In April, founder of Music Exchange, Martin Myers, called for radio stations across South Africa to increase the amount of local music they play.
Myers said at the time that during these extraordinary times, support for home-grown talent was vital. “The landscape has changed irrevocably, and South African radio needs to decrease the amount of imported music it plays – that royalty income leaves our shores and is not productive for the local economy,” he said. “By profiling and keeping arts front-and-centre, when the epidemic ends the arts stands a chance to be heard as we all clamour for the rand and an audience.”
He tabled a series of points for stations to consider:
1. If eight or 10 songs are being played each hour, surely you can push up the South African content to four or five songs in that hour?
2. Profile artists, at a set time each day, say from 20H00 – 21H00 each day.
3. Artists are at home at the moment and can easily be featured, but don’t only do artists; give actors, playwrights, poets, painters a platform as well.
4. This is a time to introduce new artists to your audiences as well that each radio playlist – Don’t only play the tried and tested.
5. Ask the producers and presenters of shows to compile their own South African music playlists and share the artists that they enjoy.
Each playlist could be 20-30 songs strong and share this on all their social media platforms as well as make their own playlists on steaming platforms to share as well like Apple Music, Spotify and Deezer
6. The same principal could apply to the radio station as per point 5 and the station brands their playlist.
7. Radio Monitor will be able to track the increase in spins by radio. Empirical data can be presented to stations, post the lock down.
8. Have artists participate in being guests by way of special birthday calls and wishes so that the audience becomes more familiar with our music artists, thereby increasing support and acceptance of local material.
So, a month later, what has been the response?
“It was an interesting mix of responses, some more surprising than others. Some of the historic supporters of local music were curious and keen to heed the call. For others, some national stations met our call with traditional resistance and ignorance as to the point and power of the call,” Myers said.
“We keenly looked to engage with all, and along with our key partners, were able to deliver balanced and proactive solutions to address their various format concerns. Overall the support, especially for the working musicians currently compromised by Covid-19, has been very positive, especially in the Western Cape and Gauteng. KFM in Cape Town has started to play 2 hours of SA Music Monday to Friday from 10 -12 pm each night.”
Myers said most of the innovative thinking around the issues had come from the Music Exchange (MEX) network, who addressed concerns and presented each with “novel and workable solutions that work for the collective benefit of all”.
In terms of initiatives worth supporting, Myers mentioned that Radio Monitor’s Jarrod Aston had pointed out that if any licence-paying radio station play local music between midnight and 6am each day, should it conflict with their current formatting, listenership would not be adversely affected and this would translate in a 25% increase in royalty payments to South African musicians who, like many are hard hit by the current lockdown.
“The revenue each artist earns from airplay is not immediately paid, but it will most certainly be a lifeline in the months and year ahead,” he explained.
The pandemic has devastated the live music industry too. “All active musicians have lost ALL of the live show revenue due to the lockdown and social distancing protocols in place,” he said. “For almost all working musicians this makes up the biggest part of their income stream. Live music events are hardest hit as, even after the lockdown is lifted, large gatherings will most certainly be outlawed for the better part of 2020.”
Myers said national broadcasters and independent stations had “extraordinary power”. This, he added, amounted to the ability to “make a fundamental change to the lives of musicians and entire entertainment economy [and] cannot be understated.
“Stations, and more especially programme managers, have the ability to effect real change and make a real contribution in keeping royalty payments local and our music industry relevant and sustained during this extraordinary time,” he said. “In fact some of the radio programming has been so poor it beggars belief -one station even has a call sign ‘your isolation station’ – What is that?”
The bottom line, Myers said, is that if all South African radio stations increased their peak time local content by 20% that would be a huge increase in local royalty revenues. Stations should only play 100% SA music from midnight to 6am. More critically, this wouldn’t impact listenership and would increase revenues by a further 25%.
Music Exchange hosts events for artists to attend and empower their careers and offers monthly masterclasses and talks by experts in their fields. The annual conference is on 5-6 Sept 2020 (10th year of the event #MEX20) at Radisson Red Hotel at V &A Waterfront.