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Fri Oct 31 09:05:00 SAST 2014

South African music industry loving iTunes

Times LIVE, Nikita Ramkissoon | 10 December, 2012 10:26
iTunes on the iPad.
Image by: HO

It’s been almost a week since Apple has opened its iTunes Store in South Africa and it seems it’s opened a huge door for local music.

Digital music in general has seen the world being exposed to much more music than was ever possible – music from the most obscure places being made available to the most obscure places – and the tiniest bands from a random town whose name we can’t pronounce can now be downloaded by someone who can make them famous in a click of a button.

In terms of listeners, the fact is that people would rather have digital music than go out and buy an album. Be it legally or not, ‘having an album’ now means having it on your hard drive. Now with the iTunes store being available in South Africa, South African listeners are being put on the map as consumers.

All the possibility of digital is now available to South Africans; as musicians and as consumers.

Open the flood-gates

Even though some local artists have had international exposure through iTunes, the floodgates have opened, and record labels are very positive about it.

Tracy Fraser, general manager of Gallo Music Group says its domestic repertoire is well represented with the likes of Arno Carstens, Zulu Boy, Theo Kgosinkwe, Thandiswa, Simphiwe Dana, Stimela, and Lucky Dube on the map already.

Paul Thackwray, general manager of Columbia/Epic at Sony Music says its entire digitised catalogue which contains close to its entire repertoire is available on iTunes.

All of EMI SA artists will be available, 80% of them on launch and the rest in the next couple of weeks, says managing director of EMI Music SA Pino Di Benedetto.

Head of Just Music and local music guru Karl Anderson says all of its South African artists music is available, including the likes of The Muffinz, Tailor, Zebra & Giraffe, Pascal & Pearce, Locnville, Dance, You're On Fire, Machineri, KONGOS, Flash Republic, Shadowclub, to name but a few.

“South Africans have a huge appetite for music and hence the reason why the live scene is so buoyant right now,” and that’s why, Anderson believes, this is such a great step for the industry.

More choice

Previously, Fraser says, the digital landscape was dominated by the cellular networks, [which] have strongly supported local music.

“This is unlikely to change. The shift to digital has included a number of other services, including streaming services recently. The launch of iTunes is great for the consumer because it gives more choice, it certainly is a destination brand and it also gives local artists and their labels, a compelling avenue to market their music.”

Fraser says the global brand of iTunes and trusted service gives all labels, whether they're focused on local or international repertoire, another opportunity to showcase and sell their music legally.

Di Benedetto agrees, saying it just gives EMI a bigger platform and reach.

“The digital space is growing on its own. What this might do is speed things up, but we are still very much a physical market, so the trusty all CD will not disappear overnight.”

Even though we are a very mobile-based, technologically young country, the service is very viable. “The big players in the digital space only come into a market when they know there is money to be made.”

He says it is a very positive move for the purely local labels, giving them another avenue to sell their product.

“All very good for the industry”

Thackwray says it also affects local labels positively in that more legitimate ways to obtain music amount to better opportunities set up artist music releases and develop new artists for all labels.

Thackwray says there are healthy changes to consider in the artist/album product lifecycle.

“For example, iTunes represents the re-introduction of the single only purchase.

Labels will have the dynamic of initially marketing and releasing development artists via EPs digitally before finalising full-length albums for physical and digital release.

“Crucially, South African music consumers have another viable alternative to music piracy. I.e. They can always find their favourite artist’s music in iTunes at a reasonable price and buy single tracks or full albums as they please with no excuse to steal it.”

Anderson, also very positive about this says: “The great thing is that we no longer need to rely on a traditional album cycle.

“We're now in a position to release singles, EPs, mini albums at any given time.”  Basically, he says anytime artists have new music ready, the label is able to get it direct to market without having to wait to put together a traditional 12-track album.

“From the music lovers and fans we've spoken to, their biggest issue has always been access to music.  Now they can download the hottest new releases or [their] favourite classics directly onto [their] iPhone, iPad or computer at the click of a button.”

Shift to digital

Thackwray says there should be more of a shift towards digital music with this move. “iTunes is the best known, most successful and user-friendly a la carte mp3 download platform in world.

“Although iTunes is positioned as a digital platform requiring a moderate amount of tech savvy, it is available as a free download to anyone with a PC or Mac and is highly accessible.

Apple's launch of a new iTunes store typically confirms they have positively researched a few issues like market viability and growth potential.”

Previously, he says, local artist’s music has been (and still is) available via other commercial mp3 platforms.

Bigger reach, bigger interest?

The obvious advantage going forward is iTunes carries certain additional facets like Apple’s strong brand awareness, global and local marketing initiatives and user-friendliness, “which should amount to an improvement in the digital landscape for local artists”. 

Even though some of Columbia/Epic Africa’s South African artists have been on iTunes, the local store adds depth to the marketing and promotional awareness.

However, this does not necessarily mean interest in South African artists will increase.

“This is a difficult question to answer at this stage, remember iTunes stores are regionally differentiated so typically unless South African artists are visible and promoted in other territories, they are not likely to appear in various iTunes store landing pages.

“But who knows, a key international breakthrough may transpire because of the local industry’s approach to iTunes.”

Di Benedetto is also a bit sceptical, saying local artists have been on the international sites and he doesn’t think its going to be massive exposure for them just because iTunes South Africa has arrived.

Anderson, however, says Just Music is more positive, seeing worldwide sales of the likes of Tailor, GoodLuck, Shadowclub and Zebra & Giraffe in iTunes stores.

A key issue, which people are not all that ready to talk about is the issue of government and the arts, and with the current administration’s approach towards it, it’s not surprising.

Thackwray says he’s not sure how something like this will affect government's interest, “but a more vibrant and dynamic music industry creates more interest and opportunity for music, musicians, managers and labels, which will be good for everybody”.

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