For anyone who has followed the postings and write-ups on Syncos Music and its boss, Kofi Amoakohene, the first conclusion one draws is that the man must be a musician and a first class one for that matter. Unfortunately that is not the truth as he readily admitted: ‘I’m not a musician, but I have a passion for music. I’m involved because I’m happened to be working with people who are enthusiastic and are in it because we have a passion to turn the music that people are playing as recreation into an industry for socio-economic development’ is how he explained his involvement in Ghana’s easy come easy go topsy-turvy world of music recording.
From his creative hub located in the plush East Legon suburb of Accra, Syncos Music has in the past few years released the musical works of a couple of the country’s best instrumentalists among whom can be counted saxophonist Steve Bedi, guitarist Owula and now has the rights to some of the music of such African greats as South African flugel horn supremo Hugh Masekela and Osibisa, unarguably the most successful musical group to come out of Africa and another African and Ghanaian great Ebo Taylor.
He is also looking forward to releasing the interpretation of the musical works of the late legendary highlife musician and trumpeter E.T. Mensah Jr which is being done by his son who goes by the same name in addition to Ralph Karikari’s resurrection of the palm-wine guitar music which forms the basics of the modern highlife music not forgetting Paulette Broom.
But before these hit the market, Syncos has released the CDs of musicians from such countries as Cote d’Ivoire and France among others.
To Kofi, his involvement with these artists and investing heavily in them in terms of finances and other things comes from the fact that he believes there is a market out there with ears wide open to listen to some refreshingly new music and that music can only come from this part of the world.
To make the music accessible to all, he has created a unique marketing path for all his musicians which comes from having a compilation of their tracks on one CD which makes it easier for would be buyers to listen to all the artists from his stable thereby ensuring that anyone interested in African music can hear the variety before taking that decision to buy that of this or that artist. That advantage has enabled him to create a platform to sell African music and the creators of such works at www.IgrooveMP3.com.
Through these singular efforts and determination to turn the local music industry upon its head thereby create an avenue for the practitioners to earn some good income from their God given talent; Syncos Music has participated in the world famous MIDEM music exposition in France to promote Ghanaian and African music. Taking advantage of the new technology he has leveraged on what he has learnt at that expo to start the SyncosRadioAfrica which is enabling millions of people across the world to listen to the wide repertoire and genre of music that the continent has to offer.
This live radio station streaming on the internet is being listened to by over 30 million people in UK, USA, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and the Far East including Iraq, the Middle and Far East.
‘Music market is a niche market and there is the need to create the music that fits into a niche or you create the niche and pigeonhole your music into it and that’s what we have done with the music of Steve Bedi and Owula under the Syncos Jazz label. Through that the two are receiving good airplay and rave reviews in the US jazz circles where their music has been described as a “refreshing change”. That is what we want to create for all our artistes so that they can get the international attention and recognition they deserve,’ is how he summed up these efforts.
‘Ralph Karikari, a successful palm wine musician from Ghana is the next that will get this push … he is one of the few in the field and deserves it. The idea is to monetize the act so that at the end of the day, the artist gains eventually.
‘In the past the older musicians did not have the opportunity to publish their works and there was no copyright contract available which has made it impossible for them to gain from their talent. We have recognized that as a failing of the industry as it has created many poor musicians and this is something we at Scratch Studios want to stop. We want musicians to publish their works which will ensure that their royalties are paid them when it is due. This can only be possible if they publish their works which will ensure that the collection societies know who to send the money to it is due.
‘To ensure that the works of artistes on our label are protected thereby guaranteeing them an income form their musical works we have set up a subsidiary to handle the publishing of these compositions, we have set up Scratch Music Publishing and Distribution to take care of the digital and physical distribution of the music while Scratch Radio and Publications and Scratch Events and Management and Scratch TV and Films and Scratch Wears is involved in other aspects of the music and fashion wear of the entertainment business’ that he is involved in.
According to him, this is the agenda that he has fashioned out is to turn these creative ideas into socio economic gains including publishing rights, forming strategic partnerships especially in the area of mobile entertainment, tracking airplay on radio and accompanying video clips on television not forgetting the collection of mechanical rights and also linking up with international promoters so that at the end of the day Syncos Music can have satisfied musicians in her stable.
In line with modern trends, the Syncos is ready to sell her music online through successful downloads for both the music and videos, subscriptions and adverts on her website which will make it possible to get in touch with international promoters to help set up gigs.
