The music business has been monopolized by men being the gatekeepers, opinion leaders, and top earners. However, with a new generation taking the fore women like Monica K. Savanne are ready to change the tide and contribute to this ever-changing space.
Currently enrolled as a Master’s student in Music Business Management at the University of Westminster, she founded TANGAZA Magazine in March of 2018 in efforts to create a space where new wave/alternative/contemporary East African artists could be celebrated.
Having gained work experience across various sectors of the music industry including live, digital distribution and artist services across Nairobi, New York and Los Angeles, she gave The Sauce some insights on what most artists should know about navigating the music business in the digital age.
TS:What led you to study music, and the business of music?
MS: I initially had wanted to be a performer. I play four instruments and was heavily involved in music through primary and high school. I love to sing so, I and some friends formed a girl group in high school and would perform at a lot of entertainment programming and events at school. It wasn’t until I started studying music for A-Levels that I began thinking about the process behind recording and releasing music. That’s when my perspective changed from wanting to be on stage to realizing I had more of a passion for understanding the behind-the-scenes and working with artists.
TS: What part of the local industry given your scholarly knowledge, disturbs you most?
MS: There’s a couple but most notably is the lack of awareness and respect for intellectual property which results in a lot of artists being exploited.
TS: What was your opinion on the longevity of the #PlayKe music movement? Does it carry any weight?
MS: I think it 100 percent carries weight. The people behind the campaign are brilliant for creating a space that amplifies Kenyan music. I have always been critical of the fact that other African and international acts have tended to be given more support whether it comes to radio or performance opportunities as opposed to local acts. Kenyan musicians are just as talented and deserving of support from industry intermediaries so it’s great to see the positive impact that #PlayKE is having in pushing music from home.
TS: What do you think about the gengetone scene? Where did we go wrong? What can we improve on?
MS: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gengetone. I think that we need to allow the genre and the artists functioning within it to grow and continue improving the sound. There’s no denying that gengetone is having a major moment and has been for the past two years; I personally don’t think ‘it’s going anywhere soon.
TS: The music business has a reputation of being cut-throat. What’s your opinion on big music western labels working with African acts? For example, Sauti Sol, Ali Kiba, Xtactic…they got signed but have hardly grown. Any thoughts on why?
MS: That’s difficult to answer as it’s not a linear process and we also don’t know the terms of any of the deals. I also wouldn’t place Sauti Sol in this category because they built a successful career long before their record label deal. Being signed to a record label, regardless of where in the world you are, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be successful. In the case of East African artists, the issue in seeming lack of growth may be the underdevelopment of music markets as well as support from home audiences rather than the label deals. I say this because African artists in a market like South Africa which is home to several international labels, and where music made by local musicians is celebrated and amplified, are finding success from those deals.
TS: How can an artist protect themselves from exploitative contracts?
MS: Legal documents can be extremely difficult to understand for anyone not familiar with the language so I would recommend not being quick to sign. If you’re in a position to, seeking legal advice from an entertainment or IP lawyer is the first step you should take. If for any reason you’re not able to seek legal advice, depending on the type of deal you’re getting involved in I suggest getting familiar with the typical terms and conditions of that deal. A website like Musicians’ Union provides specimen contracts and explanations that you can take a look at.
TS: What’s the missing link for Kenyan music to make it global?
MS: I’d say what’s missing for Kenyan music to make it global is proper music industry infrastructure and knowledge. There is no doubt that the talent is there but that talent needs to be supported. Unfortunately, there is a lot of exploitation of artists in our industry, from their intellectual property being stolen to not being paid by promoters for performances
On the other hand, artists have to be extremely dedicated to their craft and be willing to put the hard work and sacrifice into building a strong career in order to compete at a global level. Your friends, family, the team can’t be hungrier than you to succeed. This industry is a challenging one to make it in regardless of where you are in the world and so you as an artist have to dedicate some time to understand how the music business works.
8.What are 3 major inputs that every artist should consider to make it as an artist?
Taking the time to figure out exactly what kind of artist you want to be, what lane you fit in, and what you want your world to be. This is key in building a strong career as having a vision of who you want to be as an artist will guide every decision you make and keep you grounded.
Secondly, do your research! It is so important for you to understand the basics of how the music industry works to ensure that you don’t get exploited and make good decisions for your career. There are a lot of blogs, social media accounts, webinars and other resources that are free that you should take advantage of.
Invest in creating other kinds of content to support the music that is authentic to you. We live in the age of content, it’s no longer enough to just release a song and hope it sticks. Invest in developing unique rollout strategies that cover prior to release, during, and post-release to keep people continually interested in you. Non-music-related content will also go a long way in keeping fans engaged between releases.
Finally, perfect your craft. Ultimately putting out good quality music is the most important aspect of your career.
TS: Top 3 artists of all time, in your humble opinion?
MS: Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar and Brenda Fassie.
TS: Top 3 underground acts, that deserve more listener-ship?
Xprso., iKeN and Mucyo.