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Broke pockets enterprise

By Manuel Ntoyai
Friday, April 16th, 2021
Reuben Kigame.
In summary

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage lives and batter the economy without mercy, the Kenya’s music industry still finds itself in the thick of things. Empty wallets have become a synonymous lyric to this endless song. And as Manuel Ntoyai writes, all who depend on the multi-billion-potential sector will have to make without a decent pay, at least for a little longer.

Recently, veteran gospel singer-cum-preacher Reuben Kigame once again stirred the controversial issue on artistes dying as paupers, despite living a “great life” of entertaining masses.

He went ahead to ban the government and officials of the Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) from attending his funeral.

“I wish to go public about something and I want it marked well: if you one day hear musician Reuben Kigame is dead, do not allow any government representative or those from the so cold copyright societies to speak at my funeral service.

What I have been through under them is enough (sic),” he wrote on his social media pages.

The Enda Nasi  hitsinger, who has been recording music since 1987 with an impressive 29 albums under his belt, revealed that he only gets about Sh18,000 as royalties per month.

“Let’s begin today by asking why the Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo) keeps licensing MCSK (Music Copyright Society of Kenya) with full knowledge that the institution is not accountable.

Where are the forensic audits? Why is it when musicians elect their representatives to MCSK they are removed? What about ghost membership?” he further inquired.

Two years ago, celebrated musicians and producers Japheth Kassanga and John Katana—him of the legendary Kenyan music ensemble Them Mushrooms—were elected into MCSKs chairmanship, with members optimistic that they would straighten affairs at the impious CMO, but was removed from the board by “cartels” less than 15 months into their term.

“I know we have had problems at MCSK and still are, which began even before we were elected and removed as the chair.

But I challenge musicians to get to know how these things work instead of blanket condemnation, especially on the operational side of it. 

Then people should note that not all musicians are members of the CMO. We have over 14,000 members of MCSK and some of those members registered with phone numbers and emails that they no longer use, when the money is sent via mobile money, it usually bounces or goes to a different person. 

Infinite rambling 

They should have notified MCSK when they changed their contact details, as we have over 2,000 members who haven’t received their dues because of this,” says Katana.

He adds that members should get acquainted with, for example, how the scientific method of distribution works, which stems from commercial use from broadcasting stations, and general distribution which comes from the likes of vehicles, bars and other music users.

“When you release new music, you’re supposed to update your portfolio at MCSK’s system, which in turn monitor airplay from broadcast stations.

One only earns from what is exploited commercially, and for every airplay (on broadcast stations) a song generates Sh25, the first deduction is by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), which is five per cent.

From the remainder, the CMOs take 30 per cent for administration and the rest goes to the rights holder who is a member,” intimates Katana.

For general distribution, 40 per cent is set aside and distributed equally to members and this has always ruffled feathers the wrong way, especially when MCSK disbursed a total of Sh2,500 to each member.

Katana, who is the MCSK’s Coast region representative, says out of the 260 broadcasting stations, only 40 paid their royalties in 2019, and 62 in 2020.

Latest reduction of tariffs in 2019 in efforts to harmonise the payments also affected the amount of royalties collected, with commercial music users being given a flat rate.

This was after users including the Pubs and Restaurants Association of Kenya (Perak) and Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC), asked ICT cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru to intervene through Kecobo, after dissenting to pay to the CMOs.

Copyright question

While there have been rightful calls for the restructuring of how copyright holders get their royalties, the regulator has introduced the National Rights Registry (NRR), which acts as the central repository to collect details pertaining to ownership of various copyright works.

This portal is used by copyright holders allowing them to register and viewer download copyright certificates.

“NRR advocates for self-licensing, but I believe we have not reached the threshold within the mindset of music users.

It will take at least five years to get us there. We have been using licensing and police officers in enforcement, but it has also been facing problems including negativity and ignorance from users and the general public,” intimates Katana.

At the moment, the three licenced CMOs; MCSK, Performers Rights Society of Kenya (Prisk) and Kenya Association of Music Producers (Kamp) have a total of 81 licensed officers countrywide, who jointly collect royalties under a harmonised tariff.

Artistes under the CMOs occasionally get trainings through workshops where they are taken through different matters including intellectual property rights and financial literacy.

However, sensitisation and awareness is the prerogative of Kecobo, but lack of funding has affected its operations.

Gospel rapper Collins Majale aka Collo states that some of the government bodies including Kecobo, are underfunded, which in turn makes them vulnerable.

“Bodies such as Kecobo are deliberately underfunded to affect capacity because government understands the kind of influence the creative cultural industry has.

An equipped musician or entertainer is a serious threat to the political agenda,” he tells Spice.

But at the same time, creatives are encouraged to understand how their works are monitored and learn about making money though not just copyrighted work, but also managing it.

“Financial literacy is important because it equips one with the knowledge and skills needed to manage money effectively. 

Without it, the financial decisions and the actions taken may lead to lack of solid foundation for success.

Music is business that one cannot predict. The songs do well in different seasons and if you don’t invest in your high season, you may end up complaining and lamenting,” says Prisk chairman Ephantus Wahome.

This has seen a number of artistes declare war on their labels, with producers on the receiving end.

And while the wars between producers and content creators intensify, one document that always helps an artiste settle such matters is a split sheet.

Quick fix

“A split sheet agreement identifies each contributor and establishes specific ownership percentages amongst them.

These percentages are important because they determine how much each contributor will be paid when income is generated by their music. 

In general, every song published can be broken down into a writer’s share (lyrics) and a producer’s share (music), a performers share,” says Angela Ndambuki, who is also the Sub-Saharan Africa regional director of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the world body representing the interests of recording industry.

According to her, while the shares can be broken down even further if there are additional contributors, the same creator can contribute to all the shares. The final percentages are negotiated and must be agreed upon by all parties involved.

Frustrations from fellow directors at all the CMOs were a key factor that led rapper Hubert Nakitare aka Nonini from resigning from the Prisk chairmanship in 2019.

Nonini, who has always been critical of how artistes affairs are handled, says there is a need for an overhaul when it comes to how collection and distribution of royalties is concerned.

“We are living in a world where our sweat is being taken advantage of partly because we lack the right instruments to effect change, and also our ignorance as creative.

People need to empower themselves by knowing how the whole business works,” he tells Spice.

On its part, Prisk says just like any other organisation, it has been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, as collections have dipped so badly, especially due to the closure of entertainment spots and the blanket ban on huge gatherings. “There were issues to do with policies, which we have worked on. 

I am happy with it and having complied with the regulator, Prisk is hoping for things to improve economically, so that we can go back to collecting and distributing normally to our members,” Wahome says in conclusion.