Kenya: Plentiful broadcast music spells the end of the road for CDs

Technology & Convergence

When CDS of local music were introduced slightly over a decade ago, they sold at Ksh800 ($12.5) while those for imported music ranged from Ksh1200-Ksh1500 ($18.75-$23.5).

Not anymore though, as the prices have plummeted to Ksh200 ($3) or just about the cost of a good quality super chrome cassette for the local music, while imported music may fetch up to Ksh500 ($7.8).

Ordinarily, pirates are the first to be blamed, but the reality is that hard-copy sales are no longer a core income-generator in the music business. The issue is not unique to Kenya; as areas of public broadcast diversify and numbers grow, a good record will be playing everywhere and the public may feel no need to own a copy.

Kenya's relatively small radio and television sector, the 30 or so radio stations in operation, provide more than enough choice for most music fans. Add clubs, hotels, and public transport vehicles, public places that pipe music, lifts and so on, and the need to buy music is drastically reduced.

In fact a decade ago, matatus estimated at 25,000 countrywide were major customers for music in cassette form, but today a vast percentage uses radio music and no longer buy music of their own. Assuming that every matatu bought at least one cassette or CD a month, one would be talking about that number in lost sales.

In more developed countries, licensing fees and procedures have taken into account the impact this proliferation of public broadcasting networks is having on the music industry. Now, revenue comes mostly from the royalties from public broadcasting.

In Kenya, the Music Copyright Society has to ensure that royalties become a reliable income generator for musicians able to sustain the artistes and the music activity. But even if it that were to happen, the content ratio that is broadcast works against Kenyan music.

According to Roger Hoolijer, a director with an international music licensing body, as things stand, Kenya will soon become a major royalty exporting country due to the preference for foreign music.

"The country needs to work out a ratio that favours local music for Kenya music to benefit," he said.

Kenyans need to find a way to have music used more widely in public broadcasts both locally and internationally and to ensure that the royalties are well distributed to those whose music is played.

East African Standard