In the groove: Has inflation hit the music markets?

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Patrick Mukwamba of Bonus fame who is based in Rusape informed me that he goes to Mutare every other week to sell some of his latest CDs, but according to him, his sales have gone down. He attributes this to misfortune and bad luck and blames his ex-wife for his situation. 

By Fred Zindi According to the research I conducted recently, there is a certainty that people who used to buy records on a regular basis have now stopped due to economic hardships.

Since people are now changing their spending habits, the creative industries are directly affected by inflation, as it discourages people from spending money on entertainment.

I know a couple of pirated CD vendors who used to come to me with their latest products in an attempt to sell them to me. Last week I saw the same vendors working as money changers and I asked them what had happened.

One of them responded: “Mudhara, there is no more money in the Cd business. Can you imagine since last week I have sold only two copies of the CDs out of the 500 I have. People do not have money anymore or they are choosing to ignore music”.

I felt sorry for the poor lads but at the same time also thought that it was a good thing for the anti-piracy movement.

With a cost-of-living crisis potentially looming for millions of people around the world, and inflation rates of some countries top over 100%, there are signs of buyers of music and subscribers cutting back on their purchases of such products.

A lot of people find music as a luxury which they cannot afford anymore. Many would rather save their money for the things they consider to be more important.

In Zimbabwe half of the 60 people I surveyed said that they have stopped buying music because they want to save money due to the high cost of living.

There is definitely a drop in music consumers who pay for music.

Most of them informed me that they listen to music on YouTube and other free platforms.

However, if this is any consolation, this phenomenon is not isolated to Zimbabwe only. The world over has experienced rising inflation and further rises in the cost of living. The lack of sales the two vendors experienced is evidence that music consumers in Zimbabwe are beginning to prioritise the spending of their disposable income.

Patrick Mukwamba of Bonus fame who is based in Rusape informed me that he goes to Mutare every other week to sell some of his latest CDs, but according to him, his sales have gone down. He attributes this to misfortune and bad luck and blames his ex-wife for his situation.

He is probably not aware that inflation, the world over, has contributed to that situation.

In Britain, for instance, according to Melody Maker, over 1 million music subscriptions have been cancelled in the last quarter, with wanting to save money being cited by 37% of consumers as the reason they cancelled.

With inflation rising to 9% in the United Kingdom and further rises in the cost of living expected, the rising cancellation rates of music subscriptions is evidence that British households are starting to prioritise the spending of their disposable income.

If that is the case in Britain, which is economically more powerful than Zimbabwe, what then happens with the majority of music consumers in this country sounds more logical.

I spoke to a dozen young people aged between 18 and 30 years asking them if they had purchased at least one CD of their favourite artiste this year. Only one out of the 12 had purchased a Cd for a dollar which he said was a tribute to the late Soul Jah Love. The rest of them said that they could not afford to buy CDs and were waiting for freebies from the likes of Seh Calaz who often hands out free CDs on release.

This goes to show how the economy is now tilted against music sales.

In the past, artistes such as Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Zexie Manatsa, Tinei Chikupo and Lovemore Majaivana purchased their suburban homes through royalties coming from music sales.

Today, it is almost impossible for the modern-day artiste to make ends meet let alone purchase a home.

In Britain, over 1 million subscriptions were cancelled in the last quarter, which has also seen the highest level of consumers citing they want to save money as the reason they want to cancel their subscription, at 37%. This number is up 4% from the same period last year.

These factors have created a small drop in penetration of total individuals who have access to at least one music subscription, now 39.5% of Britain’s adults.

One of the reasons for this drop in penetration is due to a decline in the number of young people with subscriptions. 600 000 fewer under-35s have access to a music subscription compared to the previous year, with the penetration of students who have access dropping from 67% to 59%.

Some of the main reasons under-35s are planning to cancel and are the cost of CDs, not a wide enough selection of music, too many advertisements or having technical difficulties.

The United States has seen a sharper decline of almost five million people under the age of 35 no longer having access to a music subscription service, dropping from 69% to 63%. With three of the top five reasons in all territories linking back to money saving, this could show that consumers around the world are looking to cut down on their expenses during this cost-of-living crisis.

Even digital platforms such as Amazon, and Spotify have suffered losses this year due to this inflation crisis.

Musicians in Zimbabwe who are not on these platforms now depend on live shows only to make ends meet.

Zimbabweans are starved of entertainment after the Covid-19 restrictions which have now been relaxed.

Many of them despite the shortage of cash will make sacrifices to attend a one off show in order to get a bit of relief from their strenuous lives.

Therefore, in order to survive, the music industry has to constantly adapt to the ever-changing business environment and respond to a myriad of socio-economical and political factors..

Furthermore, consumer demand is volatile. Companies operating in high demand industries such as the medical field, agriculture and transport have fewer workers but they still have to churn out an extortionate number of products and services.

In Zimbabwe, the government had to step in to save certain key companies from bankruptcy and to subsidise salaries. All these factors create the perfect concoction for inflation.

Most music industry professionals are self-employed. They are entrepreneurs that have to purchase equipment, arrange concerts, absorb upfront costs, pay other companies for their services, spend money on marketing and so on.

In the current financial environment, consumers are less likely to spend money on entertainment if they deem the price as being too high. This directly impacts the artist’s income. They’ll be less able to continue running their business.

The Covid-19 lockdowns meant that grassroots venues were forced to close down. Those that managed to survive are not able to re-open at full capacity.

Restaurants and bars that previously hosted artists on a regular basis are still recovering from lockdowns and restrictions. They’re experiencing increasing costs and low staff numbers, so they’re less likely to opt for freelance musicians to entertain their guests.

All of these factors influence artists’ decision to sustain a full-time career.

According to the research I conducted recently, many musicians “are considering abandoning the industry completely”. 50% have already found other jobs while around 60% are operating at reduced capacity.

Digital disruption has been both a blessing and a curse. While there’s more access to music creation tools and music distro services, most musicians are finding it difficult to rise to the next level.

A top-heavy industry that favours established songwriters, such as Jah Prayzah, Ex-Q and Nutty O, means that smaller artistes and songwriters are always the hardest hit when the going gets tough.

We are now on the edge of a global recession and the music industry must adapt to the changing environment.

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