Even with a decent internet penetration, the bundle rates are still well above the reach of majority of Kenyans, thus, making online content streaming a very expensive-and rarely explored- mode of entertainment (It may take Netflix like forever to capture even 60% of the film-consuming market). Save for those who can afford some free downloads via Mdundo or Youtube and consequently make mobile phone playlists, traditional broadcast (Radio and TV) is still the dominant platform for discovering and listening to music and watching music videos.The media stations know this and also are aware that streaming won’t be a real threat, at least for a while and that is why there’s NEED to push such stations to ensure that they get their content programming right.
You see, advertisers don’t care much about what the radio/TV stations play. They simply just want outlets with ears and Kenya is a media consuming nation. The broadcast DJs, who are left to run programs, are either underpaid, ambitious or both and thus have set up production, artist management and event companies on the sides. Such trends result into some unfavorable effects in an industry that is forever in a budding stage. Such include:
- These Djs, wearing that many hats, have limited time to research new music and listen to their station’s library.They are, thus, dependent on what individual artists send (most cases, with some TIP, too) to them plus the artists they like or are managing their careers or producing for.
- The Kenyan listening audience does not complain loudly about the repetition and poor curated music (or are we approaching it the wrong way?)
- Their side hustles dealing with artists and events bring even more money and thus their interests are more inclined to improving their own entertainment brands.
Hypothetically, some DJs are like clients and not employees of the media stations, purchasing the airtime and then playing whatever they personally like, produce or have been paid to play. Maybe this is the new age PAYOLA system: now, instead media being paid to play music by certain creators, they form a symbiotic relationship where the djs chose what to make listeners consumer while the stations are happy getting paid.
But then again, how many Djs are professionally trained? These guys learn the art on their own or attend backstreet schools that focus only on skill-which is great, though-and nothing on professionalism and ethics. It goes without saying that these media houses prefer them because they are ‘cheap’ plus, also getting professional musicologists who would ensure that the music that reaches the audience is appropriate enough is, economically, out of question.
Looking at our current situation, the Djs have formed ‘units’ and brand labels. I have to expressly say that they are free to do that, but….they stations they work for have to control what they play and/or subtly promote. The situation is worse on the Gospel side since the ‘sacred’ songs have become mainstream and audience in millions, making that section of the music industry, ‘savingly’ lucrative. No-wonder, musicians’ getting saved has become synonymous to taking a bath, changing clothes and proclaiming Jesus name with an “Haleluyah” or two (the pun + judgement offensively intended). Back to these units, they “sign” artists and then, using their respective shows on radio and TV, push their music to popularity. Since they manage the artists’ bookings, they benefit when, finally, such artists attract big shows and corporates come calling, and they share performance fees. Even in the secular side, all the top djs have set up event companies. It is, in a cartel-like way, the scramble for entertainment industry shillings, though at the expense of what the prospective listeners would have preferred. This blurring of the line between creators and media is, in deed, dangerous.
Having delved much on this, it is important that:
+consumers demand better curated music playlists and not just rotations, with focus being on what is right for (or preferred by) the audience.
+The media stations must grow a sense of responsibility over what’s played on their frequencies and then adjust their programming as necessary. They must also, reevaluate whether they still have competitive edge over streaming and online radio points.
+Music promotion must be left to creators and producers (labels). Radio/Tv should avoid being a paid promotion tool. In case they want to officially work with a creator(s), let it be a published partnership, one that the public is able to scrutinize and, possibly, object to.