With all these in mind, it was therefore not surprising that Scratch Studios participated in the world recognized music exposition, MIDEM, in France last year and that was the first time this country ever participated in such a forum. The only sub Saharan African country represented there was South Africa whose music industry is well structured. It was at that forum that he learnt the music industry is worth US$30b now but the operators are keen to raise it to US$100b since there are now new strategies to sell music to a larger populace worldwide.
‘Those are the ways we should be selling our music to the outside world; the days of selling cds have gone, online is the new thing and that is what we should exploit. That is one reason government has to step in to create the enabling environment so that we can sell out music and generate income for not only the musicians but the whole country.
‘The multiplier effect that our music can generate is tremendous … it is not only the musicians that will benefit … the tourism industry and the state in general will benefit tremendously. That is why government must come in to create the platform which will make us reach the people. For example streaming is the in-thing but it will be virtually impossible for one man to create the structures to do that; that’s why government must come in. With government creating the environment, it will be easier for us to sign a memorandum of understanding with the telecommunication companies so it will be easier for us to do things locally.
He explained further that licensing is an expensive business but with the assistance of government it will be easier forming partnerships with foreign companies and other major industry players. MUSIGA, he further explained supports musicians but what it needs to do is to educate its members on how music business is done.
What is the way forward for the industry? Amoakohene’s answer to this question was direct.
‘We need support to be able to participate in the major music expositions like WOMEX and MIDEM, for example the South African government supported its delegation that was at MIDEM last year but Scratch Music powered itself there, by participation in these expositions, we will get to meet other stakeholders and through these contacts we can also expand the industry and earn an income. What we therefore need is a public private partnership that will open new doors and new opportunities, these cannot be done by MUSIGA alone,’ he added.
He admitted that because the local industry is not well structured, it will be difficult to collect direct taxes from the musicians but indirectly the government is earning some income through indirect taxes. If things are properly structured with radio stations and other users paying for the music it will be possible to tax the musicians. But what everyone must understand it that music takes time and has a gestation period and when done properly it will add an appreciable cost to the nation’s gross domestic product, GDP.
For example we do not have concert halls for live music and this is something government must build so it will be possible to bring in even foreign musicians. Now where can you hold a concert: the National Theatre or Accra Stadium but the cost in hiring those places is high and so the promoter too must charge so highly to recover his cost and that is not the best for the industry and this is why government must come in to provide the structures for us to move on.
‘Our job is to encourage talents, networking with others and use the medium of radio to let the whole world know about the artist and once we have their permission to sell their music we can link them to our digital shop and once we have our own payment system it will be easier putting money in the pockets of the musicians and the label owners. Now we can’t sell through PayPal because Ghana has been blacklisted so our financial institutions too must step in to create a payment system that can be used by even those outside Ghana.
‘We must move with the times, we must streamline the industry in line with modern trends so that we can reap where we have sown, our love and passion is what we have and that’s why we’re still in the business,’ he added.
The passion has been recognized by world renowned musicians. To be counted among these musicians are Osibisa and South African flugelhorn man Hugh Masekela who have used their experience and pedigree to help Scratch Music to venture into lucrative but uncharted waters.
In addition to the music, Scratch Music has ventured into fashion where it is working with a Senegalese designer and working with Radford College and has held the DreamChild with three having being held in Accra while Nigeria will host that of 2015 and there is a strong belief that the fifth will be in South Africa.
But that is not all as the issue of non-payment of copyright and mechanical rights have been an issue that the industry has grappled with all these years with no solution in sight. An attempt by GHAMRO (Ghana Musicians Rights Organisation) has not been successful as allegations of mismanagement of the monies collected has seen the executives thrown out while a new executive body is trying to resolve the matter. Allegations of payola have died down as the over 200 radio stations in Ghana now have the opportunity to play local music with the radio presenters too waking up to the fact that the works have creators and moral obligation backed by the statutory laws is making the radio stations to pay.
The distribution of the royalty has however been fraught with problems though as far as is concerned can be easily sorted out by employing modern means of tracking the music once the music is digitalized in addition to the niche market in which the music is disseminated.
In addition to all these, Scratch Music is seriously considering building an outdoor concert hall for live shows with priority given to musicians and others in the creative industry to stage their shows.
‘We have to take our music out we must work with international promoters and at Syncos we want to create a standard, we must have a pedigree so that we can sell our music. Only Africans can sell African music but we need political support.