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SA music quotas - who needs it?

2011-08-11 11:42
The Moshito Music Conference – billed as "Africa's premier music industry event" - happens in September, and as usual it aims to carry forth the plight of music and its industry here in Africa.

One planned session in particular topic caught my eye:

"Day Two's programme features what promises to be one of the most heated debates of Moshito 2011 - an examination of 'Local broadcast content and compliance with the UN Convention on Cultural Diversity' by a panel that includes Christa Rautenbach (Northwest University), and Anel du Plessis (Northwest University)."

It's an old, cold war in South Africa; that broadcast - particularly radio - doesn't do enough to represent and promote South African music. Ask any South African musician or band bar the Parlotones, and they'll lament the lack of our own music on our commercial stations. For my own part, I don't pretend to have solutions or even practical suggestions. But there are thousands of people who are passionate about what they believe is fair in the face of a monolithic, label-dominated music industry.


Some believe that it's also an oversimplified debate.  Music activist and industry veteran Martin Myers (now with Tuned In Publicity) maintains that the discussion around this issue can't be meaningful unless we're willing to include the broader structures of the music business.

"Things like a sustainable touring circuit are key to developing a market," he says. "An artist like Robin Auld – who is a veteran of SA music – can sell more CDs touring than he can placing his discs in national retail. That shouldn't be the case, but that it is should tell you where the opportunities for expansion lie."

Speaking of which, history tells us that national music retail has not come to the party, and has largely sidestepped the accusatory glances whenever the issue has arisen. It costs the same for both an independent South African artist and a major label to place CDs on a shelf in a music store (not counting additional bulk discounting for the mass producer), despite an independent South African having a minimal budget to produce and promote the product in question.

Reality vs monopoly

You could say this is a reality of economics, but it's also unsatisfactory to have this situation in a market of monopolies, which SA music retail has largely been up until now.

"Nobody has, for example, successfully explored the idea of in-store digital kiosks where consumers can buy singles from the SA artists, saving them production costs for full CDs," says Myers. "Artists themselves could even think outside the box for marketing their music and their shows. Promotional tickets and giveaways via local vendors like restaurants is one idea."

Online music stores like Rhythm Online have started making a mark, and plenty of online audio streams or "radio stations" have sprung up over the past few years; evidence of the demand for diversified interests, tastes and markets. But they remain constrained by access and bandwidth issues at least for the time-being.

It doesn't seem like commercial radio intends to offer any olive branches in the near future. The most vociferous critics accuse them of hiding behind loopholes like "graveyard-hour play" and "repeat broadcasts" in filling the quota.

The business structures may argue that they're simply meeting the demands of their "market". Which seems to be the same market for all of them.

In any event, the idea of hearing a steady influx of new, independent SOUTH AFRICAN music on these channels is still a pipe-dream. And at least for the thousands of young musicians out in the clubs and pubs or in their garages, getting their voices heard may be as hard as... well, getting their voices heard.

Moshito Music Conference and Exhibition takes place from August 31st to September 2nd at the Sci Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg.


Many artists maintain that broadcast - particularly radio - doesn't do enough to represent and promote South African music. But is that all there is to it?
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