Making Music for Music’s Sake

Nothing brings people, communities and nations together as easily as music.  Music in one form or another has been around since the earliest records of human existence and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. “Research suggests [music] may have allowed our distant ancestors to communicate before the invention of language, been linked to the establishment of monogamy and helped provide the social glue needed for the emergence of the first large early and pre-human societies,” says BBC Earth’s Collin Barras.

We can recognize the neoliberal-capitalist tendencies of our society by its need to industrialise almost all aspects of life. If it can be commoditized, it will be. Music is no exception to this.

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“The music industry is a key provider of jobs and income revenue in the South African economy,” says a 1998 report by the Department of Arts and Culture. “The gross turnover of the core of the South African music industry is approximately R900 million, with industry experts estimating that the entire industry is worth R2 billion.”

18 years later, the industry is in decline. According to Jan Vermeulen for My Broadband, “CD sales, which make up the bulk of physical recorded music sold in South Africa, shrank from 15.9 million units in 2012 to 12.2 million in 2013.”  This is partially due to an increase in piracy which is negatively affecting the digital music industry.  In addition, there is a lack of efforts in place that would sustain the industry and ensure the development and funding of local talent.

South Africa’s musical heritage is not contained within the walls of recording studios. The DAC’s report acknowledged the potential of local musical movements. “Without vibrant live music in townships and suburbs around South Africa, musicians would not have the opportunity to explore their creativity, to be recognised by the recording industry or to make a living.”

Is recognition from recording industries, however, the only way to develop a musician’s career? Signed artists make most of their money from live performances and touring. In an article by Azzarrah Karrim of Grocott’s Mail, musician Jon Savage said, “the only way to make money as a musician is to perform live shows [and] sell merchandise.”

Karrim said, “[major labels] are also going bankrupt in many cases, as they tend to cover their own expenses before they pay their artists.”

Encouraging vulnerable children to participate in music or musical therapy has had its success. Projects such as the Arkwork Collective’s Access Music Project (AMP!), describes itself as an “arts based intervention as a form of social justice, catharsis, education and personal empowerment.” Programs like these uplift certain sectors of the larger Makana community and help heal the psyche of impoverished communities.

Musician, producer and owner of Tropical Sweat Studios, Angus Kerr suggests that “some kind of development program needs to be put in place in order to address skills development. Musicians need skills in management, marketing, performance, song writing, audio engineering, arrangement and production.”

AMP! provides learners not only with a sense of pride but also “a formal qualification either through South Africa’s National FET (Further Education and Training) Music Curriculum or through a recognized international examination body such as ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music).”

This does not guarantee economic development of these children or their families, because the music industry is limited.

Corne Guldenpfennig, CEO of the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft, suggested that in addition to piracy, “price and availability of the content” may also be a contributing factor to the industry’s decline. An easy solution is to play music that is locally produced. ICASA still plans to implement new music quota, requiring all radio stations to play 60-70%.  Meanwhile, the SABC has already said 90% local music needs to be played.

“The whole country needs a cultural rehabilitation from the top down because the effects of the past are lingering in our minds. We are filled with self-hate. This is why we rehash other people’s cultures and make them ours,” said jazz musician, Don Laka in an interview with Destiny Man.

This sums up mainstream music in SA; a collection of Western music in lieu of the sound that older generations would have heard growing up. It’s that same sound incorporated across all genres in South Africa. A sense of Africa you cannot escape.

In addition to playing more local content, the SABC announced that royalties for local musicians will increase by 1%. “The SABC also wants to restore the dignity of creatives to move away from a situation of creatives in the music industry dying as paupers,” said Chief Operations Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

All of this is a good start to creating a culture in SA that cultivates its talent, rather than commercializing it. But it’s just a start.

Kerr suggests that, “world class recording facilities could be provided … and marketed to international artists and top local artists, as part of an ‘African Experience’ package that includes a tourist experience. The funds that this facility generates could be channeled into development programs that would produce world class performers, recording engineers, producers and arrangers who would become stars in their own right.”

Aspiring musicians should not have to abandon their craft in pursuit of a career with a comfortable earning potential.

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