Today I thank the Government through the Office of the DPP for the bold move taken against the MCSK leadership, the bane of musicians that has left artistes suffering as a few enrich themselves to a level that is truly despicable. They are truly slippery fellas, so I hope the DPP will ensure artistes get justice. The Government has finally done its part and taken to task those who collect money ‘on behalf of music artistes’.
It is the beginning, but a large part of it is now in the hands of us musicians to fight to take back control of collecting ‘companies’ and restore order to ensure that our rights are protected. I have over the years said that you cannot win this battle shouting in the streets. When laws are broken and crimes are committed against you, the law must come into play. More importantly, we must now take back control and place people of integrity to manage our affairs in these collection ‘companies’…not societies as they would like you to believe.
QUESTIONS YOU NEED TO CONSIDER TO HELP YOU IN THIS PROCESS:-
1. If MCSK is a ‘Society’ with ‘members’ then why is it registered as a Company Limited by guarantee. Does that make us ‘shareholders’? If so, why have they not been publicly posting annual returns?
2. Let us interrogate MCSK sources of income.
a) Radio Airplay Royalties
Are these paid to MCSK based on actual airplay with valid logs that one can spot check at anytime to find out how often their music is played? Is it not true that in fact MCSK has an agreement with the Radio Stations that they will receive a percentage of their profits? How can they certify these profits other than accept whatever is given to them? On receiving these payments, MCSK then decides who they will ‘reward’ Royalty Payments. That way, they can ‘reward’ close friends, allies, cronies, loyalists and a whole lot of Ghost Musicians. Probably the reason a song like ‘Lingala ya Yesu’ which had such great rotation was initially indicated to have accrued very meagre royalties! They slipped there!
b) License Collection
MCSK collects money from motor vehicles, clubs, restaurants, events, performance centers etc. Let us just take vehicles. There are 3 million vehicles in Kenya. An MCSK annual license is Kshs 3000 per small vehicle. MCSK should be collecting for musicians not less than Kshs 9 billion per year…note that the license for larger vehicles is about Kshs 10 000 per year. Even if they are only collecting 30%, it still amounts to Kshs 2.7 billion! Where is this money?
Recently, after collecting money for a few years, they ventured into a PR process where they stated that from licensing, they had collected 100 million after 2 or 3 years, and for the case of Nairobi County, artistes had to line up at Nyayo Stadium to receive Kshs 5 000 each. If they did not line up, they would not receive the money. The Board would sit and decide on a reduced amount for those who did not show up! They have all artistes’ Mpesa Numbers but needed to show that they were ‘paying artistes’ and of course the Media did it’s bit in showing ‘MCSK paying artistes’. Really!
Musicians and Kenyans at large, it is not acceptable for anybody to stop you on the road and demand money for a license, or come into your business premise and demand cash for a license. It is a security risk but also, the beneficiaries of this process will never know how much money has actually been collected. Period! It is a process that cannot be audited. Probably why their collectors get very active on Friday. Familiar!
IMPORTANT: The solution is truly very simple. All vehicles and operating establishments that use music are required to pay an operating license by the Government such as TLB for vehicles. We should get into a contractual agreement with KRA to collect the music license fee on our behalf, for a commission, and disclose the billions collected publicly when remitting the money to MCSK. That way, collection will be maximized, transparent and Government can earn something on negotiated terms for collecting on our behalf. Importantly, musicians will know exactly how much is earned from licensing. To be generous, we can even reduce the license fee as there will be almost maximum collection. Goodwill goes a long way!
The most audacious suggestion they have made is that licensing should be expanded to include DeeJays. DeeJays are the most powerful marketing tool we musicians have for pushing our music out there and they should be left to do their business without undue charges. Leave the DeeJays out of licensing. We need to empower them to get our music heard, not fine them for it! Period!
c) Mobile Platform such as Skiza
Let me make this quite simple. Kenya is known for its innovative platform that has seen the rise of Mpesa, acknowledged worldwide. Why are we then including middlemen to collect money from the mobile platform when a company like Mobicash can design an application where artistes load their music from wherever they are and moneys accruing can be paid directly to the artistes’ Mpesa, Airtel etc accounts each month, without middleman? Technology has a purpose, to secure efficiency, transparency and ensure rogue middlemen do not deny musicians their just earning. Can we style up and get with the programme of technological innovation to secure our rights!
Secondly, as an artiste, I compose a song, pay for it to be recorded and market it so that it gets popular and gets many downloads under the mobile platform. Why should I only receive 15% whilst the mobile company gets 85%? Should it not be the reverse, after all, the mobile companies earn from so many other services. Why are they taking so much money from musicians? In the international market, musicians receive up to 50% from sales on the mobile platform. Why 15% in Kenya – home of the Mpesa?
d) Digital Platform
MCSK has been uploading music through various companies onto international sales outlets such as I-Tunes and Amazon without a contractual agreement with most of the musicians and are claiming authorship of the artistes’ works against International Copyright Laws which states that ‘ownership of artistic musical works always remains with the author’. It is truly amazing that the very institution charged with protecting our copyrights are flagrantly flouting this law. Further to that, royalties accruing from these works have never been paid out for years. Artists are blocked from loading their works on various internet platforms because MCSK’s claim to ownership means as in my case, I cannot load my music as it is ‘owned’ by MCSK! The actual contract with these companies is not known to artistes so the expectation for earnings is not known. This is a gross copyright infringement!
3. Directorship and Management of MCSK
The inability of musicians to get a Board of Directors that can be held to account comes from the decentralization to Counties and the added benefit that Directors in each County are responsible for collecting licensing fees, icing on the cake, and therefore they have an extraordinary allegiance to the Management and cannot hold them to account. They are now part of the mismanagement process or to be direct, the corrupt process.
Directors are supposed ensure that the Management of MCSK do right by the stakeholders. Why should there be Directors from each County when the majority of artistes are in the major towns. With all due respect, how does Tana, Isiolo have a Director in the same strength as one in Nairobi, Mombasa or Kisumu?
The Board of Directors needs to be small and effective, composed of people with integrity, strong knowledge of the music industry, skills and representative of the various musical areas such as performers, producers, publishers etc. They are supposed to ensure the Management tows the line and should not be managed by the MCSK Management as is the case now. How then will they fire the Management when they are controlled by them and involved in the revenue generation. Directors should only be there for a maximum of two terms of two years per term. They should represent the real current face of the music industry. An evaluation process should be set up for the Management that is ratified at the AGM where members can have a say whether the Management needs to be overhauled. In short, the power over these institutions must revert back to the musicians.
In Summary, we musicians have been victims for far too long. We must stop being hopeless and helpless victims and get our business in order.
Musicians need to come together and chart the way forward.
This is the time. We will only have ourselves to blame if we do not do what it takes to change our lot. God bless!
-Achien’g Abura ( Pictured )
Facebook Lydia Achieng Abura