By Isaac Mbazira
Since the turn of the twentieth century, the global music industry has been a lever for social and economic development and produced iconic figures that have captivated our imagination (such as The Beatles) and enthused billions with their timeless music (such as Michael Jackson).
However, a decade into the twenty-first century, few industries have experienced far-reaching instability to the same degree as the music industry. Technological developments, in particular the internet, have allowed musicians all over the world to showcase their music on the global arena but at the same time it has increased music piracy and brought copyright laws into dispute.
The Uganda music industry has only recently gained international recognition, for example the nomination of Radio and Weasel in the BET Music Awards of 2013. International recognition of Ugandan music promotes the industry and thus enables it to grow through increased sales and sponsorship. However, only a handful of musicians in Uganda can be classified as international music stars and this will continue unless the challenges are identified and reform proposals are made to that effect.
First and foremost, despite a surge in the number musicians, the standard of the music fails to compete on the international arena. Over 90% of Ugandan music is produced only for the African market and sung in our native languages, as a result disenfranchising billions around the world. To overcome this hurdle, musicians should be encouraged to produce more music in English, an international language. Furthermore, the quality of music videos falls far below those from Western countries. Although this challenge is expected given Uganda’s continued dependency on the West for technological developments, music labels. They should invest in new technology, despite the expense, to give musicians a chance to compete on the international scene.
Secondly, most musicians enter the industry in pursuit of short-term gains without a long-term vision. Music labels should encourage upcoming musicians to think and act with a long-term vision and invest their financial gains in order to secure their future in the industry. Today, many former musicians are languishing in utter poverty, a remarkable but largely unremarked upon feature of the music industry. Long-term financial security should empower many musicians to continue producing music and improve the image of the industry.
Furthermore, the so-called “one-hit wonder” bug has played a part in the demise of many Ugandan musicians from the music scene. The lasting legacies of Afrigo and Philly Lutaaya are a rarity now days yet their music continues to grace many corridors to this day. In comparison, most songs in the current era last a few months before they are long forgotten. The solutions lie in the long-term vision and improved quality of music.
Thirdly, the internet has transformed the way in which music is sold and marketed. Billions of global internet users can get access to Ugandan music via the internet, at the same time music labels can market new music through the medium of the internet. Despite that, the internet has brought the Ugandan music industry to its already crippling knees. In Western countries such as the UK, the vast majority of the populous has access to internet; the same does not apply to Uganda. A shift from the traditional door-to-door marketing of music to internet marketing has disenfranchised millions of Ugandans without access to internet.
Furthermore, increased selling of music online as opposed to the traditional music stores has had a major impact on revenue in the industry. Instead of purchasing the whole album from a music store, internet users can select a couple of songs from the album to download. Ultimately it is the musicians that are affected by the falling revenues. .
Last but not least, stronger enforcement of the Copyright and Neighbouring Act, 2006 is needed. Copyright laws are in place to safeguard artistic works yet litigation remains the exception rather than the rule. Thus, with stronger enforcement of copyright laws, a return to the traditional marketing and selling of music, more support to upcoming musicians and greater investment in music technology, Ugandan musicians would be able to stand tall among the music giants of Africa and the rest of the world.