross. This is the time an artiste gropes around in the darkness of his oblivion when fickle fans, ravenous for the next big thing, find someone else to fawn over, switch allegiances. It is the nature of the pop music beast.

Overseas scenario

Internationally, a musician of Alick Macheso or Oliver Mtukudzi’s stature will generally be having the option of living off the royalties collected from the use of their extensive song catalogues. The royalties will have been generated through the mass media’s use of the music amongst other things. Thus film soundtracks use musicians’ works (synchonisation rights). Advertising and airplay are examples of the sources of royalties. With technological advancement, mobile phone ringtones and diffusion services present sources of income for songwriters. Notice I mention songwriters and not musicians per se…

Local situation

Incidentally, the Zimbabwe Music Rights Asscoiation has recently been paying songwriter members their royalties and the monies vary in amount depending on air play. These disbursements take place once annually around this time for the oragnisation’s over 2 000 members.

Songwriters can and may share the spoils with band members though I doubt this situation obtains. In the absence of bookings for live shows and endorsements by corporate interests, the musician today really has not much by way of income. Six-hour gigs are standard fare for local in-demand musicians and that is ridiculous by world standards. Sungura musicians end up having 20 minute long songs and six track albums. It is a truly hard slog on the road.

Disruptive innovation, tech

I will not elaborate on the carnage caused by technological innovations which have enabled music to be easily and freely distributed and shared.

There is talk of encryption of music but it is largely an exercise in futility. Hackers of the world unite and continue to unravel all the attempts the music industry makes to secure the work of musicians before legitimate commerical exploitation. Around the 2000s , Shawn Fanning set up Napster, a file sharing pirate service which was ultimately swatted down by the monolith music industry. Napster pre-figured the emergence of iTunes owned by Apple.

The late Steve Jobs saw a gap which the then twenty-something Fanning had seen and failed to properly capitalise upon without raising the music industry’s ire.

We used to have vinyl records and cassettes. Then we had CDs along with other file formats to store data. The music industry suffered a seismic shock. The Fourth industrial revolution has been “tsunamic” in terms of its socio-economic magnitude. Those that have failed to embrace the attendant innovations expeditiously have been left trailing in the debris of time.

Societies and nations that fail to make the adjustments cannot reasonably compete. The music industry has suffered the most and the business model has been altered forever as bricks and mortar music companies no longer hold sway. Musicians can no longer depend on unit sales of music for their income. Services such as iTunes and Tidal are fighting to retain the income stream of music sales flowing. It is a hard road to walk.

How does an artiste make money today?

Today an artiste needs to be popular to “eat”. He must strive firstly to make hit songs, get air time on radio and television. He must have a social media presence which includes YouTube views, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram followers. He must have influence.

With Google Analytics, an artiste’s management is able to establish the demography of an artiste’s following. On that basis, one finds that an artiste’s brand equity can rise or fall. An artiste’s appearance fees are loosely based on that brand evaluation.

What is interesting is how even individuals who are famous for being famous such as Kim Kardashian have become brand ambassadors for various products targetted at their constituencies. The information superhighway is possibly the most “democratising” technological development of the last millenium.

I cannot even tell what else matches its enormous power to impact to society. A Zimbabwean artiste is battling with the rest of the world on the worldwide web for attention whether one is a filmmaker or musician or whatever.

I am aware that ZBC along with most of the radio stations which utilise musicians’ intellectual property in their programmes have not paid up. This is terrible. It is theft.

Parting shot

Tuku is poised to stage a show at Cape Town’s Arts Cape Opera House today courtesy of Mukuru the money transfer company. The deal makes sense on the face of it. Here is a service that caters for Zimbabwe’s diaspora and Tuku is a popular music brand that is trusted and devoid of political baggage.

He is a clean and safe bet for an apolitical corporate partner. I doubt if Walter Wanyanya, who is his current manager, will sleep on the job and fail to milk such an opportunity. These kinds of gigs are not exactly flowing Tuku’s way these days. Having a business entity support your concert usually means that they handle most of the expenses that causes musicians headaches such as venue hire, equipment and hotel bills. One more way to eat!

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