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Ring Tones and Mobile Phone Downloads are Generating Income for Local Musicians in Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

African musicians hoping to support themselves through their recordings have always had to contend with the added burden of poor copyright control over their work. While musicians in the West are supported by a highly regulated regime of copyright protection – ensuring some to become the richest people in their respective countries – most African musicians have had to stand back and watch their work being copied, sold and exchanged with little chance of seeing any royalties. Global audiences know of the success of artists like Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour, Manu Dibango and Miriam Makeba, but most African musicians can look forward to scant earnings from recording their music.

Anyone who has walked through the markets of Africa will know there are plenty of pirated CDs for sale, yet it is of no use to a musician who never sees the money. Poverty is endemic amongst African musicians as a result of this loss of income. While music is a global business worth US $40 billion according to the Recording Industry Association of America, pirated music in Africa is rampant – some estimates by the Recording Industry of South Africa put it at over 80 percent of available music. How much money is being lost can be judged from the estimated daily income of a pirate music vendor in Africa, ranging between Euro 762 and Euro 2,744.

But a solution to this problem is being pioneered in Botswana in southern Africa. A partnership between mobile phone provider Orange Botswana and Small House Records/Mud Hut Studios, ensures musicians get a slice of the profit pie. Managing director Solomon Monyame of Small House Records has signed a contract with Orange to share the profits from ring tone and song downloads to mobile phone subscribers. With more than 76.8 million people currently subscribing to mobile phone services in Africa, and the number growing by about 58 percent each year for the last five years, the potential royalties market for African musicians is vast if this initiative is replicated across the continent.

In the paper “Development Goes Wireless” to be published in the spring 2007 issue of the journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs, lead researcher Karol Boudreaux of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center and Enterprise Africa!, discovered mobile phones and mobile phone companies can give artists a new way to control royalties for their work. She found that in the absence of effective copyright control mechanisms – as is the case in many African countries – the mobile phone company can step in to save the day.

“When you walk through the markets there you see so much music available on the street, but there is little intellectual property rights protection,” she said.

“In other countries, like the UK, you have strong intellectual property rights protection, but this just isn’t the case in much of Africa. The mobile phones are a very good way to get around this problem as long as cell phone providers are willing to make the contracts. Botswana is very lucky in that they have a very good contract environment, but this isn’t necessarily the case in other countries. It is a win-win for music providers and mobile companies.”

The NetTel@Africa project started by USAID and the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, in partnership with many African and US universities, is also championing copyright protection strategies.

How important creative industries are becoming to economic development is slowly being recognized. It is now seen as an important component of modern post-industrial, knowledge-based economies, but equally also a way for economically underdeveloped countries to generate wealth. Not only are they thought to account for higher than average growth and job creation, they are also vehicles of cultural identity and play an important role in fostering cultural diversity. Initiatives like UNESCO’s Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity attempt to document this phenomenon and back it up with hard numbers.

UNESCO also has a project to establish musicians’ cooperatives across Africa. As such, the musicians are able to pool their production resources, which are individually insufficient to ensure the economic viability of a small or medium-sized business. In Burkina Faso, a co-operative is working with the International Labour Organisation. Click here for more information.

Festivals like Mali’s annual Festival in the Desert in the oasis of Essakane, 65 kilometers from Timbuktu, is an example of how African musicians are finding their own way to reach audiences. Targeted above all to promote African and Malian Music inside the continent, the Festival has also boosted international tourism to the region and almost 10 percent of last year’s 6,000 visitors came from outside of Africa.

Another initiative for African musicians is the DigiArts Africa network. It was founded by UNESCO and aims to increase communication between artists, industries and educators, make musicians self-sustainable, use the ICT industries to support and contribute to cultural activities, and better promote African musicians within and outside Africa. Click here for more information.

Well-known Senegalese musician Thione Seck is blunt about the economic effect of piracy on his income.

“Were there no piracy, I could have bought an island, seeing the number of songs that I composed in more than 30 years of my career”, he told a local newspaper.

According to Abdoul Aziz Dieng, president of the Senegal Music Works Association (AMS) and Chairman of the Board of the Senegalese Copyright Office (BSDA) (www.mali-music.com), out of 10 Senegalese artists’ CDs available on the local market, “only two are legal”. For audio cassettes, the ratio is three pirate copies out of every five sold.

