Royalties are a precious and special reward that artists look up to these days to benefit from their sweat and this is because several of the other channels which used to give them much needed income are no longer relevant.
Take for instance the sale of CDs and DVDs or tapes which artists used to depend on when it came to making money, this is no longer a money spinner and with rampant piracy due to technology, people are able to access artists’ works before they are even released or launched on the market.
This is why apart from live performances where an artist also has to dig deeper to put up gigs, royalties are among the few channels for raising revenge for artists.
With royalties the only remnant for artists to dry their tears, many would want to draw more benefits so as to better their lives and others still feel there is injustice when it comes to the distribution of royalties.
Many artists not only in the country have cried foul on the distribution of royalties with many feeling they get peanuts and yet they work very hard in producing their works.
Recently a Kenyan rapper Khaligraph Jones bitterly complained about the royalties he had received from the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK).
He posted to Instagram a screenshot of his payment, received via the phone payment service Mpesa, showing he had received 2,500 shillings ($25; £20) in royalties from MCSK, which he described as peanuts.
According to BBC, the Kenyan musician was so outraged that he told MCSK: ‘“I have given authorisation for my music to be pirated. Don’t collect money on my behalf anymore.”
He later put up a photo of a mug of milk and two buns, saying: “This is what artists are having for dinner courtesy of MCSK.”
The BBC further said that other stars, like rappers King Kaka, Vivian, Fena Gitu, took to social media saying that they had received the same fees, leading to a flurry of creative memes.
But MCSK defended itself, saying the $25 was for two months’ royalties shared out equally between its nearly 14,000 members from money collected for music played in public places.
Such is the controversy that involves royalties and this wind has not eluded the country’s music industry where artists have had running battles with the Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma).
Royalties are key to musicians and this is why whenever Cosoma is distributing them, there are always disagreements.
In past years, Cosoma has been distributing cheques to musicians during the copyright body’s Annual General Meetings (AGMs) but there were always disagreements, with some musicians dissatisfied with what they were pocketing.
With such controversies and also improving things, Cosoma decided to stop the distribution of royalties during AGMs and now they do it separately. They have since moved from writing cheques to artists and embraced technology by partnering TNM, Airtel Malawi and Arts Sacco in the distribution of royalties.
Cosoma recently came out to distribute over K53 million royalties to musicians having collected part of the money from Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) which gives the biggest share of royalties.
Cosoma’s Head of Documentation and Distribution, Lightwell Benjamin, said they had distributed over K53 million in royalties with some of the top recipients being Soldier Lucius Banda, Anjiru Fumulani, Skeffa Chimoto, Thocco Katimba, Billy Kaunda, Dan Lufani, Ethel Kamwendo Banda, Anthony Makondetsa, Lulu and Mlaka Maliro.
The top recipients received more than K1 million.
But while some artists are all smiles having pocketed over K1 million, others have cried foul questioning Cosoma on the royalties.
Musician Khuza Rampi hit at Cosoma on social media for not giving him his royalties despite his songs playing on some of the local radio stations.
“As a musician, I have been producing albums and performing live shows across the country since 2001. My songs have been played by DJs but for the period of 18 years that I have been in the music industry, Cosoma has never given me a penny to honour my talent,” Rampi alleged.
He said since he started performing in 2001, he should have received royalties by now. Some of the albums he has released include Nzafe Nzaole, Udziwe Nyimbo and Njoka Saweta.
“The money which Cosoma has distributed was during the period my songs enjoyed airplay and yet there is nothing for me,” Rampi said.
He went on to claim that some of those who receive do not deserve the huge amounts.
“Some musicians receive huge amounts because they are in a relationship with Cosoma personnel. I asked them to produce the list without the amounts and I was only told about what I had got this time after I enquired and yet at first they told me there was nothing,” Rampi alleged.
He said he is not the only artist who has complained on the way royalties are transacted saying that last year, gospel singer Princess Chitsulo, also complained heavily after being given peanuts.
“Cosoma is the monster killing the music industry and if they are doing this to artists, who are alive what more to the deceased? We need transparency and accountability for musicians to benefit from their sweat,” Rampi said.
Another musician Ndindi Mally, also said he depends on arts for survival and yet he has not benefitted as regards to receiving royalties.
“From 2006 up to now I get peanuts from royalties and yet my works are being used. There has to be transparency. Artists are struggling and then others also want to milk them of the royalties. This is what is keeping many musicians off,” Mally said.
But Cosoma Senior Licensing Officer, Rosario Kamanga, said the principle in the distribution of royalties is based on use.
“First of all, let me say that royalties are not a grant to be distributed equally. The thing is the more works one has and the more those works get to be used on different platforms then the bigger the amounts,” Kamanga said.
He maintained that Cosoma is always transparent in its activities including distribution of royalties.
“He who alleges must prove. There are lots and lots of songs but these songs must be played for an artist to receive more. The royalties are also dependent on which channel your works are played. For instance MBC pays more royalties than other stations. It is a question of artists understanding how royalties work,” Kamanga said.
Cosoma said out of the distributed over K53 million royalties, about K35.7 million was for broadcasting while K17.5 million was for public performance, soft copy and ringtone royalties.
In these hard times where piracy has completely drained artists, royalties are the in-thing for musicians to benefit from their sweat but probably the copyright body needs to do more in terms of awareness programmes on how they calculate the royalties otherwise without that, disagreements will always arise with some musicians feeling there is too much injustice.