The South African music landscape is vibrant, varied and full of talented songwriters. Often when musicians hear the term ‘music publishing’, it can create a lot of confusion. Some may seek a publisher – who can administer their rights on their behalf – and some may chose to self-publish. Since music publishing has a lot to do with how you make your money, it’s important to know the ins and outs of the business, from protecting the use of songs to collecting royalties.
The Music Publishing Association of South Africa was formed for this very reason – to safeguard and protect music publishers as a collective. Acting as a voice for the group, the MPA-SA actively engages with collection societies, government and content users to ensure artists are receiving adequate compensation for their works.
With a newly appointed Chair as of 2021, David Alexander has stepped up to the plate with the dedication and determination to deliver radical change. As the founder of Sheer Publishing, David is geared with the knowledge and expertise needed to revolutionize the business of publishing. Working alongside him is the newly appointed Vice Chair, Ryan Hill, from Universal Music Publishing, and the incumbent Reunben Makhondo from Sony Music Publishing as Treasurer.
Carrying the torch, with little time to spare, David has identified several weak points in the industry that need urgent attention and which align directly with the MPA-SAs objectives.The aim is to effect change that benefits every member of the organisation and the writers they represent.
Under the current COVID-19 climate, one of the most pressing issues is the need for relief funding as artists revenue streams are set to dry up. Consequent to lockdown, airlines, casinos, hotels and restaurants, amongst others who use music to add ambience, did not trade. Pre-COVID, this pool of licensing contributed more than 20% of SAMRO’s collections. Adding to collection problems is the fact that advertising on radio and television, which directly contribute to songwriters income, similarly fell by roughly 20% over the past business year.
While the South African government has made strides, with limited funds, to provide some grants, it has still left a large percentage of the industry penniless or with their heads barely above water. Songwriters together with publishers are top of that list, seeking desperate assistance from the government.
“Government needs to be paying attention to this critical sector of the overall economy, now more than ever,” David pleads. “When songwriters are not earning, neither are publishers which, combined, will result in massively reduced earnings across the board.”
Sadly, in 2020, the National Arts Council (NAC) had announced a R300-million stimulus package, but it was never properly administered. The council has taken a decision to suspend its CEO and CFO over the handling of the funds, leaving our creative industry high and dry.
This calls for an open dialogue with government. At the start of lockdown in 2020, The Music Publishers Association were first to take action and have written an urgent letter to Minister Nathi Mthethwa to assist the community. In their appeal, they’ve requested sustained support in national budgets, public and private investment schemes and sponsorship programs.
While the letter is yet unanswered, the MPA-SA are actively seeking resolution and will continue to champion the need for COVID relief funding for its publisher members and their songwriters.
Another area of significance is ensuring that songwriters and publishers rights are being upheld by The Copyright Amendent Bill, which is not yet passed. Wanting to ensure good legislation is enacted, The MPA-SA are actively influencing positive amendments to secure a Bill fit for purpose.
For example, what is illegal offline, must be treated as illegal online. Having been last promulgated in 1994 (at the start of the internet age), this is something the current legislation does not cover. President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent the Bill to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with the aim of future-proofing the Bill, considering all aspects of our digital age. The MPA-SA are invested in assisting the DTI in delivering a Bill that’s beneficial for all.
Equally beneficial is the relationship that exists between the MPA-SA and South African Collective Management Organisations (CMOs). These are bodies that collect royalties on behalf of songwriters and create a single-entry point for payment. The aim of the MPA-SA is to assist the CMOs to streamline these operations and reduce administration fees for benefit of all its members. Both publishers and composers are represented on the CMO Boards. With MPA-SA members controlling 95% of the copyrights that are used in South Africa daily, it is important for the organisation to play a direct role.
Louise Bulley, Director of VVP Publishing and a member of the MPA-SA board says, “We are a small publishing company and we are excited that MPA-SA are looking to create a hub for Africa and have local CMOs working together. We also strive to get the most monies paid to our composers who work hard at creating music.”
David adds, “We need to support our local CMOs, but this can’t happen without these CMOs being more efficient and more responsive to the needs of its members. If we are to be truly accountable to our members, the MPA-SA needs to take back the negotiating power.”
In order to take back the power, the MPA-SA needs to build a resilient pipeline of members from self-published writers to independent music publishers. MPA-SA membership fees are intentionally affordable, to promote inclusivity.
“The MPA relies on its members and growing that membership for strength in numbers, a “collective bargaining” voice,” says Rob Cowling, Managing Director at Gallo Music and a MPA-SA board member.
The last area of focus is research. There is a dire need for the free flow of information about the industry. The MPA-SA’s aim is to create a research project that demonstrates the impact of this industry on overall African GDP.
David concludes, “This is critical as it helps justify the investment into copyright. What’s required is for the copyright industry to be able to approximate its actual worth and contribution to GDP. We need to know the number of people that work in this industry and the value that their output achieves on the open market. The creative industries are a huge driver of GDP in many developed markets. We have the potential in South Africa to nurture an industry that is made up of young creatives as long as we get the buy-in from government that music is a huge export opportunity. This way the MPA-SA can create strategic development initiatives for the region.”
The wheels are already in motion and the MPA-SA are working tirelessly to ensure that music publishers’ needs in South African are being met.
To join the MPA-SA.