Opportunities to combat piracy and generate income are also not limited to just musicians. Filmmakers in Africa are starting to learn how to exploit the opportunities thrown up by the fast-expanding mobile phone networks on the continent. Already a phenomenon in South Africa (www.filmmaker.co.za), director Aryan Kaganof is in the process of releasing SMS Sugar Man, a feature length movie shot entirely with mobile devices. The movie will be beamed to cell phones in three-minute clips over 30 days.

What are the effects of Piracy?

  • Artist
    • No royalty payments, no money to live
  • Record companies
    • No return on investments. Staff retrenchments
  • Retailers
    • Cannot compete with low prices. Staff retrenchments
  • Consumers
    • Many copies are of inferior quality. If tracks are missing or the sound quality is poor, no exchange or refunds
    • May be contributing to “organized crime” syndicates which are heavily involved in international music piracy

Source: Recording Industry of South Africa

Resources

Lively website about African musicians

BBC website on African music

Further reading from UNESCO: African music: new challenges, new vocations: Click here

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Mauritanian Music Shop Shares Songs and Friendship

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Around the world, traditional music stores selling vinyl records, tapes and CDs (compact discs) are closing down. Digital downloads distributed over the Internet and mobile phones make it unnecessary to build a music collection in these hard formats.

While this has been a revolution that has made acquiring music as simple as firing up a digital download service like iTunes, it has many downsides as well. One of them has been the loss of vast swathes of musical history, as many songs recorded in the past have not made their way into digital downloads. And how can you find music online if you only remember part of a tune or song and can’t remember its title or the musician?

The background and knowledge that was once imparted by an informed person in a music store has been lost in the world of digital downloads.

A Mauritanian music shop is showing how a traditional record store can stay relevant and commercially viable in the 21st century. Entrepreneur Mohamed Vall’s Saphire d’Or store in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouakchott), is a treasure trove of the sort of long-lost recorded songs that normally vex lovers of African music. Pictures of the shop can be seen at the sahelsounds blog (http://sahelsounds.com/?p=887).

Vall has run the shop for three decades and amassed a large collection of rare African music on records and tapes. He has married this trove of African creativity to a clever business model: Vall doesn’t let customers buy the precious records themselves but instead will transfer the songs to a disc or a USB stick (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_flash_drive) for US 30 cents each.

He has also used traditional hospitality to create an atmosphere that encourages people to interact and keep coming back.

“I have the biggest collection in Mauritania,” Vall told The Guardian newspaper. “Any music you want from Africa – I mean the kind of music that puts Africa on the map – I have it.”

The shop is down an alleyway in the bustling capital and offers a refuge for music lovers.

The atmosphere encourages friendly conversation and lets customers take their time making a selection. Customers can relax in armchairs while browsing and drink some traditional mint tea or enjoy a snack from a communal bowl.

The shop uses traditional Mauritanian nomadic hospitality to improve the customer experience. It also uses the music it sells to heal rifts between the different cultures that cross Mauritania, as it bridges Arabic-speaking North Africa and the majority black sub-Saharan Africa.

“When you are here, it doesn’t matter who you are,” Vall said. “We get youngsters wanting 1940s ballads and old people whose minds are musical museums. We get toubabs (white people) who heard one song decades ago.”

One of the treasure troves held in the shop is the recordings made by West African orchestras during the post-colonial period.

The shop also acts as an interactive museum and archive of many African musical greats, from Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour to Nigerian afrobeat pioneers, Guinean pop legends and Maliaian and Congolese musicians.

Its collection ranges beyond Africa to take in musical genres from around the world, from blues to salsa to rock.

“The music allows you to travel in your head,” said one customer, teacher Abdoul Kaba.”When I first came to Mauritania from Guinea, I went round and round looking for zouk (West African funk) music that everybody listens to in Guinea until I ended up here.”

The shop also serves as a sanctuary for many from life’s everyday hardships.

“It’s not about the music any more. People come back because in here you can be free. You can listen to music and forget this hard life,” Kaba said.

Resources 

1) The African Music Encyclopedia: Search by alphabetical listing the continent’s musicians. Website: http://africanmusic.org/

2) African Musicians Profiles: African Musicians Profiles (AMP) is a website for the promotion and publicity of African musicians. Each musician “has a profile, and there are pages on news of recent and future events, special features, recommended CDs, relevant reading (biographies, reference books and magazines) and photos”. Website: http://www.africanmusiciansprofiles.com/

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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CASE STUDY 2: Watch Magazine | 1994 And 1996

Expertise: Editing, start-ups, youth media, content development, art direction, design and layout, investigative journalism.

