Book Review: The South African Music Business 2nd edition by Jonathan G. Shaw

In order to gain a greater understanding of the elusive ‘ins and outs’ of the music industry, I stumbled upon a book known widely as the ‘practical and academic bible of the South African music industry’. Having initially heard about The South African Music Business by Jonathan G. Shaw through the monthly BPM magazine, and the recommendations of successful music industry practitioners; I made it my duty to seek it out. One of the most arduous problems most local artists face is the general lack of knowledge about the industry itself. In my experience I have most often come to dead ends when posing tentative questions to fellow musicians. Questions about copyright, royalties, licensing, distribution, marketing, and legal matters are generally shrugged off by my counterparts. This is most likely due to ignorance, apathy, and a general disinterest in issues pertaining to business. Is it any wonder 95% of musical projects in South Africa fail? A big part of the problem is that little focus (if any) is given to the business of the arts as education in South African institutions. I mean, when I was studying drama and music; business was nowhere near my curriculum. Nonetheless, the results of my search in finding out more about the local industry have been largely unfruitful and ridden with vague solutions. It was only until I began reading this book that many of my questions were answered. Shaw holds a B. Comm. degree with Honours in Business Economics and owns a commercial recording studio.

In this book he covers the entire spectrum of the local music industry; from the entities that comprise the industry’s structure, to legal and financial aspects, history, artist management, record production management, marketing and consumer behaviour, branding, digital and technological developments etc. There is so much information that it will probably take two or three reads before internalising many of the concepts. At any rate, all of the chapters in the 600 page book have been thoroughly researched and structured in an understandable way. The only exception to the preceding is in the legal and tax sections of the book, where assistance from qualified professionals in those fields is needed. As an aspirant musician myself, I especially enjoyed reading the sections on branding, consumer behaviour, and marketing – as these concepts play an important role in developing brand equity and positive return on investment. For the independent artist, the book is a gem as it highlights many of the excess expenses that can be eliminated by taking a DIY approach, all the way from the production phase, to promotion, and to distribution. Having praised the superb research and sheer enormity of information contained in this book, I have to criticise Shaw for the horde of spelling and grammar mistakes found in almost every section, it became ridiculous toward the end of the read. There were so many errors it was almost as if no-one edited it. Having said that, The South African Music Business is the definitive book on the local music industry and has even been recommended by Kahn Morbee of the corporate rock band the Parlotones (we all know how well they are doing). “If there is any musician who is serious about their craft or career, this book should definitely be part of your collection.” – Kahn Morbee The book can be purchased through Exclusive Books.

 

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