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Dear South Africa: There’s hope for our music industry

August 28, 2012
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“If radio stations pay for all the music they play, why is it so hard for them to pay local artists rather than international artists, when financially it would make sense to play local over international as royalties would be “cheaper”?”

A few months ago I went into a music store to purchase Toya DeLazy’s new album “Due Drop” for my niece; she’d been waiting on the release since her first listen to “Pump It On”. To my surprise, when I asked a store assistant to point me in the direction of the album, she had no clue who DeLazy was, let alone what the album was even called. 30 minutes later and I left the store agitated and annoyed. To me it just makes logical sense that anyone who works in a music store should be brushed up on local artists at least, but unfortunately this was not the case.

I started questioning the role that our music stores play in the promotion and support of our local musicians’ work. So I recently took to twitter to ask a few questions I believe we need answers to, and I posed these thoughts to all South African musicians, and consumers of the local music market.

  • Is it easy enough to approach talent scouts, record label executives and record labels to get them to listen to your music?
  • Are studio sessions’ tariffs too high?
  • The musical content of South African artists’, are they convincing enough for you to part with your hard-earned cash and purchase an album copy?
  • What do you think needs to happen so we can get our music industry into a better “position” for our musicians and listeners?
  • In your opinion, how does SA radio play a role in supporting local music?
  • Are SA music stores partly to blame for slow album distribution and not always having the albums available on-hand for consumers?
  • Do you think SA music stores find it easier to advertise international albums as opposed to our local products, and why is that?
  • How easily accessible is purchasing or downloading a South African artists’ music in our country?
  • Is there hope for our music industry?

 It would seem that there are a vast number of music fans who would love to buy their favourite artist’s albums, but the struggle to find the album in music stores is such a mission, to the point where they’d rather save themselves the trouble and sadly pirate the album from friends. With the huge success of some South African artists, it is apparent that fans still have faith in our local music industry, but the general consensus is that mainstream radio stations and our music stores do NOT support our musicians enough. And this came as no surprise to me.

Music stores stock 90 percent of international album releases; of which the American music origin stands at a majority share. Music stores will advertise and promote an international album because they know it will sell, where as it seems as though most local artists won’t move the same kind of numbers. Part of the blame is their fault however as they continue to bombard us with media content of foreign artists since the advent of South Africa’s democracy, and the result is that consumers purchase what they are familiar with. That’s how marketing strategies work. My main issue is that this may directly impact on music store owners assuming that South Africans don’t want to invest and/or support our local musicians. It’s almost as though they’re saying our musicians aren’t as marketable and/or as profitable as international artists, which leads straight into my next question: Why are we so quick to jump on international albums yet fail to support local artists, when majority of the time local albums are less costly than the international albums?

Are we so immersed in international trends that we don’t see the need to invest in our local music industry? Why do we have so little faith in our local talent, when as stated by my twitter poll, we believe that the talent exists, the quality of work is improving, and the content is on par to what is being produced internationally?

What are our local musicians doing wrong that we fail to support them at their concerts yet we are quick to spend R900 to watch an international artist? Are local musicians getting the right feedback to help better their craft; from listeners, radio station managers, music store owners, record label execs in particular? 

A friend recently mentioned to me that some African governments have regulations in place stating the percentage ratio between foreign music and local content for all radio networks that broadcast publicly. Needless to say that the ratio more than favours the local musicians, thus Nigerian music is more popular within the continent just as Congolese is still popular. Is this what needs to be done in South Africa to get listeners to know their own fellow countrymen’s musical products? I’m not sure, but I believe the ratio in SA is 50/50, no wonder a handful of artists start emulating American musicians in the hope that they will get airplay in their own country. Almost as a ripple effect, you then get ‘haters’ who complain that the artists aren’t ‘keeping it real’. Will fans ever be satisfied? Well that’s a question for another day but something to think about.

I also asked Lebogang Mothibe, better known as Shugasmakx from the group Skwatta Kamp to share his thoughts on the matter, and he revealed that the playlist ratio is in fact a  70/30 split; in favour of foreign music in South Africa. To hear such news from someone who has been in the industry for about 12-years was devastating. That meant that he, like many other SA musicians, have been placed as “second best” in their own country. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

If radio stations pay for all the music they play, why is it so hard for them to pay local artists rather than international artists, when financially it would make sense to play local over international as royalties would be “cheaper”?

