Supporting Artist Growth: The Vital Role of Music Labels in Uganda’s Industry

Music Labels

In our previous article, we scratched a significant subject: music labels, and we took our views through the perspective of Diamond Platnumz of WCB Wasafi. While there are numerous successful music label executives in West Africa to consider, Diamond Platnumz’s narrative hits closer to home and is more relatable than theirs. Someone’s face is twitching in disagreement. Well, his YouTube channel ‘Diamond Platnumz’ with more than 2 billion views and 8 million subscribers—and those of his current and former label artists– are replete with documentary films that provide viewers with an inside look at all the operations conducted at his Wasafi label daily to achieve success in the music business. From studio recording sessions, writing sessions, walk-throughs, video behind-the-scenes, artistes’ life stories, etc., you will be left nodding and confessing: Hakika hawa wadogo wanachapa kazi!

Now let’s look at this through the binoculars of Uganda’s music scene; behind every chart-topping hit that is financially viable to the individuals who have invested in it, there often stands a music label or a group of people –playing different roles in orchestrating its success. In Uganda’s case, what has been lacking is the professionalization of these individuals and the fostering of collaboration amongst them in an integrated working chain. This setup should provide sustainable success for the artists, for them to extend beyond hits to attain life-long financial success through their music.

Music labels play a vital role in shaping the music industry, providing artists with the necessary resources, guidance, and promotional support to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of the music business. This article shall circle the functions and importance of music labels in Uganda’s vibrant music industry, highlighting their impact on artist development and examining the challenges they face in today’s rapidly changing world, as well as how a typical Ugandan artiste can set up labels each one at their financial level. Tighten your seatbelts…

In reviving the music industry music labels should be viewed as the backbone of Uganda’s music industry, functioning as both custodians of artistic intellectual property, and drivers of artistes’ commercial success. They serve as talent scouts, discovering and nurturing promising artists, and as tastemakers, curating a diverse array of music for audiences to enjoy. Labels also provide crucial financial support for recording, production, assembling, marketing, branding, and enabling artists to realize their creative visions and reach wider audiences.

One of the primary roles of music labels worldwide is to provide artists with the resources and guidance they need to succeed in the industry. From state-of-the-art recording studios to experienced producers and engineers, labels offer artists access to professional-grade facilities and expertise to elevate their sound. Additionally, labels often provide artists with strategic career guidance, helping them navigate the complexities of the music business, negotiate contracts, and make informed decisions about their artistic direction.

Music labels are responsible for artiste promotion. Promotion is essential for any artist looking to break through in the music industry, and music labels excel in this regard. Labels leverage their extensive networks and industry connections to secure airplay on radio stations, placement on Digital Streaming Platforms streaming playlists, and coverage in traditional and digital media outlets. They also organize promotional events, such as album launches, concerts, and tours, to showcase their artists to fans and industry insiders alike.

For instance, let us study how Diamond Platnumz made a financially stable star out of Harmonize, almost overnight. He discovered Harmonize while attending a local music competition in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Harmonize, then a relatively unknown artist performing at the competition, caught Diamond’s attention with his unique vocal style, stage presence as well as resilience.

After signing with WCB, Harmonize received personalized career guidance from Diamond Platnumz himself. Diamond mentored Harmonize on various aspects of the music industry, including songwriting, vocal delivery, and stage performance. For example, Diamond advised Harmonize on selecting the right songs for his debut album AfroBongo and provided feedback on his live performances during rehearsals at the WCB studios in Dar es Salaam.

Diamond invested in Harmonize’s career by providing him with access to state-of-the-art recording studios and production facilities and Producer Liser. Harmonize recorded his debut singles and albums at the WCB studios, with Diamond overseeing the production process. Additionally, Diamond financed and collaborated in music videos for Harmonize’s songs, such as “Bado” and “Kwa Ngwaru,” which were shot in expensive locations in Zanzibar and South Africa. These videos garnered millions of views on YouTube and received extensive airplay on Tanzanian radio stations.

Through Diamond’s connections in the music industry, Harmonize had the opportunity to collaborate with established artists and producers both locally and internationally. For instance, Diamond facilitated Harmonize’s collaboration with Nigerian superstars like Yemi Alade and Krizzbeats on ‘Show Me What You Gat’ which was recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, and became a chart-topping success across Africa. Diamond also introduced Harmonize to influential figures in the music business, paving the way for strategic partnerships and career advancement.

In the case of Uganda, music labels here have tried to make significant strides and contributions to the success of artists both at home and abroad. Labels like Swangz Avenue, and recently US-based Black Market Records have played great roles in nurturing talent, especially between the Fik Fameica and Lockdown eras. But despite their invaluable contributions, music labels in Uganda still face a myriad of challenges in today’s rapidly evolving music landscape.

