The Kenyan music industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Having listened to people who have been in this industry for more than 20 years, I am convinced there’s no comparison whatsoever.
It’s a lot easier to make music now, I dare say cheaper too. I once listened to Dr. Pete speak about his experience while getting his first tracks on CD circa ’96. It would cost him 16,000/= to only master and burn tracks on a CD(and no, this was not inclusive of studio fees and such); 2,000/= per track! Considering currency depreciation and inflation, burning CDs was definitely big business. Today with great software, knowing what you are doing, you can master your own music from a makeshift studio in your room and burn copies for distribution almost immediately.
We have witnessed a mushrooming of music academies, schools and a reviving of conservatoires in the recent past. We have super talented tutors in these schools and students with great potential. We have TV shows that bank on musical talent, the most notable being Tusker Project fame. Scores of people turn up for auditions, whether for shows or in schools. The lucky ones make it in, the not so lucky ones go back home and wait for the next time, others refuse to wait for opportunity to come knocking and run to meet it at the bus stop.
We have a lot of talented musicians in this country. All you have to do is show up for Karaoke somewhere or a concert and see. Great voices, great writing, amazing instrumentalists, you name it! I attend concerts and sometimes leave wondering why aren’t these guys the ones on radio??
I could be exaggerating but everyone is talented, they can sing and write, even play an instrument. Everyone can get media coverage. Take TPF for example, National TV for that long, broadcast over satellite to the rest of Africa. Do the math, how many of those contestants do you consistently hear of after the show? TV interviews have almost become common, every TV station is playing music videos….many music videos.
The music industry today is a great sea; most people doing the same thing fighting to get to the top of the charts, my question is, What differentiates you as a musician from everybody else?
The following are pointers that would have you on your way to a great career in music:
Starting a career in music has got to be more deliberate and calculated than it is emotional. You need to decide from the word go whether you will do music full time or as a side hustle. Decide for how long before you go full time and have pointers and milestones that will signal you when it’s about time.
Plan towards it. Put aside some money and learn some music business. Put together a team that not only identifies with your vision but also understands what they are doing, ins and outs of the industry. Set your foundations right.
The industry is a thankless black hole where money, sweat, blood and tears go at most times, a sober mind on why you got in in the first place will keep you going.
The quality of your writing, singing, rapping, playing and recording cannot be overemphasized. You don’t only produce quality music but also demand for quality. Branding, photography, videos, concerts you name it.
Talent is still the biggest component of your music career. Artistry, artistry, artistry! The reason for which we have music in the first place. Work hard and be diligent. This will set you apart.
Remain passionate, if you forget anything else in this post, remain passionate about your music. Passion is what will keep you going when your returns are ridiculous; when the fans don’t respond as you would want them to; it will cause you to remain in studio till to get something out of it.
Be consistent. Consistency in quality, values belief systems, relationships the whole nine yards. This will give you credibility, your fans can trust you and better still you catch the attention of the industry. You will in time get influence and the reality is, influence determines music careers success in the long run more often than talent does.
This is what I call the ‘Gentle as a dove, Wise as a serpent’ rule. Know what works and what doesn’t. Know when to release an album and when to release a single. Listen to the fans. Know when to attack the systems and introduce something new.
Tact, strategy and the discipline of a soldier. A tough skin too will come in handy.
Get a fan base offline, at least 200 people (you do not know by name) within a 160km radius of your home town. Keep the online platforms active but don’t forget that real people live offline. People who will show up when you play in concerts. Play LIVE as often as you can before your home crowd. At the very least once a month. These are the people who will eventually make your dream to go on tour a reality.
Be real with yourself. This will help you see situations objectively. Don’t call booing fans haters…ok Kenyans rarely boo… don’t call a non responsive crowd haters, go back to the drawing board, reconfigure and bounce back.
Be your greatest promoter. I mean it. Don’t distribute music and start calling radio, TV presenters and DJs asking them whether they played your music. Listen in, tune in, encourage your fans to do the same and thank media personalities rather than pester them.
On the flip side, be your greatest critic, without taking it overboard of course.
I read a post last week: Why Won’t Africa Listen to Us? The author approached it from the media point of view. All the Western and South African music being played forcing Kenyan artists to adopt their beats due to pressure for airplay and in turn drowning the Kenyan style of music. I agree with him but artistes have a role to play too. Could it be we haven’t really worked on a Kenyan sound? I know we have an idea of what we currently call the Kenyan sound but is that the best we can do? You grab attention buy being different, a different kind of thinking and way doing things. Perhaps it’s time we changed some things.
The Kenyan audience is unfortunately not a hard one to please, you can judge by a good number of hit songs today. I advice to you though is to keep at it, show the Kenyan audience something different, then they can demand better. Give them reason to hunt you down and buy your music. I know that Kenyans don’t buy music but most times all that is needed is something different.
Again I ask: What differentiates you as a musician from everybody else?