The South African Music Recording Industry

Abdullah Ibrahim in Concert. Photo by Michael Hoefner

Abdullah Ibrahim in Concert. Photo by Michael Hoefner

Although there is a general perception that to become a musician in South Africa is to guarantee that you’ll one day struggle for an income and inevitably be the once-owner of a now repossessed house, this might not be as true as people think. In fact, music in South Africa is, and will always be, a thriving industry. The Recording Industry of South Africa or RiSA has about 2,000 trade members and is more active today than ever before. It used to be the Association of the South African Music Industry or ASAMI and is in charge of the South African Music Awards (SAMAs). Recording, moreover, is nowadays made very much simpler than it was in the past – indeed, all you need are your instruments, some mics, and technology of the likes of LG electronics (i.e. a decent amp and laptop).

RiSA is made up of producers, retailers, distributors, and record labels both independent and major like the Universal Music, Warner Brothers Records-Gallo, Sony Music, and EMI. It is also the official representative of the country to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. It is run by a 12 member council elected by the members and generally accepts any applicant to its fold.

The main objective of RiSA is to protect the music industry against piracy, uphold a code of conduct in the music industry, and encourage the growth of the music industry in the country.

Music Piracy

Probably the most serious challenge of RiSA is the issue of piracy. In an earlier report, RiSA said that music piracy is costing the industry more than R500 million annually. Illegal DVD copies of recordings and songs are being sold on the streets, sometimes openly and the South African Police Service, along with the DTI, is having a difficult time putting a cap on it. The awareness campaign of RiSA is not good enough as there 3 million pirated music DVDs and CDs sold every year.

The cost of music piracy runs in the millions of Rands because it becomes more expensive to produce music recordings if the sales are lower. It’s almost like a Catch-22 scenario because pirated DVDs cost a fraction of a legal copy. Retailers and distributors sell less and their business suffers. Also, many are bad copies which mean the artistry and talent of the musician is not fully appreciated.

SAMEX Role in the Music Industry

SAMEX stands for South African Music Exports and it is a group that promotes South African music in other countries. They are also tasked with managing a database of music exporters in South Africa, disseminate information about these exporters, and promote cooperation and professionalism among members and in the music industry.

SAMRO – South African Music Rights Organization

SAMRO began in 1961 with the intention to protect intellectual property rights of music writers, composers, and talents so they get the credit they deserve. It makes sure the right person gets paid royalties and protects the copyright law. For instance, every record sold comes with royalty fees to be paid to the composer and artist. The problem of piracy makes it impossible to give credit where it due especially in the form of payments.

SAMRO covers 3 rights: the right to publish music, reproduce the music, and perform the music in public. Their main concern at the moment is the digital recordings which has affected the sales and payment of commissions and royalties. And now with the music streaming services starting up in the country, SAMRO and other organizations are on tip toes over what could develop in the next few months that may affect the music adversely.