Why Record Labels Never Thrive in Malawi

By Zee Goh

Recording Labels are always and everywhere an integral part in the well functioning of the music industry. In Malawi, several recording labels emerged in the local music scene between the years 2009 and 2012. This included The Black Rhyno Entertainment, Nd’efeyo Entertainment, Bensam Entertainment and Prime Time Media. When they sprout, they made it clear that they meant business, determined and dedicated to growing the Malawian music industry.

Several years forward to 2021, the Malawi music industry has no record company you can have the courage to mention as a success story. Today it is more common for a musician to work independently than it was yesterday. The structure of the music industry seem to function without music labels. A business deemed lucrative everywhere in the world,  why did it fail to thrive in Malawi?

Music labels have always been in the music business equation. Typically, the label enters in an exclusive recording contract with an artist to make the artists recordings in return for loyalties on the selling price of the recordings. Sometimes the record label might even be involved in selecting producers, recording studios, musicians to work with and songs to be recorded or released depending on the nature of the contract. Nd’efeyo Entertainment in their Bio on they described their  organization as an entertainment company that manages artists,producers and focuses as well on music publishing, touring and merchandising. Such is just a tip of the iceberg on how record labels work.

However, the Malawian music industry has for a long time functioned without music companies. The music business chain has been such that the artist pays for the cost of producing, marketing, distributing the recording and agrees with the retailers on the Percentage they will get from the music sells. This system seemed to be working, until technology advancement happened and the story changed. Music sells from physical copies dropped drastically due to rampart piracy. Musicians would invest so much in their work just to gain so little. All of the sudden, music labels were seen as a new dawn.

Celebrating their two years anniversary in business, the then Prime Time Media manager Edward Kankhomba lamented on an interview with Nyasa Times how the government and corporate world is doing less to support the industry.

“There is limited support from both the government and private sector. This is not only affecting Prime Time Media but the whole entertainment business. There is alot of lip service from all sectors,” he said.

From Kankhomba’s word, it is evident, the Malawian government is less committed towards supporting the entertainment industry. Recently, Calls by prominent names in the industry to establish a council of arts fell on deaf ears, and the appointment of an advisor to the president on arts was just one of those old political moves in the book. Despite concrete verification of the money the industry can generate and the jobs it can create in the economy, politicians choose to look the other way. The government seems to favour other sectors in the economy at the expense of others. The failure to negotiate with network providers in the country to reduce their data bundle rates being just one of those examples. Such is the glimpse of the world Music Labels were conceived into here in Malawi. Without proper government back up, they were doomed to fail from the start.

Although the role government has played cannot be belittled, it will be harsh for them to take all the blame. The success of record companies first and foremost depends on the record companies themselves. How prepared they were, the amount of resources they were ready to invest in the music industry, their strategic plans, their goals and how they would handle their artists to turn them into brands.

Ideally, a record label is meant to advance an artist career by offering them a range of resources from marketing, management, studio and money itself (to keep up the appearance) in exchange for the rights to produce and distribute (means of making your music visible on relevant platforms) recordings in accordance with the deal. If record labels are unable to fulfill their part of the contract, then it will prove difficult to maintain their signed artists in the long run because eventually they will realize they don’t need the labels since they are adding nothing to what they already have. Hence anyone willing to start a record label must be prepared financially and have the knowledge of the music business.

One music fan Nthangwanika Kondowe commenting on the topic, shed light on how Malawian record labels fail to monetize themselves off the success of their musicians.

“This is not measured by how many hit songs one has as with Malawian culture but the numbers which is money. How many fans are showing up to their shows, how many copies of their projects are they selling, merchandise sells, show bookings and many others”, she said.

But with the government failure to ratify strong measures to combat piracy, chances of this aspect improving anytime soon are slim. Hence record labels end up not making so much money as they invested resulting to shutting down their operations.

However, many believe that with the current trend of digitization in the country on the rise, in the coming years someone with enough resources, expertise and money will definitely consider starting up a record label. Digitization will make it easier to protect artists’ rights to their music. Many believe that all is not lost. Malawian musicians will again enjoy the fruits of their labour. With the right people at the wheel, music is a lucrative business. The successful music business in this country will depend on combined efforts by everyone in the economy. Everyone has a role to play so that our entertainers can gain something from the service they give to us.

MRB Reporter

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