“When you are building your career in music, treat it as a business and understand that entertainment venues are your office,” says South African (SA) performer and entrepreneur Nomsa “Nomisupasta” Mazwai.
“While everyone else is having a good time, you must be focused on the prize: royalties, income, and merchandising.”
The Soweto-born artist learned the hard way: she did not make a cent in royalties from her first 15 years in the recording business because she had not registered with a collective management organisation.
Mazwai was among professionals drawn from music, animation, fashion, branding, podcasting, and artist management who shared experiences on transforming creativity into a sustainable business during the Showbiz Entertainment Africa (SEAfrica) Academy Conference in Johannesburg last week.
She started Music Creators South Africa, a professional association, whose founding Board includes her legendary compatriot Yvonne Chaka Chaka, to empower music copyright creators around Africa with the tools to support their careers.
“Today if you are an artist and you are not reading or learning from podcasts or videos then someone is stealing your income,” says Mazwai who studied business management at the university.
She explains: “You might be getting more money than you have ever seen and you are thinking 'Wow! These guys care about me. The reality is you may be getting paid less than 1 percent of what you should be earning.”
South African record executive, Nhmaulo Nota Baloyi, advised professionals in the music business to focus on financial stability: “Invest in yourself and improve your skills, don’t spend frivolously. Strive to create multiple revenue streams.”
A prominent revenue earner in today’s digital world is music streaming, but the system of payments through these platforms is complex. “The algorithm depends on who is listening to your music,” Mazwai explains.
“If your subscribers are on a premium plan on any streaming platform then you will get paid more per play. If all your subscribers are students who are on a free plan, then you will be paid less.”
The location of subscribers also determines revenue, for instance, subscription plans in North America cost more than they do in Africa and so if you have a big following in that part of the world then you get paid more per play.
In her experience, artists can still make more money from selling their merchandise and physical formats “because one CD sale is better than 10,000 digital streams.”
“People may not have CD players anymore but it is memorabilia, they love them. My 250,000 streams worked out to a miserly $18 (Sh2,296),” she says.
The multinationals, from Spotify to Apple Music, have used the big music markets of Nigeria and South Africa as an entry point into Africa and the rest of the continent can learn from the experiences in these countries.
“Internationally, people are looking out for themselves and so we must be better organised as Africans so that when we go to international platforms then we protect our rights.”
“If Jay Z is coming to perform in South Africa, then the relevant industry bodies have to approve and say, for instance, that Jay Z must do three community engagements, and conduct two workshops. To make money in our country, there must be an impact,” she says.
According to Ghanaian brand publicist Sheila Afari, artists must evolve beyond their music to spread influence to other spaces of pop culture like fashion, dance, and food.
“Today, Burna Boy is the most successful African artist, but he has evolved beyond just the music to commercial product endorsements.”
Kenyan publicist Anyiko Owoko who has just launched a new season of her podcast and YouTube show speaking to artists across Africa, said it is no accident that Afrobeats is now in the top league of global music brands.
“I remember when Burna Boy was releasing EPs and struggling to get airplay. In retrospect, he put in the hard work, persevered, and knew where he wanted to take his brand,” she said.
SEAfrica is the brainchild of South African Peter Sibeko who started it in 2014 as an exhibition and conference where creatives across the arts in South Africa would converge under one roof.
“After the first year we realised that we had to narrow it down to just the entertainment business,” he told the BD Life in Johannesburg last week.
During the third year, the event reached out to include collaborations with professionals in other African countries, starting with Botswana.
“We add value through networking among other creatives, administrators, and management from different countries,” said Sibeko.
This year, the event was co-hosted by South Africa and Ghana with participation from Botswana and Kenya.
Mazwai summed up the task facing artists today: “To be in the music business you only need a smartphone so there are no barriers to entry. You can only make it by doing it your way, you have to be committed, and push for years.”