As part of my twitter discussion, Sifisile Ngwenya (@mscroc) had said that radio stations used to have shows primarily dedicated to local music. She added: “It was the law that a percentage of local music had to be played. Our statutory quota is not enough and needs to be increased, as was done in Nigeria. South Africa has to lead the way and start amending its laws to promote local arts and culture”. In my opinion, our Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula is contributing to this sentiment by spending obscene amounts of money flying-in international artists, instead of investing in our own. Are his actions not in direct correlation to him implying the lack of faith he has in our music industry, and indirectly our artists?

Standing in a studio watching someone release their internal thoughts onto a beat is an amazing experience. I’ve witnessed someone share their thoughts, opinions, pains, joys and turn it into something that can be shared with someone they may never meet. There is no feeling like being in a studio and watching someone push themselves towards perfection because of their dedication to be the best they can be. This feeling is indescribable, and the momentum is beautiful. And yet, when you go to the music stores, their product is unavailable, or unheard of.

It’s like saying our musician’s work is NOT marketable when in actuality it is. Die Antwoord is the perfect example of this. The group only started getting radio airplay in SA after foreign countries started embracing their music. Were we waiting for foreign approval?

A number of people said that they can’t stand our musicians’ live performances, when I asked why, they responded “they sound crap live” – That may be true for a select few artists, but that doesn’t apply to all. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of international artists who sound horrible live too; Def Jam Recording’s artist Rihanna is one of them. Sometimes, promoters are at fault for using sub-par equipment, which unfortunately is a bad reflection on the musician, and can result in a bad review from disappointed fans. Pity the fans hardly think this through to see who’s really at fault.

I asked die-hard hip-hop fan Bongani Malaza (@conceptofmalaza) on Twitter what he felt about people saying our local performers’ sound “crap” and he responded: “I think that our local artists are some of the best performers I’ve seen live. I’ve been to plenty international hip-hop shows in this country from Jay-Z to Blue and Exile, and our local artists came out tops. I’ve even seen Rihanna live and she sounded like a crow! 50 Cent, Blue and Exile, and Drake but to name a few were bad live, as they regurgitated their albums on-stage. If you want to be moved, go watch Tumi and The Volume, Skwatta Kamp, Jabba, JR, Maxhoba, Kabomo, and Nothende, amongst others live, and then you tell me that Drake is hot.”

Maybe we’re such a big part of the problem that we fail to see that we are quick to point out faults, but with little or no solutions to offer. Seldom do listeners give constructive criticism, and maybe our musicians also need to interact more with their fans. Yes it’s YOUR work, but your fans are a huge part of why your music is great.

Judging from the positive feedback that Randall Abrahams and the SAMA-team received after last years’ award ceremony, and the public reaction to the loss of musicians like Brown Dash, we know that there is a lot of love for our artists. It’s time promoters i.e. radio, TV and music stores start “selling” local music at the same high standard that they sell American artists.

I agree with Shugasmakx and Sifisile, creating and enforcing a new legislature might be the best way to progress as a whole in the industry. We’re supposedly seen as one of the most progressive African countries yet we fail dismally when it comes to investing in our own progressive music industry. This may lead you to believe that corporate SA really has us living in a façade.

That being said, I implore music lovers to invest in our local talent. It’s the only way we can move forward and build an even stronger entertainment industry. Then again, this is just MY opinion.

Written by Lerato Mannya (@s2angel_88)


  1. I’d also like to disagree with the notion that our artists are suck live. We can criticise our artists sure but not in that department. The effort they put in and the way they connect with the audience is inspiring.

  2. The problem with our artists’ live shows is not the sound to me, but the performance as a whole. Seldom do you find a South African musician headlining his own countrywide show. There are a few, but that’s not enough. Lira, Thandiswa, Simphiwe to name a few all tour the country and bring us intimate shows, the kwaito and hip hop guys seldom do that and bank on festivals and the likes to give us their live performances.

    As for the amount we pay for international artists’ vs local ones, well that is the price of hard work and state of the art equipment. I will fork out R900 for Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Madonna and the late King of Pop MJ because of what they bring on stage. They understand that this is their chosen career and work damn hard in making sure that we are entertained. Sadly, not the same can be said for many SA musicians. They give us a sub standard band, that sometimes drowns them out. They perform like they can’t wait for the afterparty and that sometimes leaves us as an audience hanging. Having said that not all are like that as I would for example pay R900 to see Thandiswa Mazwai, the late Brenda Fassie and Lebo M etc.

