With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the creative industries, and the gig economy in particular, were some of the hardest-hit sectors, with musicians and performing artists having to drastically rethink the ways in which they went about their crafts. Now, a year later, the landscape continues to be a difficult one to navigate, while virtual modes of engagement have led to increased levels of innovation.
In order to gain further context into the ways in which the South African music industry has adapted during these times, we spoke with CEO of Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) Mark Rosin. In the resulting Q&A, Rosin highlights the solutions put in place by SAMRO in order to support musicians and performing artists, the current state of SA’s gig economy, and some of SAMRO’s plans for 2021 and beyond.
First off, can you introduce yourself to our readers, both as an Entertainment Lawyer and now as the CEO of SAMRO? Please tell us why you took on this challenge at SAMRO during the really difficult times the organisation was and is going through?
After a short stint in the music business as a legal and business affairs advisor, I started a boutique media and entertainment law firm in the early 90s to advise clients in the music, film, television, and media environments. The firm branched out to sport, advertising, telecoms and so on. I left my firm in 2011, to join our biggest client, eMedia Investments which owns e.tv, eNCA, YFM, Cape Town Film Studios and other media companies. I was COO the last five or so years of my tenure there and left in 2019. I was enjoying part time consulting again, when the call came from SAMRO, to assess whether I would be prepared to interview for the CEO position and help fix the business and steady the ship, while looking for an employment equity candidate to take over from me from 2022. I took up the challenge partly to give back to an industry that has supported me for most of my professional career and because I believed that I really could make a difference, both operationally and as a leader.
Since your appointment as CEO at SAMRO, what have been some of the key projects, changes or areas of interest for you within the organisation?
There are many. We have had to look seriously and vigorously at the costs within the business, identify how to grow revenue for our members, manage the debtors, deal with accumulated leave, try to engender a culture of teamwork, start to get a customer journey in place for our members and so on. The list is a long one and ever growing, but all is to improve the business and ultimately, the service to members after some periods of disappointment.
Last year saw SAMRO providing financial relief for its members, as well as appealing to financial institutions and landlords for further relief for musicians and performing artists. What other solutions did the organisation develop during the pandemic in order to aid South Africa’s artists?
We were able to increase the funeral benefit to members and their immediate families, which although a difficult subject, is a significant benefit. Possibly the most interesting and helpful was the concert and streaming series set up in partnership with our SAMRO Foundation and Concerts SA. We are continuing that initiative, which at least gives some artists access to some cash. We have also made a number of awards to members in our Music Creation Support Fund.
Similarly, we are still witnessing the negative economic effects of the pandemic and likely will for some time to come. How can musicians and arts organisations alike work to stay afloat during these times?
The gig economy has changed drastically but is not dead. Musicians need to try to plug into the circuit that though small, is creating work. My advice is always to try to get your business affairs into order. With good admin, one can better manage one’s career. I’d say it’s the time to mine the entrepreneurial spirit. During lockdown I know of a composer who diverted attention into production music for gyms; another created sponsored streaming concerts; another started an online education business. In short, it’s about taking and making initiatives. Which isn’t to say it’s easy. It’s really a difficult and testing time for the creative industries.
These problems are not unique to South Africa, have you seen any different approaches to COVID-19 relief internationally that could benefit South African musicians?
In developing countries, streaming has more traction and more reward. Some wealthier countries have had more funding available for our sector, but the problems and difficulties are similar everywhere.
Lastly, tell us about some of SAMRO’s plans for 2021 and beyond.
We have to introduce automated music monitoring to create more efficiencies in telling us what music is used where and when. This will compensate for poor client reporting and consequently an enormous amount of adjustment work which in turn requires a costly, inefficient use of our employees. We are looking at ways to help monetise African broadcasting for our members. We want members to have a positive engagement with our Member Services department and feel confident in our systems and processes. We need to find new revenue streams and to begin to introduce the idea of a new tech-based business system to run things at SAMRO. Our current system is far from adequate.