How to save it.
2017 promises to be a great year. This is a year when incredible things could happen, when the scene can finally ‘blow up’. Big international bands are starting to consider Kenya as a touring destination. As far as the music business is concerned, 2017 still rides on the wave of three solid full length albums from Hybrid Actuary, Rash and Andromeda Music. New bands are forming each day. There is a lot to be hopeful about.
However with all the good things happening, it is easy to get carried away. This scene carries the same prospects of flourishing as it does for meeting its demise.
I want to dial the clock back a few years. Back to 2012 when it was popularly considered to be the greatest year this scene have ever witnessed. There were plenty of shows. We also got to host Skinflint(Botswana) and Boargazm (South Africa). Lots of bands released records at that time too. The one element that killed the momentum was the way shows were being organised. Sam Kiranga in his Daily Nation column on Zuqka, attributed this to one event, the Nairobi Rock fest. He claimed, truthfully as many others have done, that this event took the wind out of our sails. After selling over a thousand tickets, the event organisers curiously failed to provide a drum kit. At the end of the night the bands that the fans were promised couldn’t perform. The Nairobi rock fest 2012, was a dud. But with respect Sam Kiranga’s perspective paints only a general picture of a “disease” that was already deeply entrenched. The disease I refer to is the business mode with which live shows were structured.
What were the characteristics of this business model? In the case of the Nairobi rock fest, the organisers lost the trust of their customers which is the worst mistake any one in business could make. A lot of business models argue for a focus on customers. But in this case, the enterprise failed to provide the service which they had promised to offer in exchange for money. They lied. They failed to keep their word and did nothing to remedy the situation. They didn’t even offer an apology.
The second characteristic was the failure to compensate their suppliers. Uchumi Supermarkets typified this behaviour with their failure to pay suppliers and you can see where they have ended up. Their business is dead. Similarly in the rock music business, the failure to pay bands killed the business of live shows. a large number of shows ended with organisers disappearing without paying bands. Or rather it exposed organisers for what they were. A mere sham. In fact this was a business only in the most primitive or legal sense of the word. An enterprise run for the purposes of securing profits for its proprietors. It had no concern for suppliers or customers. And it failed.
So in 2017 we are presented with a similar situation. And as organisers are asked to choose between these two business models. One that takes short term goals into account, or one the smarter one that plays the long game. Taking not only fans but the suppliers into account.
The reason that this decision is crucial is because the consequences are far more reaching than the bare eyes can see.
First of all the life of the scene depends on it. The reason bands need to be satisfied is that without money then there are no resources to cover the bands expenses. Believe it or not shows don’t even cover the bare minimums. They do not cover your fare and they won’t even throw in a drink just for motivation. Organisers are careful to cover the clubs expenses, the pay the sound guy and they pay themselves but forget to cover the band. But bands are the heart of the scene. The sense to all this comes to call when you realise that shows need to pay in order to motivate bands to produce music and all the incidental costs that come with it. Everything in the industry including practice space is paid for. And if we truthfully intend for an industry with music that can rival South Africa and Egypt in content then shows need to pay. This is the long term goal.
And we’ve all heard the common response that will start chiming in from organisers. That bands need to focus on getting exposure and being greatful for the exposure. But I this argument just does not fly any more. Just because it is true I think it has become an easy excuse that people will go to when they don’t want to do things the hard and right way.
To be sure, no band will want to support shows that have organisers with a track record of deceit. In the long run, a track record of distrust only works to alienate all the bands and in the end you have a poisoned relationship. you end up with no suppliers and with no suppliers there is no scene.
And unless we want to keep this cycle of a life lived in struggle ending with a painful death, like the Asgardians with their ragnarok then you need to rethink your business strategy. You need to bite down and do the right thing. You need to be smart. You need to save yourself, you need to save your business and you need to save the scene.
by Otieno Daniel