I heart Jozi: Time for artists to own their material

2011-06-14 11:49

We recently hosted legendary South African writer, playwright and poet, Lesego Rampolokeng (45), at one of our Word and Sound Sessions at the Bassline in Newtown.

He had brought a pile of his books to sell to the audience.

“Please people, buy them from me and not Exclusive Books,” he said. “Because when you buy from me, at least I’ll eat.”

You see? When I take out my hard-earned R100 and buy from him directly, all the money goes to him but from the R120 you pay at the booksellers, Rampolokeng would be lucky to get half of the money. After all, the middle-men get their “cut” of the art they had no part in creating.

This past Sunday, I read Lesley Mofokeng’s article about CD sales dropping and artists being screwed by the very industry that employs them.

And there I was, thinking to myself that clinching a record deal with a recording company was something to be celebrated.

I thought, finally, my music will be promoted, distributed to radio DJs and TV show producers and my diary will be booming with gigs. A record deal means you get paid, at least that’s what I thought.

But after all the sales have been made and the recording company has not only recouped the costs of producing the album, but also deducted their return on investment, you, the artist, who toiled endlessly to get the tracks just right, would be lucky to get 15% of what is left.

Now that sounds to me like a raw deal.

After speaking to an artist friend of mine, it is clear that the only way artists can really make a living from their craft is for them to become more business-savvy.

More and more artists should start owning their work – from concept to final product – and only look to recording companies for well-negotiated distribution deals.

On an SABC2 episode of Jam Sandwich, Zuluboy had to produce a collaboration track with Afrikaans musician Gerhard Steyn.

This Steyn guy drives a flashy car, lives in a mansion and has a vintage motorbike in his mansion as part of the decór. Poor Zuluboy couldn’t take his jaw off the ground.

And the secret to Steyn’s riches? He owns his music from start to finish. And apparently there are lots of people who love songs with strange titles like Baby Tjoklits!

Some artists are already on track with this “owning own art” idea, but for it to be more effective and for it to breed a far more vibrant industry, more and more artists, in all fields, need to jump on.

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