The Ugandan music industry still grapples with several challenges stemming from historical factors associated with the dominance of the Big 3. These challenges include unprofessionalism in contract signing adherence and general conduct of business, wrong artiste branding, which is a cancer that leads to reduced demand, low-income percentage for artistes during royalty sharing, lack of artist development and support, limited access to resources and opportunities, and inefficient industry regulation and oversight. And let us not forget our unprofessional media that have made artistes make unprofessional mistakes as a way to satisfy said media (discussion for another day). Furthermore, the lack of investment in artist development programs stifles talent growth and potential. Limited access to financial resources, professional networks, and distribution channels hampers the industry’s competitiveness, while inefficient regulation exacerbates these issues.

The rise of digital streaming platforms and the decline of physical album sales have forced labels to rethink their business models and revenue streams. Kasiwukira made a killing off tape sales in his time. Right now those are nowhere in the business.

To thrive in this dynamic environment, Ugandan music labels, like any music label anywhere must embrace innovation, leverage technology, and foster strategic partnerships with brands, and other industry stakeholders; talk of big names like Universal Music, Warner Music, and Sony Music. Although music artistes like Keko and Vinka have encountered challenging collaborations with Sony Music that did not seem to work to their advantage and that nearly (or completely) ruined Keko’s career, such partnerships are still considered necessary. What’s essential is knowing the specific type of contracts to engage in with these companies. Opting for distribution contracts rather than all-encompassing 360-degree agreements, which oversee all aspects of the artists and their creations, is key.

By embracing digital distribution channels, investing in data analytics, and exploring new revenue streams such as sync licensing and brand partnerships, labels can continue to play a vital role in shaping the future of Uganda’s music industry.

If you’re a Ugandan artist dreaming of owning a record label– as I advised in my previous article– and earning from music royalties, here’s a simple step-by-step guide to help you get started. You won’t find this anywhere trust me:

Step 1: Dream Big and Plan
Imagine what your label will be like and plan your path forward. Think about the type of music you want to promote and who your audience will be.

Step 2: Get Legal and Save Money
Whether you’re starting from scratch or already known in the music scene, you need to protect yourself legally and financially. Consider registering your label as a business to keep things official. If you’re just starting, use your savings to cover the initial costs. If you’re more established, you might seek investors or loans.

Step 3: Find Money
There are different ways to get money for your label. You can use your savings from the hustle (instead of buying your peers alcohol and drugs, put this money into setting up your company), ask friends and family for help, or even try crowdfunding online. Some artists also partner with investors or get loans from banks.

Step 4: Set Up Your Label
Start small if you need to. You can create a basic recording studio for artists to make music. Build relationships with places that can sell or stream music so people can hear your artists. Use social media and other ways to tell people about your music (Check out what Diamond Platnumz did for his label artistes, in previous article).

Apart from Diamond Platnumz, from Tanzania, there are Nigerian entrepreneurs like Don Jazzy, who founded the record label Mavin Records, and Olamide Adedeji, known as Olamide, who established YBNL Nation. These label owners have not only built successful businesses but have also nurtured talented artists and contributed to the growth of the Nigerian music industry.

Step 5: Support Artists
Help artists grow and succeed. Find new talent, manage their careers, own their record masters and make sales out of them and distribute the royalties out of these records fairly between the company and the artiste.

Step 6: Government Role
As the government of Uganda works to strengthen copyright legislation, it is essential to consider investing in artists who aspire to establish record labels. Setting up a record label is a fundamental step for artists seeking to manage their careers effectively and contribute to the growth of the music industry.

To support artists in this endeavor, the government can provide financial assistance and technical support through various means. One approach is to establish grant programs or low-interest loans specifically tailored for artists interested in starting record labels. These funds can be used for equipment purchases, studio rentals, marketing expenses, and other startup costs associated with running a label.

Additionally, the government can offer training workshops, mentorship programs, and access to industry experts to help artists develop the necessary skills and knowledge to run successful labels. Examples of governments that have implemented similar initiatives include the United States, through programs like the Small Business Administration’s Arts and Entertainment Financing Assistance Program, and Canada, with initiatives such as the Canada Music Fund, which provides funding for music businesses and organizations.

By investing in artists’ entrepreneurial endeavors, Uganda can foster a more vibrant and sustainable music ecosystem while empowering local talent to thrive in the global music market.

Let’s catch up for a cup of coffee next time…

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Mwesigwa Joshua
Mwesigwa Joshua Buxton is an artiste, humor columnist, strategist writer and journalist who draws inspiration from the works of Barbara Kimenye, Timothy Bukumunhe, and Tom Rush. He focuses on writing on entertainment. His background includes collaboration with the Eastern Voice FM newsroom.
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