Listen to This: Show Me The Money

Post by Amin Fari

fabrice
@Fabrice

Let’s talk money. Well, that got awkward quick. But, in all honesty, while we’ve spent the last few weeks focusing on how we can support not only our favorite local musicians, but the Kuwait music scene at large, to help build it and be part of its growth, the one thing we have yet to touch on is how musicians in Kuwait make their money.

So, let’s jump right into it. There are a few ways musicians can make money; merchandise sales, album sales, and finally, royalties. That brings us to Radio. Royalties work like this; whenever a song is played on the radio, or used in a commercial, a percentage is paid out to the artist every single time it’s played. The more the song is played, the more the artist gets paid. There are many top grossing musicians out there, living quite comfortably on just royalties as their music gets played over and over again on different radio shows. But, it’s a little different when we’re talking about the Middle East, and of course, Kuwait. This will help explain why you oftentimes get “This video is not available in your region” on YouTube, or why we don’t get Spotify or Pandora. The reason is quite simple, there are no Collecting Agencies for music in the Middle East. Collecting Agencies quantify how much a song is being played and calculate the total payout to the artist based on the royalty percentage. Take a moment. Let that sink in. So, let’s say an artist makes a song, and that song becomes a hit, and gets played on all kinds of radio stations all over the Middle East, they don’t get paid for it. Not once.

omar
@omarafuni

So, how do we listen to all this music on the radio right now? This is how. Radio stations, like 99.7rkfm, through a special license, have access to a “preapproved” music library from which they can select music to be played for a fixed subscription-type fee. But, here comes the interesting part (I use the term “interesting” loosely here); local musicians like Fabrice, Omar Afuni, Coco or anybody else doing the ‘Pop’ music thing on 99.7rkfm does not get paid. No matter how many times their music is played, no matter how many requests are made by you, our fans. This begs the question; well, why aren’t local musicians on these music libraries? Because, in order for that to happen, they would have to Copyright their work in whatever country/region those music libraries originate, for example the U.S. or Europe, and register themselves as a U.S. or European entity, with a U.S. or European bank account where payment would be made, and then finally transferred to Kuwait. In essence, they would no longer be considered Kuwait musicians, which somewhat defies the whole purpose. So, we’re back where we started.

Well, then how do musicians in Kuwait survive? They survive through funding. Musicians are like service traders; the service they provide is the “experience”. That experience is what they sell. That experience is what is exchangeable for money. You might be asking, why do find ourselves in this predicament, Amin? According to some online sources, it’s because we don’t have advanced intellectual property rights in the region. And all you have to do is take a drive down one of Kuwait’s commercial streets to see the effects of that at play. One of Kuwait’s staple toy store, with branches all over the country is a blatant rip off of Disney intellectual property; 101 Dalmatians. You’ll find the same with restaurants, companies, products – ripping off logos, chopping them up, tweaking the font a little, adding a letter here, removing a letter there, and there you have it, their very own “brand new”, “totally authentic” business.

But, music existed in Kuwait before we came along. What happened with Arabic musicians back in the day? How did they make their money? Back then, they put their music out there for free, hoping that with enough air time, it would translate into sales. So they were really banking on listeners enjoying their music enough to eventually make their way to AlNazaer or Cleopatra Record Shop and buy their album. With issues of piracy on the rise, however, even that has become an obstacle, because more likely than not, when you go out to buy those albums, you’re buying pirated CD’s. Are you starting to see the picture? Artists are cornered. Not being able to collect money off of royalties, nor legitimate album sales at record shops, the only option they’re left with is; getting famous. The strategy then becomes; make your music heard everywhere, for free, so much so that you become famous, and then leverage that fame to charge a lot to play at events. Instead of Collecting Agencies they rely on YouTube views to quantify how many times their songs are being played, and use that information when negotiating with Event Organizers or Producers, basically telling them; “my music got this many views on YouTube, which translates into this many people attending your event, and therefore I will charge this much.”

coco
@carolsoukimusic

In reality, though, we live in a society that doesn’t exactly promote many events or festivals, or provide very many opportunities for musicians to perform. Bottom line; the odds are stacked against us – No royalties, no authentic album sales, and no real events or festivals in which we can showcase our work – and it makes it very difficult for us to succeed. Until a change is made in one, or all of those three major aspects, this is our reality, and we need to find a way to work with it.

I know this has been pretty grim so far, and I wish I could tell you it gets better, and maybe one day it will, but it hasn’t just yet. What I’m trying to get you to understand here is this, when you (‘you’ being event organizers or producers) come up to a musician and ask him/her to do a free show, an unpaid show, what you’re really saying is that you don’t believe in their work. Because by not paying them, you’re not really helping them. So, when you’re presented with an opportunity to pay a musician, and pay them well, I ask that you take a second to think about it differently. Instead of trying to cut your costs, and negotiating to get more for less, think of it as trying to save an endangered bird species, (I just can’t seem to get away from this metaphor). With so much already stacked against us, it is you who has the means to incentivize us to keep going, it is also you who has the opportunity to support and be part of the writing of Kuwait’s music culture. Just think about it, and the next time you try to convince a musician that ‘exposure’ is your preferred currency, remember that in essence what you’re saying is; we don’t believe in music, we’re just trying to exploit music.

Peace, Love and Music

Post by Amin FARI
Are you a musician looking to perform? On the flipside, are you a host looking for musicians to book? Or maybe you’ve just got an awesome idea you’d like to share? Get in touch aminfarilive@gmail.com / Instagram: @xxmrfarixx


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4 comments, add your own...


  1. em says:

    This is amazing! More people need to save endangered bird species!!! Couldn’t have put it more beautifully :)

  2. aaa says:

    To be fair the “normal” way of business is changing everywhere. Radio in most of the world is on the way out, Spotify and other internet stations are taking over and those barely pay royalties, and most albums I download these days are free downloads off bandcamp that the artists want people to listen to for exposure.

  3. Ali Sleeq says:

    Supply and demand; some musicians are willing to play for free for exposure or just for the sake of staying relevant to the scene, considering that the attention span of the average consumer here is very low. If you’re not doing something, means you’re irrelevant and not the ‘hot topic’.

    More opportunities need to be presented, in parallel to getting clients to pay the artists, which is a given really.

    The ‘scene’ hasn’t picked up, even though there have been some decent upswings, but then you always feel there’s a ‘2 step back’ scenario.

    Keep up what you do Mr. Fari, you are an inspiration to us all.

  4. Ipsom says:

    Insightful article as always

    But there are a lot of musicians (or should i say hobbyists) who are willing to perform for free because they enjoy it. And I’m sure some are quite good


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