I came across an article the other day. A prominent Kenyan musician was being interviewed and the question, when we should expect an album from him was asked. His answer was one I’m sure many Kenyan artists can relate to. He said he’d release an album the day the government did something about piracy. He made it clear that an album was not in his near future plans. Honestly, I was not shocked. Putting together an album in the industry’s current state is not something I often advise artists to do.
This got me thinking though. How much untapped potential is hidden behind record sales? Not just albums but videos and singles as well. 2012 recorded the first increase in global music sales since 1999 according to IFPI! 0.3% to be specific, seems small but this is the first time the graph was in the positive this century. Surely this should mean something.
The 21 century renaissance is said to boil down to four factors:
• Better mobile technology.
• Growing global middle class.
• Music listening options.
• Crackdown on piracy.
In Kenya, the most common ways of getting the music to the audience include: physical copies; ringtone downloads; ringback tones; free downloads on platforms like mdundo, soundcloud, reverbnation etc and digital platforms like Waabeh, pewa hewa and sometimes iTunes. These platforms however have not been fully utilized in my opinion and hence rarely provide a reliable basis for tracking record sales.
We have a huge problem though, piracy. It’s so rampant that musicians would rather scramble for tv and radio airtime and the limited number of live shows. Cling onto hopes of royalties and income from shows which is barely enough. I sometimes wonder how many artists (save for the highflying ones who can get a brand endorsement or two) really break-even. I mean, the ever so rising cost of living, studio and video costs, to mention but a few. For how long will music remain a side hustle for most?
With this kind of scenario at home, the rise in global music sales has been partly attributed to the crackdown on piracy so I know it can be done. Countries like Sweden have put in place stringent measures to curb illegal downloads. In 2009, they passed legislation where copyright holders could force ISPs to reveal users illegally sharing files paving way for legal action. According to AFP, downloads from legal sites shot up by 57% while retailers recorded a 14% increase.
I agree that Sweden’s solution may not work in Kenya right now but it is testament to the possibility of nailing this problem once and for all.
Top two reasons I come across for piracy are either the music is too expensive or not easily available for purchase. I have a third one, legislation has failed us. The first two we can work around, maybe more digital copies on iTunes, Mdundo and Waabeh; an awareness campaign on how the digital platforms work, they have baffled me before as well and proper distribution mechanisms. I believe though there is much room in digital distribution. I don’t think we have an established streaming and subscriptions platform yet, given that spotify is not available in Kenya yet, but that is where the industry will be headed in the next couple of years. Legislation we will follow through, it’s a tough road but we will demand better.
We’ve got to start somewhere. I’ve only had one artist with a goal to attain platinum sales, right here in Kenya. I want to see an industry where we can begin to recognize musical success in record sales certification terms.
If you have any ideas on how we can turn our record sales landfill back into a goldmine, feel free to share in the comments section.