Most of the local budding artists talk about the struggles they face when they are establishing themselves. Mainly, they share the troubles they encounter in trying to sustain themselves financially.
Some sail through while others are pushed to the peripherals by market dynamics. Some artists, even after earning household-name status, have found the going very tough. Sadly, their stories have ended in what ifs.
They have blamed piracy. They have named music distributors, unscrupulous promoters and cited a myriad other reasons for their fate. Living entirely on music has proved an impossibility for them.
In December last year, one-time music sensation Lawrence Mbenjere shared with our sister publication Weekend Nation about his music journey and how he ended at the corner of Malawi’s music museum.
“I was forced to close my music studios after looking at how business was. With the business environment, artists have become very calculative. You need to be careful or else you end up using money which you are supposed to buy bread at home,” he said.
Just last week, another past favourite Thomas Chibade was also fished out of obscurity to talk about his life from a zero to a star and back to zero.
He said: “Pirates squeezed me to a corner. People were no longer buying my original music. They were copying and sharing for free while I suffered.”
That is the tale of a musician who used to be a bestseller, but is now surviving on moulding bricks.
These two cases are not isolated. There are many who did not manage to scale the heights of the two despite their massive potential.
Ironically, in the same industry, there is a crop of artists who do not bring their records on the market. They produce their songs and share them for free through numerous internet platforms without getting them on CDs.
Artists such as Fredokiss, Gwamba and recently Lulu are exploring other ways of making a killing out of their work apart from producing CDs.
Rapper Fredokiss, in an interview, said there are no significant music selling channels and platforms that would provide a convenient set up for masses to consume the type of music he produces.
In the absence of a supportive market structure, he said he created a serious fan base and demand which could be commercialised in the end.
“As I was working on that, I had to create a brand which would sell to provide a viable commercial option minus the sales. I positioned myself in a way that I benefit from my endorsements. In turn, I sell my services not necessarily music,” he said.
On his part, South Africa-based gospel hip-hop artist Gwamba has advised musicians to make full use of their status by establishing other means to survive financially.
Music critic and promoter Emmanuel Maliro believes many of the challenges that local musicians face stems from the fact that they do music for wrong reasons, either to get rich or famous and not because they have the talent or passion.
“If you can produce good music which is capable of healing, bringing joy and happiness then the rest just falls in place. Because of their wrong motives, they easily get frustrated and quit,” he said.
Maliro also cited the failure to engage good managers as another reason that has disadvantaged a lot of musicians.
“They lack a business approach in their art. Managers will help with the business connections, how to source money when a project needs funds, they have knowledge of the industry dynamics and all that,” he said. n