In recent weeks, I have raised the subject of local music quotas with a number of friends and acquaintances in preparation for this opinion piece. I was surprised at how few of these people were even aware that our broadcast radio & TV stations have a local content quota to meet. Many are surprised that the quota is 25%, which would imply that every fourth song aired would be South African. Mostly the reaction I received was one of disbelief, the most common comment being that there is no way our local broadcasters are sticking to this.
Many local broadcasters appear to use loopholes in the quota legislation to play their quota of local music between midnight and 5am, and to count gig guides and interviews with local artists towards their quota requirements. This behaviour reduces the amount of local music heard on air which in turn has a detrimental effect on our artist’s record sales and in turn, the South African public’s perception of our local artists.
In South Africa, we appear to have a major inferiority complex; we suffer from a delusion that local talent is sub-standard. Many of us will gladly agree that much local music is world class but subliminally, thanks to years of unintentional brainwashing by our broadcasters we believe otherwise. I feel that this idea is perpetuated by a broadcast industry that relies too heavily on international content. If our music isn’t good enough for our local broadcasters, then it isn’t good enough to purchase from our local CD bar. The truth is, our local music is more than good enough to receive lots of radio play, and in fact, much of our local music is far superior to much of the international music that does receive airplay. I recently played a song from a local jazz artist on my JazzE radio show that drew a comment from a listener about how much they love the CD that I selected the tune from. They followed up their comment saying that they’d picked it up in the bargain bin at one of our large music chain stores or R40 (owning a CD store myself, I know that this is less than half the cost price). Why would a store sell a CD for less than half cost? The most likely reason is that it hasn’t been sold in a year, and they need the shelf space for music that will sell. Why would a quality jazz album like this not sell? My guess is because few people have heard of this particular artist, because they don’t get any airplay on local radio. Very few people will buy an album by an artist that they have not heard before.
Local music doesn’t get the airplay it deserves and I believe the largest contributor to this is laziness on the part of the broadcast industry. Commercial radio stations, worldwide, are trying to make money. To make money a station needs listeners, to get a large listener base a station would have to play a lot of inoffensive, middle of the road music. The easiest way to do this is to play the music that has been through the mill in the United States of America, and in the United Kingdom where much of the work has been done for them. Artists who have made it to the charts in those countries are safe bets, and so our stations will add those artists to their rotations (often 3 or 4 times a day) because it is easier than going out looking for new local artists, or having to listen to the submissions by local artists and distributors. This means that we get a lot of really mediocre music on our airwaves. The few local acts who are able to get noticed, usually by accident, and build a reasonable following will be quickly allocated into the local quota slots, and a lot of these are outside of the drive time shows and other peak listening periods. It is this laziness that prevents the playlisting of much local music, and in turn generates the perception that local music ‘might be ‘lekker’, but it is 2nd class.’
We need to change the public’s perception, and the way to do this is to play more local music. I believe that the current quota needs to be increased to a point where broadcasters are forced to research more local talent. The quota also needs to be regulated and enforced better. Stations should not be allowed to use gig guides and interviews to take time out of the quota that should be used for local music. It is time for local broadcasters to start paying attention to our local artists, to start building our acts up to the tops of our charts, so that they too can be picked up and played worldwide. With so little programming dedicated to jazz in this country, our local jazz artists have an even harder time trying to get enough airtime that some interest will be generated and lead to album sales. Can the average local jazz or local music fan do anything to help change the perceptions about our music being 2nd class? I believe that we can, just two ways I can think of right now, are to support live acts and to request local music as often as possible.
We can as fans of local music, go out and support local music. Let’s fill venues to the point where those responsible for play listing can no longer ignore the artists that have venues bursting at the seams. Let us also submit requests for local music as often as possible, the more often the playlisters see requests for a particular artist, the more likely they are to listen to, and hopefully playlist these artists.