Fame without fortune: The case of music

CURRENTLY there are some music artistes who are considered established and successful by many. The success is attributed to music. Is that true? My anecdotal observation is that it is true for a handful.
These have found a way of linking their fame to lucrative advertisements and established relationships with political events. The majority of the musicians, some of whom are actually famous, are struggling with the elements like many unless they have other occupations. What tends to happen is that some have established fame and are household names but that the money, the material rewards, seldom follow. Why is that the case? Is it a worldwide phenomenon?
The music industry can be divided into a number of parts. The currently charting artistes (group one); the artistes that may not be charting currently but have a catalogue that allows then to tour (group two); and the largest group, the non-famous musicians (group three).
For the currently charting artistes (group one), if it is happening in countries with controlled, well managed music industries, they are assured of getting royalties translating into a decent reward that can set them up for life. That is obviously conditional on the contract they sign, their own lifestyles and their ability to use what they have earned sustainability. The point is that where the industry is controlled and well managed, the music artiste who has a hit is guaranteed that his hit will generate an income, which he can have a part of. Just the mere sales of that hit will generate a handsome reward.
That is the major difference in Zambia currently. A hit on the radio or elsewhere does not in itself translate to a decent income. Piracy is so rife to the point where musicians are basically giving away their recording without expecting any royalties. So, there are many of the current so-called hit makers who in material terms, are really struggling. This is where the headline “Fame without Fortune” is applicable.
Can the fame without fortune phenomenon be changed? The answer is a big yes but the process cannot be left to chance.
The music artistes, a collective, must want a Zambian music industry that has structure and ensures that music sales, be it downloads, airplay and physical sales attract royalties for the artistes.
At the moment, my own assessment is that there is no body of musical artistes that is discussing this critical issue. Not a single one. The government cannot be left to address the needs of those that do not express them. The artistes must articulate clearly what they want in terms of music royalties and partner with government and other stakeholders to realise the dream of decent royalties for musical artistes.
Group two as previously are music acts that may not be in the charts right now but have a good catalogue. This group also benefits from the sales of the old catalogue, even though they may not be in the top ten. In fact, the sustained long-term low to medium sales can be just as lucrative as a very big hit that has long term sales prospects.
Group two music acts also have the advantage of a following that can allow them to perform live even when they do not have current hits. Cases in point are Boyz II Men, SWV and UB40 who can command decent high cost tickets concerts across the world. Zambia has its own such music acts but I am not sure the Zambian culture can pay to watch their own legends – Zambians are so used to going to no cover charge concerts where lip-syncing is miscategorised as performing live.
This leaves group three, the non-famous musicians. This group usually has the musicians who can actually play, sing and have some real musicians with talent but are not famous. This group can also make a decent living.
Suzanne Lainson writes the following about ways most non-famous musicians make a living in the United States of America.
1. Playing in multiple bands so that they gig as much as five times a week. And playing those gigs in bands where they are paid at least US$75-US$100 per gig rather than having to split beer money five ways.
2. Playing at weddings and other gigs that come with a guaranteed US$1,000 – US$3,000 per gig.
3. Teaching music, as many as 20 -40 kids a week.
4. Church music director. There are many opportunities to give beginner lesson on takelessons.com.
5. Being in a cover band.
6. Playing on cruises or in dinner theaters.
7. Playing in a house band or being the solo piano player at a bar. However, these gigs are much harder to come by than in the past.
It will be interesting to give the Zambian equivalent in terms of remuneration of the above.
Suzanne Lainson further argues that “The problem with all of the above is that the musicians who do it tend not to get a lot of respect, either from the music reviewers or from other musicians. Being a wedding musician tends not to be something musicians proudly announce.
“It’s not considered very prestigious. The non-famous musicians I know who are making the most money are viewed rather condescendingly by local music critics and by up-and-coming musicians who think that kind of thing is akin to selling your music soul to make a buck.
But playing original music that the bloggers love tends to be the least lucrative kind of music you can do.
“The advantage of having a day job that pays the bills is that you can do the music you love without regard to whether it pays the bills. That can be very creative.”
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