Tuesday, 30 August 2016

IP and African Music Industries: An Interview with Phil Chard - part 1

music notesLittle Leo had the wonderful opportunity, thanks to the miracle of technology, to sit down with Phil Chard from African Hip Hop Blog and Two Broke Twimbos to discuss hip hop, the music industry and IP on the continent.  We had a lengthy conversation about many aspects of intellectual property and Africa’s music industry, so this interview* will be broken down into parts.  We’ll start at the beginning with how African artists can get their content to their audiences.

Little Leo:  Welcome and thank you for being with us today.  This is an opportunity for our Afro-IP Readers to hear from people who actually use the various intellectual property systems that are in place and get a better idea of how they’re working or not working for those people and what they know about them.  You’re actively involved in the entertainment industry in a number of ways, obviously with the African Hip Hop blog, your Two Broke Twimbos podcasts; you’re a writer, you’re an innovator.  Are you also a musician yourself?

Phil Chard:  You could say that.  I mainly executive produce.  I do A&R for the artists that I manage, project directions, promotion.

L: What else would you like our readers to know about you?

P: You seem to have done most of your research; that’s pretty much it.  I’m a pretty open book.  My passion is just trying to get African stories out there.  That’s the goal that I’m pushing for the next five years.  My five-year plan is get as many African stories out there being told by Africans.  Basically telling African stories with an African narrative and then finding African solutions to African problems.  That’s the main key.

L:  What methods are you using to get African stories told by Africans out to Africans?

P:  For example, now with music distribution going digital, trying to figure out the best way to reach individuals who don’t have the access to iTunes or Google Play or whatever it may be.  They might have access to WhatsApp Bundles, so WhatsApp has now become a distribution platform for music.

L:  So not looking just at the standard internationally-pushed music platforms, but looking at other platforms and other things that can be used as platforms?

P:  Yeah, what we’ve realized is gone are the old days where you force the audience to consume content the way you want them to consume it.  You have to figure out how they’re consuming content and tailor your distribution model to fit their needs.  Because if you aren’t doing it, someone else will.  I’m pretty sure right now there’s a sixteen-year old kid somewhere who knows a lot more than I do, who could easily do more than what I’m doing and probably could do.

L:  I know some people who would say you have a better handle on the situation than the major labels.

P:  [laughs]  Well it’s all about perspective, right.  I mean you look at what the American labels have done in Africa; it’s been an absolute disaster for the past five years.  Just a litany of artists—I’m not going to mention names, but if you do some light research, you’ll find a long list of African artists who signed to American labels which have these subsidiaries in Africa who have nothing but complaints and horror stories about mismanagement and being shot down and about not having their projects green lit and creative stifling; it’s just a mess.

L:  That’s something I’d like to ask you more about.  We hear about labels coming into the continent and creating subsidiaries and then also hear about artists who signed to labels in the States and then start collaborating with American artists.  It sounds like in general, you see that as a bad thing, but then you’ve also said “if you have an African label, it’s not doing anything for you.”

P:  Not quite.  I was speaking in generalities.  If you’re looking at an independent artist in 2016, if as an artist you have already assembled a team that can do your promotion, that can help manage your funds and help get you bookings, there’s no need for a label anymore.  Look at an artist like Cassper Nyovest.  Cassper Nyovest was smart enough to create his own label.  He literary had two big hits {“Doc Shebeleza” and “Gusheshe”} and those two big hits garnered him 21 awards in a year.  And all that fame then helped him generate upward of US$150,000 in show money, which at the time was unheard of for a hip hop act.  So off that, he built his own infrastructure.  Now he’s got a guy named Spike who’s his road manager.  He’s got T-Lee who’s his manager.  He’s got his friend Carpo, who’s his hype man on stage.  He’s built a whole team around it and he’s started his own label, Family Tree.  He’s got his boy Sebastian, his former manager, who’s also managing the other acts on his label, who’s also his videographer and photographer.  He’s created a label for himself; there’s nothing that any other label can offer him.  And as opposed to what other artist are doing, he’s doing his own distribution as well.  Other artists who have their own labels, they’ll go to Sony or Universal and say “ok, we’ve got our album, distribute it on our behalf and then we’ll give you 15%” or whatever it is they offer as distribution rate.  He’s doing everything himself.  And both his albums have gone platinum.  So if you’re smart enough and you’re thinking in that line, there’s really not much a label can do for you in Africa.  Where a record label shows its value is when you want to go outside of Africa, which is why the Davido deal made so much sense.  {Davido signed to RCA Records in July.}  The selling point that they gave to him was “you’re good in Africa, but you’re not good in the West and that’s where we have our distribution channel, so we’re going to push you there.”  But we have to see how productive that relationship will be.

We’ll break here and return to the conversation later to discuss music-making as a career.
Part 2.

*The conversation has been edited for clarity and reading ease; it is not an exact transcript.

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