Op-Ed: LIBERIA’S MUSIC BUSINESS
By: Dounard Bondo
Music is a universal language, as it crosses borders and boundaries. In recent times, African music has been breaking barriers, with West Africa leading the way. In 2018, Davido won the BET’s Best International Artist Award, surpassing Artists like Stormzy and Jhus from the UK, among others. Another Nigerian Artist, Wizkid, was credited as a Songwriter and featured popular American Artists, Drake and Chris Brown; collaborations which has transformed him into a global star. Ghanaian influenced Mr Eazi, has been featured by Major Lazer among others, and tours the world, while Kenya’s Sauti sol, S.A’s Cassper and AKA are now global brands. But where is Liberian music in this trend?
Liberia is a country filled with music and culture, and while we may produce some spectacular Afropop sounds, Liberia might be left out of this trend because we focus more on the music, than the music business. The lack of efficiency in the music business is therefore affecting our growth.
The average Liberian Artist/ Producers find it difficult to make money off their music. Currently, most Artists follow the method of trying to make a hit song, or a radio single. They make their music free online in the hopes that it becomes popular; so as to make money off shows where they perform their hit records. The reasons why the Artists don’t make enough money, or why the music hasn’t transcended to the global stage are numerous.
One of the reasons, is lack of diversification. The biggest Artists are brands, and they have found a way to diversify from just music to things like clothing, branding etc. Sounds change, and an Artist won’t stay at no 1 forever; which is why Liberian Artists need to learn to invest in things and hobbies apart from their music, they need to learn to showcase their brands in things like merchandise, thus bringing in multiple streams of income and advertisement.
Liberian Artists also need take more advantage of online availability and marketing. There are ways to monetize the available and popular internet pages like Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, etc., and Liberian Artists need to take advantage of them. Likewise, the Artists need to diversify the outlets they avail their music and release music to popular platforms like iTunes and Spotify. While the average Liberian won’t buy or stream off these sites, the Liberians in the diaspora use Liberian music to connect with home, so making it available on platforms such as those will help generate revenue and availability, as seen with Liberian Rapper Bucky Raw’s recent rise in popularity and stardom after releasing his album, Cs2 to major streaming platforms.
Lastly, another major hindrance to the industry is the lack of music publishing laws. Music publishing ensures that Artists, Songwriters, and Producers get paid when their works are used commercially. A lot of Liberian Artists do not make use of music publishing opportunities or laws, thus they are not paid when their works are used in commercials, movies etc. Also, due to the lack of music publishing, Artists and Producers in Liberia don’t get paid when their music is sampled.
Intellectual property or IP laws secures an individual’s work against theft, which has implications for the Liberian industry. Some Liberian Artists’ covers of popular songs are popular in Liberia, however IP laws prevents you from making money off the sale of a cover of an existing song. So while a cover might get you popularity, IP stops you from selling it. IP laws are not strongly enforced in Liberia, but they are outside the continent, IP stops these “Cover Artists” from making money off covers (and rightly so). By protecting and promoting their own music, and advocating for stronger IP laws in the country, Liberian Artists can begin to bring more structure to the Music/Entertainment Industry and make more money off their crafts.
The Liberian music industry is in high need of structure and investment to evolve to the next level, and it is important that all industry actors come together and move the country to the next level.