With the advancement of technologies which pave the way for increasing copyright infringements, the number of album released by singers has been declining for a long time. However, physical copies of music may be starting to see a resurgence as many emerging artists release albums on CDs, despite copyright infringements causing losses. In 2018 alone, more than 20 albums were released, and eight albums hit the shelves so far in 2019. EBR’s Kiya Ali spoke with singers and industry insiders to discover the reasons behind this.
Even though Ethiopia has a large prospective market for music, many artists are shying away from releasing albums in recent years, fearing their work will be copied and distributed by pirates. Albums can take up to six years to release for many artists, even though productions is finished in no more than two years. As a result, very few albums can be released in a calendar year. For example, only two albums were released in 2016 according to an assessment by EBR.
But recently, singers are starting to return to physical copies of music. 2018 saw the release of 20 albums, and eight have been released since the beginning of 2019. Bruktawit Getahun, best known as Betty G, released an album last year. For her first album, which was released three years ago, Betty and her sponsors spent ETB550,000. She also spent additional money on distribution, but she couldn’t even recover her expenses.
But she wasn’t surprised. “I didn’t expect to make a profit from album sales because I knew that people exchanged my songs on their phone without paying. My target was to promote my album, so I did not mind,” she teld EBR.
Her first experience did not discourage her from releasing another album. Three years after the release of her first album, she released a new one, bucking the trend of waiting over eight years. “Immediately after the release of my album, pirates downloaded my works on Telegram. It was unfair, but I just used it as an opportunity to spread my work among the public.”
The reason why singers don’t seem to overly care about losses from album sales is more obvious than it might seem: the benefits of the publicity outweigh the losses. Live concerts are becoming bigger sources of revenue for singers. “We are make up what we lose by putting on live concerts,” says Yohana Ashenafi, an emerging artist who released a new album just three months ago.
Since songs are easily stored, shared and accessed through modern technology and social media, it is easy to freely access songs by renowned and new artists. Of course, the artists are not paid or compensated for the distribution of their work, which financially benefits the music pirates.
The level of harm that copyright infringement and activities like illegal downloading creates for creative professionals and the media industry is a point of debate. While many argue that the nation’s economy and the entire music industry is harmed by copyright infringement, others assert that making information free and accessible benefits the individual artists, the general public, and even the entire world.
Understandably, the most vocal advocates of the first argument are mainly those involved in the music industry. These advocates who call for strong copyright laws argue that infringement is the principal factor in the collapse of major music industries, and in the decline of the number of musicians who release albums, as well as production companies.
However, still some say that poor distribution networks have contributed to copyright infringement in Ethiopia. “I don’t blame music lovers for downloading our works from the internet. If they did want to buy CDs, they can’t easily access them. There is a distribution problem outside Addis Ababa,” Yohana told EBR.
Indeed, distribution challenge makes it hard for musicians to reach out fans in regional towns . Except for urbanized cities like Addis Ababa, Hawassa, Bahir Dar, Adama and Mekelle, finding music stores in many regional towns is almost impossible, making easier alternatives-like downloading pirated music- more attractive.
On the other hand, the music industry is lagging behind in technology, making copyright infringement easier. “Singers tend to focus on CD sales when they release an album, but fans have by and large stopped using CD drives and rely on smart phones and USB-based apparatuses,” Betty says.
However, this isn’t the case for everyone. Yohana, for instance, uploaded his 10-track album to Telegram, making it available for free. “I consider the amount I spent on my album as an investment and I didn’t expect any profits,” he says. He spent ETB 250,000 for studio time and ETB 150,000 on other expenses.
Dawit Yifru, the founding member and board chairman of the Ethiopian Musicians Association, argues that musicians didn’t benefit even before the emergence of online platforms in Ethiopia. Dawit, who has been a keyboard player and music arranger since the 1980s, says that some years ago, producers bought artists’ work upfront, and retained the right to sell and distribute it for an unlimited time. ‘’Many talented singers live in poverty while the producers make millions. But copyright infringement has put producers out of business,” says Dawit. “Although this makes financing albums difficult, live concerts help musicians become self-reliant.”
Yohana agrees. “I turned this challenge into an opportunity. Once my work becomes well-known and loved by many people, I will start touring and performing at concerts. It is one of the benefits of releasing an album.”
The latest trends reflect this reality. Concerts now charge between ETB150 and ETB400 for entry. Abel Mulugeta, a well-known Ethiopian singer, was paid ETB 2.9 million by the producer of his music, E&N music, for his recent album.
Abel’s agreement includes three free concerts, and gives his producer the right to benefit from his album for five years. He sold 30,000 copies, but just like Yohana and Betty, Abel aimed for promotion instead of profit. “You [may] make three million birr on one CD album, while your production costs can be more than five times that amount,” says Abel. “Live concerts are the best way to cope.”
But Yohanna says that live concert cannot be a permanent solution to artist losses to copyright infringements. “The music industry must use innovative ideas to solve the problem,” says Yohanna, citing Awtar, a mobile platform that aims to create a system for music fans to buy albums by transferring ETB15 from their phones. “It will make all of us winners in the long run.
8th Year • Jun.16 – July.15 2019 • No. 75