Blood on the dance floor

2012-04-28 17:13

South Africa’s house music fraternity revealed this week that it will be launching the first annual South African Dance Music Awards in July.

And after several years of stunning local and international success for our trademark soulful house hits, producers have plenty to celebrate.

The latest listenership figures for songs played on local radio and TV show that local dance music has become so popular that it commands four spots in the global top 10.

But the real story is being told in the local charts, where eight of the top 10 tracks are by independent artists. Half of those, however, still rely on the majors to distribute their music.

The most played local song on radio and TV last year was Liquideep’s deep vocal house track Alone, with 3 800 spins. The only track to beat it was Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, with 4 200.

So popular are the likes of Black Coffee, BOP, DJ Cleo, Mi Casa and Revolution that they have formed profitable small companies.

By owning their rights, releasing tracks instead of albums and targeting digital downloads, they’re steadily changing the face of the local music industry.

Major record companies are forced to make licensing deals with them instead of signing them directly and owning their music’s rights.

“We’re not that worried,” says Shaun Watson of Sony Music. “Sure, house music is very important with regards to the space it’s occupying and there are places the independents dominate, but market share is not just about radio play.”

Although some majors, including Universal Music, declined to comment this week, many say they have plenty to fall back on. Their international artists are an easy sell and still dominated last year’s charts.

Pino di Benedetto, managing director of EMI, said that globally dance music is the new pop and because album sales have continued to decline – dropping 35% since 2008 – the company took a decision this year to diversify, moving into artist management, events and merchandising.

He added that Zahara’s debut album, Loliwe, had sold 310 000 units, offering hope that consumers were still interested in buying actual CDs. But Zahara is signed to an indie label, TS Records, and licensed to EMI.

“Cellphones are the core,” says Greg Maloka, managing director of Kaya FM and one of the people behind the dance music awards. “That’s where the independents are gaining power.”

According to Nielsen mobile data, full-track downloads have reached only 20% of their local potential, but ringtones are a thriving business.

In particular, ringback tones or callertunez – the song you hear playing when you call someone – are yielding solid monthly cash flow from the likes of MTN and Vodacom.

Independents with their own recording studios are ­reinvesting, and generating new artists and many more music videos than the majors.

“In Africa, there will be 750 million subscribers by the end of the year,” says Antos Stella. Head of Gallo Music’s recording division for two decades, today Stella works with the people who distribute SIM cards.

She’s managing director of Content Connect, an aggregator owned by Blue Label.

“We get the music on licence from the independents and we inject it into cellphone networks in South Africa and throughout Africa.”

Stella says the digital demand for dance music is massive. She believes “the independents are an absolute threat to the majors – they’re far more productive. Indies certainly are dominating digital and have overtaken the majors in terms of domestic content.”

Meanwhile, South African dance music has also become the country’s number one musical export. Black Coffee’s label, Soulistic, recently licensed its products in deals that have the potential to reach 40 countries.

“We still need the majors to release albums,” says Soulistic manager Amaru Da Costa, “but the majors also need us. We have the tracks that people want. We talk to customers one on one on social networks and direct them to new downloads.”

Facebook pages of local DJs are so busy that they are able to sell banner advertising on them for up to R1 000 per hour.

Maloka says: “Take Black Coffee. He emerged from the annual Southern African Music Conference.

“We positioned the conference to be practical, to share trade secrets, to teach youngsters how to make songs.”

It’s at this year’s conference that the dance music awards will be launched on July 6.

In its first year, it will honour 20 labels, services and individuals that have used the dance floor to transform a formerly internationally owned industry.

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