Last year I launched my music career after three years of studio work, subsequently releasing three singles and my debut album titled ‘State of Mind’. I’ve been in the circuit for a short while, but have kept my eye on the space for over a decade, frequenting as many live gigs as I had time and money to attend.
This blog post is a first impression account of our industry, written for the musician who wants to start making money from their craft. This is part 1 of a two-part article.
Yemurai Nyoni, Bulawayo
The biggest lesson I learnt about our music industry is that there are good musicians in entertainment who are not good entertainers, and there are good entertainers in music who are not good musicians.
And in all scenarios, the best entertainer always gets the most money. Good music x good entertainment value = success in the industry. Good entertainers are paid to perform whilst bad entertainers pay to perform, it simply costs more when you give less.
A smart musician learns the craft of an entertainer to survive. However, very few are able to master both, the craft and the performance of the craft to satisfy the consumer.
Most resort to staying digital, lingering on social media platforms and playing it safe on the musical front as recording artists without going further to connect with new people as performing artists. Most go ahead with their careers without clearly defined consumers of their product, and with no idea of what their target market wants. They have an inward-facing career, often self-funded and without the desire to reorient their musical product to be outward-facing. In short, very few view their music career as a business.
The reality of having to entertain others, to keep one’s musical career alive, instills fear in some and causes frustration in others.
A good number is afraid of facing possible rejection in front of unforgiving crowds, and hate that they still have to prove their musical ability to people they have never met. It’s all fun and games in the studio, as you bring a concept to life and celebrate it with like-minded peers, but the performance stage is where the rubber meets the road.
A smart entertainer, on the other hand, can find their footing in almost any artistic field, they manufacture joy at whatever expense. Most entertainers are flexible and accumulate skills as diverse as the audiences they perform for. They prepare a seasoned dish to satisfy the harshest critics. It takes a lot of time and effort to get it right, but it has to be done in order for one to get paid.
If you are a good entertainer and can hold a note, you can go much further than the most talented of musicians who doesn’t know how to entertain. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. If you’re in doubt, look up CardiB’s rise to prominence, moving from one entertainment medium as a well-paid stripper, to another as a chart-topping rapper, making more money than musical geniuses that have been at the craft for decades. The entertainer is King/Queen.
I am convinced that it is easier to start as an entertainer before building a music career because that’s what makes or breaks a career here.
If record sales and streaming were as successful, it would give a fairer chance for great musicians to surface and have prominence. Sadly, that’s not the case, hence, the best music doesn’t necessarily top the charts. Consequently, only a small proportion of truly talented musicians find the spotlight. Again, the entertainer is King/Queen.
I am also convinced that it is possible to make a living out of the music through performances alone, the challenge is that very few artists are willing to put in the work to come up with and sustain a stellar live act.
A disproportionate amount of time is spent creating new music, instead of maximizing the public appeal of existing music. Artists chase the allure of creating that one hit song year after year, forgoing the great work they have already done, that only needs to be pushed to the people. Give the music to the people, it belongs to them. Take it out of digital and make it personal, live and relatable.
Getting airplay on radio or television is overrated from a financial standpoint, as is getting a lot of online streams.
Followers on social don’t pay bills, but they can pay bills if you bring them to a live show.
I’d doubly convinced that it is impossible to thrive as a musician in Zimbabwe without being a good performer because it would mean pursuing a career without ever getting a pay-check worth your time investment. If you are starting to make headway with bookings as an artist, but are still not willing to improve your performances, you will have to make way for those that will in the months to come.
(look out for part 2, which will share tips on how to be a better performer)
Yemurai Nyoni is a youth Organisation, the Team Leader of MOVE! Life Improvement and a Mentor in the Executive Committee of AfriYAN. He also sits in the Board of Directors of Women Deliver and in the Executive Committee of the PMNCH Board, advancing meaningful youth engagement in decision making. Yemurai was one of the 10 grant recipients under the Women Deliver C-Exchange Initiative that supports innovative youth led projects to improve the health of women and girls. He has also served as a Youth Family Planning Ambassador for Zimbabwe under the UNFPA, and as the National Facilitator of the Zimbabwe Young People’s Network on Sexual and Reproductive Health, HIV and AIDS. He is passionate about addressing developmental concerns affecting women and girls and has worked in various contexts to end child marriage and challenge misogyny.