    The problem with our local musicians lies with them as much as it does with the other mediums. Radio stations cannot market people who find it hard to market themselves…

    • Well said.

    • Well said. …

  3. I have to agree with this article, I truly feel disappointed in South Africa as a whole, when an international artists performs here, they don’t mind paying R900+ for the ticket, but have an amazing talented local artist want R100+ to their gigs, its a problem… Its really sad when South Africans don’t support each other but when a muso goes broke or passes away, they’ve got a FAT LOAD TO SAY

  4. I have to disagree with Vejinity. As a rap artist myself i pride myself in Live shows a little more than i do anything else. You see its an issue of investments. You as the listner have to endorse us.. We do not have the funding for national tours. We do not have the platform as yet to headline our own shows, BUT when we do.. Are you there at those shows paying at the door and standing in the crowd to be there? Local artists who ‘have not made it’ are always making shows for themselves and on the day there is NO SUPPORT. So instead of saying there are no live shows, say people are no people actually taking the time to support.

    I can speak for myself, i spend all my effort and time advertising to people that i have a show, luckily for me 200 – 300 people do come and they vouch for the performances. It all boils down whether you are supporting and willing to help the progression of the local rapper.

  5. @Vejinity “Seldom do you find a South African musician headlining his own countrywide show.” – How do we expect our artists to headline their own shows when we won’t invest in them? You need money to tour the county. Who has to pay for that? Must the money come out of the artist’s own pocket? Remember our artists aren’t making millions like American artists for example.

    “As for the amount we pay for international artists’ vs local ones, well that is the price of hard work and state of the art equipment. ” – Are you implying that our artists don’t work hard? Because if you are then i will disagree with you whole heartedly. Spend time with a musician, watch how many hours go into making one song. Watch how many people put in work to make sure that song is perfect? It looks like there’s no work that goes into it but there’s alot of behind the scenes work that goes into it. Our artists work hard, most even work two jobs just to support their music career. So how can one say they’re not working hard? If you’re working two jobs just to make sure you can afford to pay for all the studio time, mixing, mastering and even advertising – you are working hard.

    “They give us a sub standard band, that sometimes drowns them out. They perform like they can’t wait for the afterparty and that sometimes leaves us as an audience hanging.” – Again, the equipment is also part of the problem. We cannot expect our musicians – Most of whom aren’t professionally trained to know !00% of the time what the audience is hearing – what might be horrible sound to you might not be that to someone else. At the end of the day equipment is a HUGE part of the performance, but again, how do we expect our musicians to afford this expensive equipment when we refuse to even go watch their live shows? That’s part of how they expect to make money, money which can go towards buying that expensive equipment.

    Also your “Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Madonna and the late King of Pop MJ” – Trained musicians, some have been performing since they were 4, they’ve had YEARS of training. Our musicians aren’t all that privileged.

    “Radio stations cannot market people who find it hard to market themselves…” – Take 5fm for example, how often do you hear them playing ad’s saying “Play more local music” – they have one currently that says “Play more rock music” – The play local or die campaign has not been supported by radio. Radio is mainstream, it is the link between the listener and performer, the middle man. They NEED to support our artists.

    Let’s take Toya for example, did you know that she had been performing and taking her craft seriously over the last 4 years? Yet she was relatively unknown even though she and her friends and fans had been marketing her. ONE song supported by 5 Fm launched her to the rest of South Africa, it was played every single day at least once a day. Now she’s got about 20 000 odd followers on twitter as compared to the 58 she had when i started following her.

    RADIO can make or break a career. That’s the truth of the matter.

    But again, this is just MY opinion based on things i’ve seen from working with musicians and from being around them.

  6. @Selinah I agree with you whole heartedly.

  7. @Pulane Thank you for reading and commenting :)

  8. Legislation can always be overlooked as our government already struggles to oversee themselves. To every artist out there that starts getting the proper recognition and eventually steps onto that stage that’s deserved….keep at least 1 or 2 other artists with you to bring them through the channels. So it won’t just be you but 4 or 5 artists at the time.

  9. We need to ask ourselves “what did Zahara do that other artists aren’t doing”. If her album can go multi platinum & her DVD double-platinum in 2days, why can’t other artists do it? If the other answer is “nothing” then SA artists might wanna up their game. I believe our music quality has dropped too low