Fred Zindi Music
OF late I have been bothered by a number of youngsters who ask me how they can record their songs. They simply want the songs they have written or the songs they sing to end up on a CD. They are not bothered about the quality of that CD or the end product.
In the past, Zimbabwe had two main recording companies which were responsible for recording and marketing music. However, these companies were very selective about who they recorded and what type of music they preferred to market.

Today, things have changed. Young men like MacDonald “MacDee” Chidavaenzi have built their own home-based studios and record music of their choice without being dictated to by record companies.

The only challenge that comes out of such home-based studios may be the recording equipment might be inadequate and therefore production of quality sound is compromised.

A lot of people wonder why musicians go to recording studios when they can equally record their music on portable cassette recorders at home.

While it is a fact that a cassette recorder can record music it does not have some of the important features that a studio has in order to maintain the quality of sound being recorded. For instance, the studio can have 16, 24 or even 36 tracks which enable each instrument or voice to be recorded separately on its own bit of space and when the CD or tape is played back all the tracks can be heard together.

This way the listener hears the whole band of musicians playing together as if they were at a live show. It is also possible to hear all the instruments or voices separately as they are recorded on separate tracks. Furthermore, adjustments on volume and other sound effects can be made in order to improve or alter the overall sound. This cannot be done on an ordinary cassette recorder.

As a result the digital recording used for studio recording is normally superior to the ordinary cassette tape although with today’s technology, some four-track and eight-track portable studios which use cassette tapes now exist. Most professional studios computers to record and edit the recordings. Recently, some DAT digital tapes which look like micro-cassettes were being used to record music. Many recording studios have moved further to record on CD with the assistance of a digital computer.

The mixer or mixing console, usually referred to as “the desk”, is another feature found in a professional studio. This performs the duty of mixing or directing all the sounds before they go into the tape recorder, DAT or CD for the final mix.

High quality recording studios can be found at places such as Monolio Studios, Diamond Studios, Gramma Records, Mosi-oa-Tunya Studio, Shed Recording Studios, Zimbabwe Music Corporation Recording Studio, Metro Sounds Recording Studios, Gospel Train Studios and Corner Studios. Some have closed down due to lack of business. Despite this, a lot of recording studios have sprung up recently and most of them are housed in individual homes as home recording studios.

When it comes to marketing, almost all musicians in Zimbabwe depend on the radio to play their music because if a record is not played, there is hardly any other way of hearing it and people will never buy it, simply because nobody knows of its existence. Thus the ultimate success of a record depends on what a handful of DJs in a radio station decide, especially if the record is by a new or unknown group.
In the past all radio stations were controlled by ZBC and if a musician clashed with ZBC staffers, that was the end of their musical career. The problem of late has been alleviated by the establishment of two more radio stations Zi-FM and Star FM and more musicians are getting airplay.

The business of recording music in Zimbabwe can be summed up by the experiences of one youngster who wrote:
“I finished my O-Levels last year. My greatest ambition has always been that of becoming a musician. As an aspiring musician I approached several existing bands for an audition. They were all either too busy or simply negative to my requests. Undaunted, I bought myself an acoustic guitar and started to learn to play with a little help from the boy next door who was an accomplished guitarist.
“Three months after the purchase of my guitar, I put together three songs which I took to a recording company. The company’s A and R person seemed very keen on my songs and asked me to leave my demo CD behind.

“Three weeks later, I went back to the record company to see if they were prepared to make a record from my material. The recording company boss told me that although my stuff was quite good, it was not commercial enough. He gave me two sungura singles to listen to and told me that this was the direction I ought to follow if I wanted my music released.

“I was amazed to learn that my music would not sell in Zimbabwe before it was given the chance. This was a new sound I had developed. No one else could play my sound the way I do. I thought as something that was unique to me it should be given a chance. But I soon realised that if I was to release anything, I would have to get rid of that uniqueness and just emulate the big names. It had taken me nearly four months to put together that sound although it was only done on a tape recorder at home with an antiquated acoustic guitar.

“However, my spirits were not dampened. I took my tape to the second recording company with the intention of leaving them the same CD. It was only after I reached home that I realised I had given the company the wrong CD. In fact, I had switched CDs by mistake and left this company with a blank CD. I tried to call them to let them know that I would bring the correct CD later in the day, but the receptionist at  this  company told me not to call again for at least a week.

“When I went to the company two weeks later, before I could explain that I had mistakenly given the wrong CD, I was received by the company’s A and R man who said that he had listened to my CD. I was stunned! How on earth could he have listened to a blank CD?
“He then went on to tell me that while he thought my music was excellent it was not tight enough and that I should report back to him when the music had improved. He returned my blank CD.

“Four months later, I returned to the same company with another demo CD. This time it was done in a proper studio. I had no choice really but to take the CD to the same people as there are only a few professional record companies in the country. This time I was told that my music was too sophisticated. He preferred simple and catchy tunes.

“It was now 12 months since I started working on music seriously. I still do not have a backing band or a record company contract yet I do believe that my music is superb and original. The only consolation I have is the fact that I have been seeing many other youngsters with musical ambitions like me, being turned away by record companies. I can’t wait for the day that I will be given a chance to hear my own voice on record even if I am not paid for it”.

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