The Music Industry's 'Market Orientation' is Another Self-Inflicted Bullet-Wound

POSTED: By Anton Marshall

Dave Chislett's talk on How to Make Money From the Music Industry felt like a call to "Fight the Power".

  
  
One Two One Two
One Two One Two
David Chislett

Two workshops dealing with how to make money as a musician took place in Cape Town this past weekend. One was held at the University of Cape Town, and featured some luminaries and veterans from the township and hip-hop scene.

The other, which I attended, was hosted at Artscape by David Chislett, author of the insightful musician's manual One Two, One Two: A Step-by-Step guide to the South African Music Industry.

It was an enlightening talk on the very basics of protection for makers of music: The benefits of copyright, ownership of intellectual property, the mechanics of how royalties are calculated and paid, and so on. And part of the presentation touched on some very important issues around marketing.

But the last five minutes of Chislett's talk on How to Make Money From the Music Industry felt like a call to "Fight the Power". It's a rousing bit of self-admitted rant against the evils of genre-division in the "market", and it's a sentiment I agree with.

Simply put, it rails against the basic idea that rap music is for black people, rock is for white people, and so on. And at its far end you can expand that idea to other genres, too, as Miriam Makeba did when she inferred that it was called "World Music" as a mask for meaning "Third World music".

It's not as outdated a concept as you might think, if you read between the ads and reality shows on radio and music television. Despite the supposed cross-market success of, say, Eminem and the current slew of pop tarts, the market-oriented playlist is an evil thing, Chislett is saying.

"We must struggle for a music that is 'South African' - in fact just a 'music' first; not music 'for a black market' or a 'white market'," he argues, before laying into the short-sightedness of an industry that is effectively its own worst enemy in that regard.

But the issue he touches on at the death of his presentation isn't close to being openly debated enough, especially in a country struggling to come to terms with such sharp political and cultural divides. It's obvious when you consider that the most successful long-term bands in this country have been the ones that presented a broad, fusioned music - think Juluka/Savuka's tradionalist elements, or Mango Groove's township fusion.

It's also hard to imagine any label, promoter, radio station or TV channel playing the music of new artists for its own sake, and not because it "appeals to their market". Seriously, which national commercial South African radio station would a band like Juluka be on today?

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