How viable is music business today?

16 May, 2016 - 00:05 0 Views
How viable is music business today? Winky D

The Herald

Winky D

Winky D

Fred Zindi Music
Music has always been my passion. Even at a tender age, my parents saw through this. They encouraged me to play on, on condition I did not abandon my academic studies.

A lot of our neighbours were surprised to know that my parents would give their blessings to such a thing which was considered to be a job for vagrants (marombe) and bad boys.

They did not see any future for anyone who followed that kind of path as there were no role models who had made successful careers through music. In short, no one saw anyone making financial gains through playing music.

“Manu haasati awana basa. Achiri kundoridza magitare!” (Manu has not found a job yet, he is still playing in a band!) was the common saying in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The profession was looked down upon.

Each time my neighbours saw me playing at weddings or other functions, they would rush to my parents to complain about it. My parents would tell them that they would reprimand me, but they did not.

That was the attitude towards music and musicians back in the day. But has anything changed at all in this day and age of the internet and advanced technology?

What is equally clear, though, is that the value of music is almost as subjective financially as it is aesthetically. The economics of music, it turns out, is more dark art than dismal science.

The lack of clarity around whether a particular work of music might be worth more or less than before has led to intensely divided opinions.

Today we have role models like Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Jah Prayzah, AlickMacheso and Winky D who make a living through music. They have all received endorsements from corporate institutions who respect what they are doing.

Several youngsters now believe they can make a living out of being involved in music. Unfortunately, these artistes no longer make as much money from their recordings as they used to before piracy came into play.

Advance in technology in modern times does not seem to have helped them. However, the successful musicians mentioned above, continue to make most of their money the centuries-old way, that is through live performances.

As with the rest of society, though, the lion’s share of live performance income, given our depressed economic situation, is increasingly going to only a tiny elite.

“I actually don’t quite understand how the bands I like such as Transit Crew and Mokoomba are even surviving,” Rasta Sostain Mafaro said. He was being self-effacing, sure — but probably not entirely.

Putting the debates about artistes’ income in a broader historical context, it becomes clear that the money made from a song or an album has clearly decreased over the last several decades.

No single statistic captures the health of the entire music business. While record sales have plummeted, concert revenues have soared and corporate partnerships of one kind or another have become more common. Plus, the industry figures you see in articles like this one hardly ever factor – in expenses.

For a live show to happen, there should be money for hire of the venue, publicity, hire of equipment, hire of bouncers manning the gates, transport for band members to and fro venue, food etc.

These items can cost thousands of dollars and if a concert is attended by say only 200 people paying $5 each, only $1 000 will be realised on the night. This does not cover the amount of money spent on expenses. That means that the band-mates go home empty-handed after sweating in front of the audience for hours.

The question still remains whether or not music is worth anything. The answer, however, is a moving — if not almost invisible — target which —including anything from production, marketing, and artist fees, to venue costs and road crew wages — can add up to huge sums in expenditure.

Some will argue that after more than 36 years of cultural flux, music is now priceless. Others will argue that it is still worthless.

When compact discs (CD’s) came onto the scene, they became easier to manufacture. In fact anyone with a computer, could burn a music CD from another CD. The pirates discovered that this was an easy way of creating wealth (from nothing) for themselves and the big business of piracy began.

The artistes who are involved in rehearsals, production costs of recording and marketing end up getting less than the pirates.

Some think that online downloads are a way of solving this problem. But perhaps not. Download sales cut out the cost of packaging, but artistes get only a slightly bigger share of revenues.

Indeed, if measuring the financial ramifications of a track or stream in contemporary times is tricky, figuring out how that compares to records, CDs, or downloads in years past is harder still.

The intricacies of the music industry stirred discussions about online streaming. Some argue that online streaming is an exploitation of a smaller industry that’s vastly better for artistes and listeners. Others think that free downloads and streaming should not take place, because whichever way, the artiste does not make as much money as he used to before all this technology came about.

In late 2013, a US organisation, Spotify, disclosed an average per-stream payout to rights holders of “between $0,006 and $0,0084,” or less than one cent per play. Spotify has called per-stream averages a “highly flawed” way of looking at its value, saying that as more and more people subscribe to the service, everyone will benefit. But if a musician is getting less than one cent per play, how much will he earn after 1 000 plays? Less than $100.

The shrinking of the record industry, at least, is beyond dispute. Global revenues from recorded music slipped to about $15 billion in 2014, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry; that’s down from an inflation-adjusted worldwide peak of $60 billion in 1996.

The US, the world’s biggest market, took in 2014 revenues of just under $7 billion, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, down from an inflation-adjusted $20,6 billion at the 1999 peak.

In other words, using 2015 amounts, the American record industry is slightly more than one-third its size before the bubble burst. That massive drop in revenues has come despite the advent of the iTunes download store, Spotify, and other potential industry saviours. And the decline hasn’t started reversing itself yet — revenues were relatively flat the last several years, according to the RIAA.

So yes, the record industry has had a rough 21st century thus far. Less clear is the economic value of an individual song or album.

In Zimbabwe Alick Macheso was selling his well packaged, hard cover “Tsoka Dzerwendo” album for $1 a copy in order to beat the poor version of the same by pirates.

If he had not shifted big volumes of this album, it would have been a market flop because the costs would have been too much to bear.

This got me thinking. Do I stay in the music industry or do I quit?

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