On September 28, Swangz Avenue released Midnight Drum, a new single by South Africa’s DJ Maphorisa and rapper Deko Barbara-Jessica Wedi alias Rouge, alongside Ugandan artistes A Pass and Fik Fameica.
Before the song could even make an hour on Swangz’ YouTube channel, A Pass was on his timeline talking about it and asking Ugandans to find it on Spotify, iTunes and Tidal.
A Pass’ song was also released on the same day MTN held a Tidal party as the music streaming service was launching itself onto the African market.
The service allows artistes to get something out of each song they record when people pay to listen to them. But even before many Ugandans could contemplate subscribing to a streaming site to consume Midnight Drum, it was already being shared on WhatsApp.
Yet the scenario of Midnight Drum is a common occurance on the local music industry where artistes expect to make money off their hard work but are short changed by technology.
TPreviously, the biggest problem was pirates, though artistes such as Bebe Cool and Bobi Wine believed friends were behind it and defended them.
Today, with new taxes coming up, artistes inclusive, they have re-energised the need of having a copyright law that works, if they are to manage such taxes.
Along came streaming
Since Viacom launched in Africa with their flagship MTV music channel, there has been a growing interest in African music by music giants.
This has seen music labels such as Universal and Sony try to tap into the African talent by creating African branches of these labels, and before long MTV Europe Music Awards had introduced an African category followed by the BET Awards.
In 2015, Apple music took things a notch higher by launching in South Africa and by 2017, the talk of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Tidal heading to the motherland was ripe, but somehow never happened.
This year though, the streaming site launched in Africa with Uganda as a pilot project. This means Ugandans get to enjoy more than 500 million songs in the Tidal database, while artistes get a chance not to only earn from their songs, but have their songs availed to the world.
The Ugandan launch means that they can get a customised service where they can even pay for subscription in local currencies.
World over, where music lovers gave up on buying physical music albums, streaming has been credited as one of those inventions that has helped the sector recover.
For Uganda, where the culture to release albums was killed long time ago, streaming comes in handy since an artiste can grow their song catalogue with time.
What this means to local music
Over the years, local music used to depend on electronic media for promotion, yet, as time went on, artistes had to cast the net wider even to those that had no radio or TV access.
This introduced the age of pirate/music collaboration, where pirates would keep the music in rotation in their suburbs as a way of making it popular.
With social media and now streaming sites such as Tidal, an artiste can put much of their aggressiveness in online marketing and management and can salvage something in form of image and music visibility.
According to Tshaka Mayanja, the crop of artistes making music today are lucky: “When we used to do music, we used to do many things on our own, there were no communication companies or even sponsors.”
In Mayanja’s view, artistes should take the opportunity since it gives them a chance to play at the big stage.
Elijah Kitaka, one of the founders of Fezah, a music mobile application, however asked artistes to manage their expectations.
Kitaka says artistes do not have to put their music on Tidal and then relax.
“They have to put in the work, the music cannot promote itself,” he says, adding that sadly, streaming will present to consumers local music alongside big brands such as Jay-Z, Beyonce or Kanye West, with whom local artistes have to compete directly.
Kitaka compares streaming sites to services such as YouTube that may not make an artiste millions but will present them to the world. “Some of these platforms are for longterm gains, they do not work in a month.”
Crisis? Whose music is it?
Over the years, as the Internet has gotten better, many artistes and music lovers have embraced it. However, because of various factors, artistes have not made significant revenue from some channels that stream their music, even when payments are made.
Most of the times, this is because local artistes do not know about the different avenues their music is being consumed, a loophole different people have used to own other artistes’ music.
Nince Henry, a singer and songwriter, for instance, says many times he has seen his music on platforms he did not sign up to.
“This makes me wonder if before the music is uploaded, they first clarify who the real owner is,” he said.
Kitaka says artistes need the right information to make the right business decisions because today some artistes let their management do everything, which is risky.
“Artistes are not taking enough time to understand how things work. They let their managers handle all their business and before you know it, they are complaining about people uploading their music against their will,” he says.
Is the industry ready?
Of course Tidal is not the first music streaming and downloading service that tech savvy Ugandans have been in touch with. Over the years, they have had their craze with MP3 Juice, MP3 Jaja, HiPipo, Deezer, Mdundo and Howwe, among others.
However, unlike Tidal or iTunes, all these services are free and thus create a lot of interest among creators. For instance, songwriters and producers want to know if they earn something from what a platform pays.
Mayanja notes that if at this level artistes and producers still bicker around ownership of songs, then it is worrying.
“If a platform like Tidal has come down to Uganda, artistes need some sort of unity and it will be nice that they present their music when things are organised,” he says, adding that such bickering will send possible investors to other markets.
Yet on the consumption side, there is question whether Ugandans can pay to stream music without necessarily downloading it.
“Ugandans can’t pay for music, not because they do not support art, but because there is a lot of accessible free music from artistes themselves,” says Bob Balam of Howwe, a free download and streaming site.
Others though believe that before Ugandan Internet is cheaper, streaming is a dream, while others believe streaming apps, including Swangz Avenue’s Sauteez are using wrong selling points.