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1994 and 1996

Editor-in-Chief: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 2: Watch Magazine | 1994 Images

Abstract

In 1994 I was hired by start-up Youth Culture to be Editor-in-Chief of Toronto’s Watch Magazine, a bi-weekly distributed to the city’s high schools and to all youth hang-outs. In 1996 I was hired again to help with preparing the magazine for its national launch. 

About

In 1994, the Internet had not arrived in any great form (though Watch Magazine was on top of its emergence as Internet cafes popped up in the city) and the digital economy was still minimal. There was no such thing as ‘start-up culture’ for youth. There was an urgent need to create opportunity for youth, to create new markets, and to change the business culture of the city of Toronto, which had been hit hard by an economic crash and austerity. 

Watch Magazine had had a brief false start prior to my arrival in 1994. The previous format had not worked and the magazine needed a vision and somebody with the experience and dedication to see it through. It was also entering a competitive marketplace for readers, with already existing free magazines capturing most of the advertising spend for youth-oriented marketing in Toronto (though failing to offer a genuine youth content experience as could be found in Europe – the UK especially – at that time). As an example, Toronto lacked sharp and credible coverage of youth popular culture in the early 1990s. Drawing on my extensive experience as a journalist (including at Toronto’s established alternative weekly, Now Magazine) and editor, I assembled a team of youth editors and writers to work on making the content and magazine’s design appealing to the youth demographic in Toronto. The magazine needed to turn a profit in short order and become credible to advertisers, its main source of income (in Canada, 64 per cent of magazine revenues come from advertisers)*. The design and content needed to appeal to a youth audience but work with a tight (but increasing) budget. It was doing this in a tough economy with high unemployment, austerity, business failures, and a generally negative business environment.

By having an actual youth editorial team, Watch Magazine quickly developed an authentically young 1990s voice. The magazine also benefited from its youth team’s ability to spot trends bubbling under the surface ready to explode into mainstream society. As an example, they had this to say on the Internet in a piece on Toronto’s coffee shops, “Some mean places for bean”: “The powers-that-be think we should cocoon in our houses and rent videos, play with the Internet and order in food …” 

Youth unemployment was high in the early to mid 1990s in Canada. It reached 19.3 per cent for those 15 to 19 years old in 1993. “It should be noted, however, that youth unemployment relative to that of adults has worsened since the 1990-91 recession (Youth Unemployment in Canada by Kevin B. Kerr, 2000).”

The Canadian economy overall severely contracted and unemployment was at 11.4 per cent by 1993 (Statistics Canada), and as Statistics Canada said, “Because employment recovered at a snail’s pace after the recession of the early 1990s, the decline in the unemployment rate was delayed until 1994”.

As the Bank of Canada also said: “In early 1994, Canada’s economic situation was not that favourable—our economy was facing some rather serious problems. … the recession here was more severe than in the United States.

“Working their way out of these difficulties was disruptive and painful for Canadian businesses. Defaults, restructurings, and downsizings became the order of the day. With all this, unemployment took a long time to recover from the 1990–91 recession …” *

And the media in general could not avoid the crisis. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was also in a crisis throughout the 1990s, as declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reduced the breadth and depth of news coverage.

In less than a year, Watch Magazine had gone from being an unknown quantity, to being a fast-growing and profitable youth publication, significantly increasing its advertising revenue: a key metric for a magazine reliant on this as its main source of income. It had expanded in size and audited distribution and was able to make a move to new digs (the Watch Magazine “crib” – a studio and work space) at innovative “arts-and-culture hub” start-up space 401 Richmond Street in Toronto – at the centre of Toronto’s emerging media and design neighborhood in its former fashion district.  All the contributors were high-school-age youth drawn from talent across the city; many had already shown their ability by starting their own publications and media. They gained first-hand experience in investigative journalism skills, business skills in a start-up, and magazine and media production skills. 

“… thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White

In 1996, I was hired again to help with preparing the content format for Watch’s expansion to a national magazine – further proof of its success as a publication and a business. 

* (Bank of Canada: Canada’s Economic Future: What Have We Learned from the 1990s?)

* The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000)

Brief descriptions of sample issues are below: 

Youth Gangs Cover

In 1994, with Canada’s economy still in the doldrums, Watch Magazine exploded into Toronto’s high schools. Staffed by talented youth, it shook up the staid publishing scene and proved young people did have something to say. This first issue still remains relevant, with its exploration of youth gangs and violence in the school system.  

