The first CD The African Alphabet was released in 2007 and we had planned to try and release a new one every year. This series is a labour of love and I see it as a long term project, something that was not envisaged as a “get-rich-quick” scheme. In actual fact it’s a bit of a "get-poor-quick” scheme! Even though I have my own studio it costs a fair bit of money to make an album. There are session fees to be paid to other musicians who appear on the album. We have a wonderful illustrator who has to eat I suppose, so we pay him. Then there are the mastering fees and the costs of manufacturing the physical CDs. Added to that will be the postage and packaging, phone calls and meetings to try and promote the CD.
But probably the most expensive thing of all is time. You can’t rush an album. It takes time to compose the songs. Time to do the pre-production work of programming the songs, trying out different styles, tempos and arrangements. Time to re-write the songs to try and perfect them. Time to record musicians. Time to edit the material. Time to mix the album. Time to master the album…And then time to market and distribute the album.
But we have to eat too, so we need to earn a living to support this time consuming business of making albums. So what do we do? We do gigs. We write music for commercials. We do albums for other people. We teach. And we try to squeeze in precious time for our album in between all of that.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I love most of the work that I do for a living and I love the fact that I’m able to produce my own albums. The plan is as follows: To try and build a brand and release an ongoing series of kids CDs. We have loads of great ideas for future albums. It’s exciting and stimulating and it’s something that I love doing, that costs a lot now, but will generate income in the future. Or will it?
But just because I love playing, writing and recording music doesn’t mean I shouldn’t expect to be able to get some kind of financial return for my efforts. What scares me is whether or not there is any future in actually selling music. For years people have been downloading music without paying for it. And more recently many have been advocating the idea that music should be free anyway. We already get it for free on radio and TV, what’s so different about downloading it? Some ideas that I’ve come across: Your songs/CDs/MP3s are marketing tools to get people to pay see you live. At the gig you can sell t shirts and all kinds of other merchandise to help you earn a living. Other musicians are giving away downloads of their albums when you buy a can of soup or a t shirt.
The problem I have with all of this is that I have a hard enough time just trying to be a competent musician. It takes dedication and practice. But in the modern world I’m not able to devote all of my time to practicing, writing and recording music (which is what I’d like to do). I also have to learn to run a record company, to market and distribute my music. And then it suddenly dawns on me that even doing that won’t be enough as no-one is actually going to pay for my music when they can get it for free.
I’m not passing judgement here, just really pondering my future. And I’m not going to stop doing what I do, as I’m still clinging to the hope that with perseverance I will achieve my goals. (besides the fact that I don’t know how to do anything else!)
In the meantime if you have kids, know kids, know someone who has kids or have ever seen a kid under the age of 8, what are you waiting for? Download The African Alphabet now! :-)