Whose Career Is It Anyway? Artists Vs The Entertainment Industry

Much ado was made today about artists being ripped off by record labels following a twitter rant by publicist, Gastor Serumula — who offered insight into why 3 major artists announced their exit from Ambitiouz Entertainment on Friday. 

South African rappers, B3nchmarq, Fifi Cooper and A-Reece announced on Friday that they have parted ways with the label. Naturally this raised some question about the nature of business within the label's camp. 

In a litany of accusations spread out in series of tweets, Serumula laid out a dire scene about the runnings of Ambitiouz Entertainment's business. The rant alleged unfair treatment of artists, corruption, buying of awards, earnings vs booking fees anomalies and much more. 

Naturally most people, myself included, were appalled by the revelations and applauded the artists for taking a stand and walking away from the alleged exploitation. 

As the day progressed though, I got a slightly concerned by the narrative surrounding this story. It soon became apparent to me that the conversation is swayed in one way; the artists are victims and the record labels are these monsters who exploit vulnerable people. 

I am no fan of how the entertainment industry in general is stacked against the talent/artists. I work on short term contractual basis, I get it. However, I am so sick of this tone we always employ when dealing with artists and tag them as these clueless kids that ought to be spoon-fed.  

Artists in this country are coddled like kids. Hell some people on twitter today even referred to these rappers as kids. These are grown adults who have the cognizance to make choices that benefit them. The issue is that such choices are often for short term benefits. 

Let's be frank here; in any other profession it is a given that you would do your homework about the industry before getting into it. You wouldnt want to be a lawyer and not inform yourself about what it is required to be one and what measures you would have to take to achieve your aspired level of success within that industry. 

Yet, somehow when it comes to the entertainment industry people are willing to just excuse ignorance as part of the game. The most common excuse I hate is when people say they didnt know how the industry or contracts work so they just signed. Or when people say; artists just want to perform! Well, then perform and don't complain about treatment if you not willing to educate yourself beyond your talent. 

Whose responsibility is it for you to make sure that you ask questions, do your research and seek advice before signing a contract? This is not to say it is ok for companies to exploit you but if you do your homework you are less likely to find yourself in a situation where you are exploited. 

What really gets to me is how people come into this business looking for fame and never bother to get to know the business and engage with people within it and then cry fowl later when they get abused. 

In my decade long career in this business I have been to numerous industry meetings. I was at the inaugural elective conference of the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of SA (CCIFSA) in Bloemfontein in 2015. Just in November 2016 the 55th Annual General Meeting of the members of the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) was held in Johannesburg. There are also regular industry roundtable events held by SAMRO in Joburg and recently also in Mpumalanga. 

You know what is common at all those events... famous artists who are hot right now never show up. More glaring for me is the constant lack of participation from the Hip Hop community. They never show up for any of these things. The people I often see are the older generation artists like former kwaito stars and the industry veterans. 

Of course my assertion of that is that these young artists think they are just too cool to be bothered by such discussions or they just do not care to be informed about what goes on behind the scenes in terms of legislating the performing arts industry. They too cool for that. 

They are happy to not be part of a process that will protect their creative rights and their livelihood but are the ones always moaning about how they are being ripped off. They have the following and the massive influence but wont use their platforms to push such causes as they would for things like #DATAMUSTFALL. 

Right now there is a bill that was tabled in parliament in December 2016 with its explanatory summary then published in Government Gazette 40121 in July 2016. The bill aims to address;
  • issues relating to the payment of royalties to performers, 
  • safeguard the rights of contracting parties and 
  • promote performers’ moral and economic rights for performances in audiovisual fixation
  • stopping one stakeholder from being allowed to “usurp all the benefits at the expense of other stakeholders”
  • proposal for the creation of a collecting society for performers.
Other proposals on the bill include granting performers four kinds of economic rights for audio-visual material, namely, reproduction, distribution, rental and making available and that the performer and producer of a phonogram shall enjoy the right to a single equitable remuneration.

Also, intellectual property rights in terms of the TRIPS Agreement-Articles 6,7,8 should be applied in a balanced manner for the benefit of both producers, users and consumers.

Imagine if all these rappers and famous artists used their collective star power and influence to get behind this bill, it would be passed and actually have some impact. At its core the bill seeks to protect performers from what is alleged to be happening at recording labels like Ambitiouz Entertainment and what happened with the Generations 16 case. 

Enough moaning and bitching after the fact. These actors, musicians, dancers, writers, etc are mostly grown adults. Enough with the coddling. It is time to stop trying to emulate Americans with flossing fake wealth without having set the foundation to make such aspirations achieveable. Sadly, Americans artists have unions. There are bodies and laws that protect them hence they always suing each other. 

Nothing wrong with trying to be Kanye but if we don't set up the right foundation this cycle of people being famous and dying broke will never end. Without legislative and legal protection, another generation of artists will come after us and still moan about the same thing. 

I applaud the rappers who took a stand and the publicist who went out to voice the wrongs committed against artists. I am also tired of having to hear our own ignorance being covered by feeble lame excuses like "we don't know". If you care, you will know. When you know you will do better. If you ignore that, you only have yourself to blame. Record labels are only looking out for themselves. Sucks but YOU should be doing the same for yourself too. 

Public hearings on the bill are scheduled for 24 and 27 February 2017. Let's see if these young artist will take a stand and participate.  

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