Therapy Cover

After its successful launch, Watch Magazine was grabbing readers and getting the attention of advertisers and television. It was time to improve the design and introduce the latest in graphic design software. The results paid off: the magazine looked sharper and quickly ran from its cheeky launch, when we had basically avoided all traditional approaches to a launch (like actually having a designer).

For anoraks out there, this photo shoot with Irish band Therapy took place outside the former Wellesley Hospital emergency department in Toronto. And, yes, that is a genuine restraining ‘straitjacket’ used by psychiatric hospitals to restrain mental health patients. 

Digable Planets Cover

By this issue, Watch had hit its stride: we were the first to seriously review the ballooning zine culture, get immersed in the rave and late-night party scene, and dig deep into “chopsocky world”: Hong Kong and Asian film fans. But “Hip-Hop Comb-munism”? What were we thinking?

It was also the biggest issue to date. 

Beck Cover

Highly talented Beck gave Watch his eloquent thoughts on the media’s infatuation with Generation X and how it always desperately needs to sell young people more stuff. Watch took on Ontario’s film censors over the GG Allin documentary, Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, and let students across the city blow off steam on life in the 1990s. 

Bass is Base Cover

By October 1994 the magazine’s investigative powers were in full flow. Two investigations – a sex scandal at an alternative school, and whether the Battle of the Bands contests, a fixture at most high schools, are really worth it – joined a profile of the band Bass is Base and more coverage on the growing rave scene in Toronto. 

Oasis Cover

In 1994, Oasis were still an indie band with a lot of bottle and big mouths. Riding a tsunami of hype from the UK, they washed up in North America to face their biggest challenge: could they become as big as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Lead singer Liam Gallagher does not disappoint, as he gives me an expletive-laden exposition on everything under the sun.

This was the first published print interview with the band in Canada.

Sloan Cover

Canada’s answer to the ‘Madchester’ scene of the early 1990s, Sloan, played the pop game with gusto. In the photo shoot for the feature, it was pants down and prayer hands to an unseen religious icon.

Timeline 

1994: Hired to re-launch and expand Watch Magazine in Toronto.

1996: Hired to re-develop editorial content for Watch Magazine’s national launch.  

Testimonials 

“As one of those high school kids and the guy who wrote (most of) this article, I’d like to say thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White

Impact

Micro 

  •  Toronto’s first youth culture media start-up. Introduced ‘youth culture’ concept to Canada
  •  oversaw two format re-launches of the magazine as it expanded and grew
  •  assembled talented youth editorial team
  •  grew magazine and its profile as the main media source for reaching Toronto’s youth
  •  writers trained and appeared on TV as youth commentators
  •  first profile in Canada of British band Oasis, among many other story firsts
  •  became first stop for anyone wishing to target the youth market, or seeking intelligence on the youth market 

Macro

  • created youth culture market in Toronto
  • first magazine to be based at new start-up hub in Toronto – pioneering concept at the time 

A sample of published stories is below:  

Freaky – The 70s Meant Something

Oasis Has Arrogance, A Pile of Attitude and the Best Album of 1994

Citations 

Other Resources 

GOSH Child Health Portal 2001 to 2003 Resources

Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artefact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thought: mailto: davidsouthconsulting@gmail.com.  

Media

Youth culture magazine Watch goes national, Wendy Cuthbert, September 1, 1997, Strategy, Canada

“Free teen publication Watch Magazine is going national this month – promising to more than double its high school penetration. 

The self-described youth culture magazine, which last year at this time went province-wide – delivering copies to 350 high schools across Ontario – plans to send out 125,000 copies to 800 participating high schools across Canada. 

Going national only four years after its inception (the magazine started as a Toronto-only vehicle in 1993) could make national advertisers interested in reaching the elusive teen market very happy.”

Ryerson Review of Journalism, Page 34, 2003, Toronto, Canada

“Owned by marketing company Youth Culture Group, these gender – specific magazines attempt to construct a teen image that is built on spending.”

© David South Consulting 2021

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Pulling The Plug On Hate Rock | 1996

Publisher: Id Magazine

Date: June 13 to June 26 1996

Features Editor: David South

Investigative Reporter: Jayson MacLean

Cover: Gareth Lind

Illustrations: Charles George

White Noise: Musical Hatemongers Target the Mainstream

More Id Magazine investigations here:

From Special Report: Sexual Dealing: Today’s Sex Toys Are Credit Cards & Cash: A Report On The Sex-For-Money Revolution

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017