Music industry's glory days gone

HARARE - In the 1990s and even a decade later, musicians in Zimbabwe used to survive on music royalties from the sale of their music records.

Musicians like Alick Macheso, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, Leonard Zhakata, the late Simon Chimbetu, System Tazvida and Leonard Dembo among others used to sell thousands of music album copies that sustained their lives, sent their children to school and bought properties like houses and cars.

I remember reading in newspapers of such artistes selling in excess of 100 000 album copies on a single release and those were huge sales.

Macheso even went further to sell 300 000 on individual releases.

Today however, I do not even see a situation were neither Macheso nor Zhakata can sell 20 000 copies on single releases — a figure which the musicians would actually make on earlier albums which were part of their catalogue.

The coming in of new technologies and fast reproduction gadgets gave birth to music piracy as illicit traders had the chance to ‘‘burn’’ or reproduce music CDs in their backyards.

Catalogue music albums that used to bring in money for the likes of Macheso, Zhakata, Dembo, Tuku and Chimbetu stopped selling abruptly as music collectors opted for the cheaper pirated CDs.

For the pirated music CDs to sell fast, the pirates could compile their own ‘‘Greatest Hits’’ albums comprising music songs by more than five popular musicians.

It was the best bait and music buyers could not resist the "give away".

On the other hand, musicians suffered as they discovered their cash cow had suddenly dried and no revenue was coming to them.

Life became unbearable for most of them as they could no longer afford the lives they used to live.

Also heavily affected were recording companies like Gramma Records, Zimbabwe Music Corporation, Ngaavongwe Records, Record and Tape Productions that used to rely on taking a certain percentage from musicians’ royalties.

The recording companies that were the marketers and distributors of musicians’ products, fell on hard times.

Others like Record and Tape Productions have folded while Gramma Records, Zimbabwe Music Corporation and Ngaavongwe Records have merged.

And even after merging, they have trimmed services, staff and offices.

The recording companies are themselves in a sorry state and they seem destined for collapse.

Most prominent musicians who used to record under them have turned solo, preferring to run their own recording, marketing and sales.

While Gramma Records used to be one of the biggest recording studios in the country, today there is little activity as musicians prefer to use alternative private studios, most of which do not do justice to their products.

In using makeshift recording studios, the musicians have lost their sound.

At Gramma Records, the recording studios employed full-time record engineers, mixers and producers while at the contemporary makeshift recording studios, it is usually just one person who is not even qualified to monitor the studio desk.

We used to have music sold in big music supermarkets like Spinalong, but all that has gone.

We also used to have music sold in shops like Number 1 and even in OK supermarkets, but that is all gone too.

Gramma Records and Zimbabwe Music Corporation used to even run radio programmes on ZBC, but all that was washed away by piracy.

They cannot manage to produce music videos for their stable like they used to do in the past.

I am not sure even if they can afford to give away any promotional samples to radio DJs, music writers and journalists!

As for the musician today, he or she has to rely on other means to survive this sudden turn of events which has rendered them poor.

And it could have been such a blessing for the musicians today if piracy had not hit because we now have more radio stations operating in the country, with more still to be licensed.

In the past, ZBC used to be the only broadcaster airing musicians’ songs, but now we have more, which would have easily translated into music sales — had we have a normal industry.

I urge musicians to be creative and find more ways to market and sell their music than keep it to themselves because I know they have new songs coming up every day.

I also hope the new music stations would pay royalties to musicians because this will inspire them to release new material, otherwise without that, they will continue to hold back and watch the showbiz circuit dwindle in terms of quality local music products.

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