I read a tweet from one of our more prominent musicians the other day. She was saying that something needs to be done about South African radio stations not playing enough South African music. In fact she called for the consumers to fight for radio stations to play more of ‘our’ music.
It got me thinking. This is not the first time that this topic has come up. Yet in the year 2013 there are still musicians who feel hard done by the radio stations.
Unfortunately the ‘problem’ lies with the consumer directly, not the radio stations. The stations only cater to the demand that is out there. There is no doubt that demand, especially now when a vast number of people or consumers seem to need to be told what to consume, can be created by the marketers who work at these stations. But as much as they may try to do this and push a certain product and as much as the consumer may need a push from time to time, if that consumer ultimately rejects the product there is nothing the radio stations can do. After all music is art and you don’t appreciate art just because it comes from a certain region. You admire and enjoy it for what it says to you when you see/hear it. For the emotions it inspires in you. You want to own it so you may have the pleasure of repeating the experience when you want to. You tune into your radio station in the hope that the joy you felt when you heard that song will found in there. You tune in the hope that you may discover more of where that came from. Your heart does not choose to delight to a song based on where it comes from. It’s the voice, the lyrics, the melody, the beat that draws your heart from its hiding place and commands your vocal chords to sing at the top of your voice when you’re sitting in traffic, careless of the stares from the other drivers. The US, for whatever reason, is the capital of mainstream music (the reason its called mainstream is that it is enjoyed by the average person on the street). Just as Africa is the hub of Safaris, Italy the fashion capital and India is the spice capital (having been there and grown up in Durban I would argue that Durban is the new spice capital).
The US also happens to be the movie capital as well. So if they are producing significantly more mainstream music than South Africa, are we then to deny ourselves the pleasures of listening to music from there? Am I supposed to tell whatever it is that makes me enjoy a particular song to quieten down when American music is playing? Of course not. Think about this: South African House music is massive in Europe and growing. They want our music. Should we tell them to focus on their local house music scene and not import from us? They enjoy it so we are giving it to them. Supply and demand.
So what do we do then? Tell SA musicians to live with it? Force radio stations into a quota of SA music? If you want to drive customers away then yes force them to choose what you want them to have. But the poor musicians! They will starve if we don’t buy their music! And if the radio stations don’t play it how will we know to go and buy it!?
Here is the thing (that feels like it should be one word for some reason – heresthething). Radio stations are a medium to transport music (and news, stories, discussions etc.) from their studios to our homes and our cars. That is all they do. The ones that do that the best win the listenership. The more listeners you have the more producers of the products that those listeners consume will want to tell them about their products. And you charge them for the opportunity to advertise their products. And you make money. Of course it costs you money to keep the station running and be able to bring your content to our homes, but the more money you make the more profit you will make. So how do you attract more money? By attracting more advertisers. And how do you attract more advertisers? By having more listeners. And how do you get more listeners? By giving them what they want! Not what the musicians want, but what the listeners want.
“And the musicians? You seem to have forgotten about them,” I hear you ask. I haven’t. A solution still needs to be found. But it won’t be by the radio stations or the consumers. There are three groups of people who can affect this change. The Recording Studios; The Department of Arts & Culture; and the Musicians themselves.
How much money (as a percentage of margin or income) is spent by the recording studios to promote and advertise their artists music? How much do they subsidise live performances to bring their artists to the masses? Do they actively try to connect to corporate and get businesses to hire their musicians for their functions? How often do you go to a supermarket and get an offer of Thandiswa or Simphiwe Dana CD with your purchase of over a certain amount? Or when you upgrade your cell phone contract why not also get a Hugh Masekela CD? Are they doing enough? I don’t believe so.
The government gets a lot of slack and sometimes unfairly. But what tangibles has the DoA&C delivered for SA music artists? Perhaps they are working furiously behind the scenes and we don’t see their efforts. More likely if the musicians are still unhappy then they haven’t done enough, if anything to remedy the situation. Why not open a new radio station that will play exclusively SA music? Something like SAFM (it has the right name already). They do talk shows, and the majority of people tune in for that. Why not intersperse that with local music. Then advertise aggressively to get listeners to tune in. Allocate a budget from the departments funds (tax payers’ money) to the station. Get local artists to perform live on certain days. Hold SAFM sponsored functions where they bring local artists together. Is it so impossible to do? I don’t think so.
And the quota idea is not a bad one either. You can get the national radio stations to send you their playlists for the past three months and you can calculate the percentage of local vs. international music played by them. You agree with them to play a certain percentage and you do monthly reviews with them. Of course this will depend on the genre of music that particular station plays. You will expect RSG to play significantly higher Afrikaans music then you would expect 5FM to play pop music for example. Same with UKhoziFM playing umbaqanga and MetroFM with R&B and Hip Hop.
What ever happened to SA Music Week? And why are the MetroFm Awards more talked about, more hyped than the SA Music Awards?
I think that the artists are trying to change the picture as it affects them directly. Where they can help themselves better or at least differently is by pushing with their union for the above. Continue to urge consumers to listen to your music but the majority of your effort on social media and other media should be used to rally government and your recording studios to support you.
That’s what I think about the local music situation on our radio stations.