Save our Music
South Africa has one of the weakest independent recording sectors in the world. This is why the Independent Music Community was established in South Africa in 2020.
Globally, the independent labels enjoy almost 40% of the world market share. In South Africa, the independents' share is around 5%.
Historically, South African independent labels matched the trend in the rest of the world. In 1998, according to a government report, South Africa’s largest record company, Gallo had a 25% market share and the independent sector combined had more than 32%.
But by 2018, Gallo’s general manager Rob Cowling reported that its market share had dropped to 16%, turning over about R60m per annum. In 2020 their market share was less than 3%, and its turnover had fallen to just R14m. This was in spite of Gallo having bought two of the larger independent labels, Bula and Sheer in 2014.
Independent labels have also been the drivers of local repertoire. Gallo dominated local music recordings for decades. Today local repertoire makes up only 19% of the total recorded music market according to RISA’s published statistics for 2020. Local content declined by more than 4,5% in 2020. If the trend continues local content will decline to less than 10% in the next 3 years.
The major record labels, Universal Sony and Warner Music, had a market share of about 66% in 1998, today their market share is about 95%, leaving the estimated 50 independent labels to share the remaining 5%.
Does this really matter? It very much does, because the most vibrant and growing music markets around the world all have healthy and vibrant independent labels that break out new artists and introduce new genres. South Africa appears to have lost its capacity to do this.
Independent record labels in all healthy markets are the crucibles of creativity, the generators of diversity, the drivers of transformation and the promoters of local music culture.
The recording industry in South Africa has not matched the vitality and growth of most other territories. Multinational labels generally do not prioritise local content. It is easier and more profitable to focus on the off-the-shelf products their parent companies serve them on a platter.
If we are to revive the fortunes of South African music we will have to rebuild the capacity of the independent music sector. We cannot delegate the future of South African music to the local offices of multinational giants whose first loyalty is to the global music stars, in which they have invested billions of US$.
To do this we will have to provide a supportive, transparent environment with level playing fields for independent recording companies to thrive again.
The first task must be to transform the collection society space. Independent record labels will not be able to survive if they are unable to recover the money they invested in their music recordings. This problem has its roots in opacity and has plagued the indie labels globally for decades.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. An industry wide solution called RDx Repertoire Data Exchange is operational Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.
IMC will begin adopting the new international standards in March 2022. This will allow local labels to collect their broadcast revenues from international markets for the first time.