Get the game right: Dos and don’ts for upcoming artistes in Kenya

Sauti Sol and Victoria Kimani(inset)
  • There are many talented artistes, but only a few of them have been able to thrive in the industry as the rest struggle to make their presence felt
  • Showbiz is lucrative and at the same time cruel
  • As we make the jump off to 2018, Pulse spells the dos and don’ts you need to know if you want to make sense of this maze

“I have released a new single and I want you guys (Pulse) to feature me so that I can blow big. I am really talented and I feel that this song will be a hit,” says a new singer whom we are still not sure if they can make a musician.

“I am sending you a link on WhatsApp and my photos. You will tell me if there is anything else you need for the article. Let me know when it appears,” the stranger goes on before adding that it is his time and that the likes of Nameless, Octopizzo, King Kaka and God knows who else should retire as “it is my time”.

Every day, tens of artistes hit the booth to record new songs using the little savings they can get, after which they run to the next music TV host, radio show host and Pulse for an interview. You see them updating which TV show they will be appearing in next as they urge you to watch.

They even go on YouTube and post the video and hope to get views, only to end up with less than 100. Yes, the video might be good but there are rules in this game.

Recording a song and having a network of people who can market you is just but part of the game. Just like any other business, music takes strategy. Fame hardly come by one pulling overnight stunts like getting controversial on social media.

Don’t try a Justin Bieber either, trying to think someone will discover you through MySpace. Old tricks don’t always work. Actually, it is suicidal to think that how promoter A helped a given celebrity gain fame will still work as a good plan for you. No, not in 2018.

The cheese has shifted. With new technology making the world a small global village, local artistes must start learning to think out of the box if they have to make a stake in the music business. We are seeing a lot of cross pollination, artistes from across Africa doing collabos among themselves as they try to gain a wider fan-base, international artistes coming down to Africa to seek virgin grounds and producers fusing new sounds to create a new dynamic market acceptable to all.

Fans are getting more exposed and are able to access almost every artistes’ content the very second they release their song. So how do you survive in this ruthless throat-cut competitive world?

“I think for a long time, Kenyan artistes have failed to raise their bar – majority of them. Listen to the tunes and the lyrics…watch the videos… You will wonder if they have a plan to ever get their music going beyond the borders. Most of it is too cliché. I am not talking about them reinventing the wheel. I am saying that the industry should grow up. We have gotten stagnant and can hardly count five artistes we can export to the world at the moment,” says DJ Define, a video deejay who has been playing in international clubs.

DJ Define says even Sauti Sol who had become a big name abroad a few years ago are now struggling to make a cut abroad adding that Tanzanian and Nigerian artistes are more strategic than Kenyans. This, according to him, being the reason Kenyan artistes have been playing catch-up in a game they once ruled.

“Apart from Victoria Kimani, who can you say has been working hard to go international? Who is truly investing towards the Grammys? Who can host a 68,000-people concert like we saw South Africa’s Cassper Nyovest host the other day. We need to wake up. Artistes must become more serious and focussed in 2018,” says DJ Define.

Victoria Kimani

“Making a breakthrough in the music scene by itself is a great deal. Working towards sustenance and longevity takes a lot of planning and discipline. Sometimes, you never get recognition or any value as an upcoming artiste and if you have no vision that can completely discourage and cripple you. The music industry is not for the faint hearted,” says Nameless, adding that the problem with many upcoming artistes is that they expect overnight successes.

“It is one thing to have a music talent but that is not all what matters for you to succeed. You need to get a good production stable, a good manager or music adviser and a good promoter. You also need good will among your fans besides having a vision. At the same time, learn how to brand yourself and above all, learn to leave it all to God,” says Wyre, the leading Kenyan reggae king whose career spans over 15 years.

For years, being invited to stage shows in pubs has been the job for many local musicians. Also, artistes think accepting to record collabos with anyone who comes your way will make then big. Hardly, do our musicians have a strategy for themselves, a plan, a blue print they can follow.

The industry, like any other works with practicalities. There are management and financial aspects. The money is not always around the noise you make or the number or records you can release – as much as that counts.

“We have had many talented artistes signing big deals with mega records like Universal Records but does it always work? The truth is that until one understands the art and experiences the process of working the real business deal with recording stables as well as distributors, it is very hard to make it worth in music,” says Fena, a leading rapper whose career has been on the rise.

“You can run to every TV and radio station as well as get good reviews in showbiz magazines…then, after that what? That should be the question many Kenyans artistes should ask themselves,” says J Blessing, a leading video producer.

“The fact that you are getting good reviews does not necessarily mean your music is selling or you are guaranteed of getting big shows. I don’t think people necessarily believe that your music is good simply because you get good reviews. You can use reviews as a leverage point into the bigger plan. This is not the point of celebration,” he notes.

The other thing a musician should understand is their niche market as well as their fans. This will help you to know how to do your music marketing and promotion.

At the same time, local musicians should know that most record labels do not always keep their promises.

In fact, besides recording music, most of producers can hardly promote your music as they always claim and so committing to sign such a contract with them is usually a waste of time and derailment of career.

“The issue with many of our artistes is that they make bad deals with producers. They allow them to co-own the rights of the songs simply because they (the musicians) don’t have the initial capital to pay the producers. Most of the time, that is only a con game as if you look at the long run benefit, you will realise that the deal wasn’t worth it,” says Kenzo who has been in the game for some time now.

Above all, Kenyan musicians must change from being copycats and get original. According to a number of music producers, many musicians have been aping the Western beat.

“An artiste approaches you and tells you that they want a beat like the one of Davido’s song ‘A’ and ‘B’ and when you even come up with filming script for the same as a professional, they ignore all that and start dancing like another artiste. Seriously!” exclaims Nasty Bull, the CEO BMG records.