To sell or not to sell music

F

or a long time, the survival of Malawian musicians hinged on the number of CDs and tapes that they sold on the market.

So during that period, the fate of the musicians was in the hands of individuals such as OG Issa, who for long was regarded as the biggest outlet of local music. He would decide how much of your copies he would buy from you dependent on other factors of course.

As a benefactor, he would look at the artist’s popularity, marketability, ability and the track record of his previous albums on the market. If you are a new comer in the industry, who did not do well in promoting your singles to garner the necessary following before coming on the market, you found yourself on a disadvantaged position.

On the hand, the established names, who commanded huge following, were smiling all the way to the bank the moment they stepped on OG Issa’s door with their master CD in their hands. This was regardless how good or bad the quality of their new offerings were. They were riding on their past records.

Some names benefitted from that set-up. Big time. Some who came on the scene as minnows and unknowns eventually won over the affections of music lovers and became overnight hits. In mind come names such as Joseph Nkasa, Thomas Chibade, Robert Thombozi, Alex Chamasowa and others.

As time went, the dynamics started to change as the market started facing new forces. Piracy was chief among those reasons. The principal music buyers grew cold feet when it came to buying music from artists on a large scale as they were not guaranteed of their returns.

It was a tricky time. Both the artist and the marketers wanted to get something out of their business. But this was hardly possible. Things had to change within the system. But the question was how? For long this was the only way musicians marketed their music.

The others dared to try new ways and means. Ian Lizzi of the Mandede fame tried to champion the art of selling of his own music. A sight of him going around Limbe and Blantyre towns with his CDs in his hands was not rare.

Others later joined. Most notably gospel artist Lloyd Phiri, I bet he still does now. Through his mini music company, the artist markets his albums and those of others in strategic places in the cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre. Even when he has live performances.

How viable the system is we don’t know. But all this trouble was in the spirit of checking piracy and running away from the OG Issa route as many artists started feeling they were being duped the moment things began to change.

Fast forward years later, musicians are no longer interested to sell their music at all. Plenty artists have released counted number of albums, when you go on the market, you will never see their CD or tape on any shelf. They produce the music, release it online and they are good to go.

When one downloads a song, with the aid of technology, he is at liberty to share it to seven or nine people through whatever means depending on one’s wish. Maybe this is what has killed the hunger in artists in having their music thrown on some shop shelfs.

In mind I have artists such as Fredokiss, Faith Mussa, Gwamba, Tay Grin and Lulu (last album). These artists among others have ditched the traditional way of sharing their music. They produce and get it online. Those interested will get it there.

There was some pride which was accompanied with owning a tape or CD then. You were suddenly an attraction among your peers when you purchased a Lucius Banda tape. But it seems my child and yours will never have that privilege any more.

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