Sharing hand: Veteran musician Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, chairman of Music Exchange, has been in the industry for more than 50 years and has seen huge changes. But musicians still need songs and also need fans to be able to access their music. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Sharing hand: Veteran musician Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, chairman of Music Exchange, has been in the industry for more than 50 years and has seen huge changes. But musicians still need songs and also need fans to be able to access their music. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Music Exchange is a nonprofit organisation founded in 2009 by Martin Myers, a long-time executive at record company BMG.

It is a programme of digital exchange networking and entertainment and social media entrepreneurship, providing practical tools and insights into the workings of the music, film and entertainment business.

It culminates in an annual two-day international music conference focused on building partnerships that add value.

"The value is the correct contacts and meeting the correct people who can give you real practical advice on what to do. No pie in the sky theory, [but] practical tips to apply right now," says Myers.

"The conference is outcomes based. Real success stories have followed year after year."

Music Exchange chairman Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse has been in the industry for more than 50 years and has seen huge changes. "We have had LPs, tapes, CDs and now digital distribution — all well and good but you need songs and fans to be able to access your music."

Music Exchange entered a partnership in 2016 with US performing rights organisation Broadcast Music Inc (BMI). It is the largest collection agency for public performance revenue and royalties, distributing $931m to its songwriters in 2016.

BMI is a sister company to the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro), the only society collecting performance royalties in SA. There are four collecting societies in the US, and the competition encourages a proactive approach.

For BMI, the Music Exchange conference is an opportunity to build partnerships in SA and promote the organisation to high-level artists.

"We see Cape Town as a key music hub and a gateway into Africa. We are trying to encourage Samro writers to make a choice of their performing rights representatives in the US," says executive director of writer-publisher relations for Europe and Asia, Brandon Bakshi.

"One of the reasons to be present at Music Exchange is to espouse the virtues of being with BMI. It is not only about royalty payments, though you do want to outpay your competitors. But it is also about the creative services BMI offers."

BMI has added a Song Camp to the Cape Town event, developed out of similar initiatives in the West Indies and at London’s famous Abbey Road Studios.

A pioneer in the streaming market is South African mobile music brand TurnUp Music, which is also a co-sponsor of the event

Abbey Road producer Christian Wright says: "Writers from Nashville to Hong Kong to Trinidad and back to London are getting the opportunity to work together and form relationships that have led to future hits and created some amazing songs."

The creative impetus of producing a hit song is converted into a revenue impetus through publishing, management and record deals.

Bakshi says: "The London office is unique because we have to cover all music outside of the US. I basically boil that down to pop music — if it’s Bollywood, dance-hall or reggae, South African house music or electronic dance music.

"Whatever translates over to the US, we try and get in early with the manager, the attorney, sometimes the artist, and try to get them to come our way."

The transition of the music industry from digital downloads to streaming has provided the first growth in the industry since 2002, with a 5.9% increase in 2016, according to the IFPI.

"Streaming has been a cherry on the cake for BMI. Prior to streaming, music was being downloaded, and in the US, downloads are not considered a performing right, it is a mechanical right," Bakshi says.

"With the advent of streaming, it is more royalties for our affiliates. Streaming is a very important component of tabulating the amount of spins on US airwaves. But the only problem is, it is so much data to process, sometimes it can be more cost-inefficient to process it than to distribute it.

"So what we need to do is get better licensing fees from the streaming companies and active data so we can pay out more royalties," says Bakshi.

A pioneer in the streaming market is South African mobile music brand TurnUp Music, which is also a co-sponsor of the event. It was born two years ago to provide a platform for the distribution of locally made music on mobile platforms.

"It aims to combat piracy by creating lower barriers to entry for fans to access legal music at affordable prices. This will deliver opportunities for artists, managers, technology partners and investors," says TurnUp chief operations officer Thabiet Allie.

"We hope that this attracts much needed investment in this sector. We have profit as a motive, but understand this will come in the longer term."

The world’s leading streaming service, Spotify, is showing that hit songs are bringing further international focus outside of the US and UK, creating opportunities for other territories such as Africa.

John Fishlock of Active Music Publishing has been engaged with Music Exchange over the past four years and has developed a creative approach to publishing.

"Creative publishing is stepping out of the administrative zone of administering rights on behalf of the songs and composers and actually bringing value to the composers’ careers, whether it is exploitation, creating writing opportunities, or pitching songs," he says.

The BMI Song Camp has been a successful intervention.

"From 14 songs recorded at last year’s Song Camp, we have secured eight placements to date. I think that is a pretty good hit rate," says Fishlock.

Producer Ameen Harron and singer Carli J Myers’ track Crazy hit number one on Jacaranda FM and five songs recorded by singers Jann Klose and RJ Benjamin are being released in SA and the US on Klose’s latest album. Another two tracks by singer Tamara Dey will be released through Universal in SA.

Song Camp 2017 will feature Klose with singers Alicia Madison from New York and Marcela Arciniegas from Colombia and the UK. They will collaborate with South African singers Amanda Black, Colin Sher and James Stewart, and producers Wandile Mbambeni, Ebrahim Mallum and Nyota Parker.

All these singers, producers and executives will speak at
the conference.

"The conference is doing amazing work. It is pushing artists to do things. The speakers have real stories and best practice to share with delegates. And Music Exchange gives you direct access to speakers
who can help and will assist," says Mabuse.

Singer Roeshdien Jass has attended every conference to date and has seen it evolve from 50 people in a small hotel room to 1,200 people over two days. The tangible result has been the official release of Jass’s brand new single The Calling produced by Charlie Hamilton.

"This year, a conscious decision has been taken to be more focused, intimate, up close and personal, with specific emphasis on workshops and masterclasses," he says.

The seventh edition of the Music Exchange conference is at The Academy Of Sound Engineering studio complex in District Six, Cape Town, on September 9 and 10.

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