Producer Rabs Vhafuwi’s Take On Music Licensing & Distribution

Everyone in South Africa will remember the day Count Your Blessings hit the airwaves. A hit song by Limpopo-born music producer Rabs Vhafuwi together with Mizz. The radio played a part in popularising the song. Who can forget the radio top ten charts the song dominated? Ever since releasing Count Your Blessings, Rabs Vhafuwi has produced well-thought-out, timeless music. The album Hear Me Now was released through a distribution deal in 2016, 9 Provinces followed two years later, with the collector’s item Unboxed releasing in 2020. 

While shopping around for a licensing and distribution deal in 2015, Rabs Vhafuwi realized that the two were not the same nor structured the same way. Licencing is when another distributor or a record label purchases the rights to your album. The same distributor or a record label will pay you a set fee often referred to as the licensing fee, though the fee might differ depending on the kind of conversation you both had. Distribution, however, involves getting your albums into digital shops, I say digital as it is the new norm. There is no set fee, you only make money on what you sell – Rabs Vhafuwi

There are quite a several music distributions companies in South Africa offering different distribution deals, with different terms and conditions. The common thread lies in their payment timelines from the time your music gets released. Some of these companies’ clientele is mostly independent artists, whereas others also serve the recording labels including independent.

These distribution deals can confuse an artist if you are not careful. Labels especially independent acquire these deals on behalf of their artists meaning that these artists cannot deal directly with the distributors in any form, legal or otherwise. Some of these signed artists tend to get confused when independent artists get paid directly by distributors forgetting the fact that they are signed by a recording label that handles everything related to their music. It took me a while to pinpoint exactly how these deals affect my cash flow as an independent artist – Rabs Vhafuwi

Retail music distributors like Musica and Reliable used to be the only way to get our albums in the hands of listeners. That has since changed, affecting how we used to generate income from these albums. The wait for the money from the distribution money can be irritating. Cash flow strategies had to be adjusted. Today, artists realised the income-generating power aided by their social media platforms. The income from these platforms makes it a bit easier to manage the cash flow, while also looking for more income-generating avenues. 

Would I do things differently now? Yes. I would read more and ask more. We tend to have this tendency of just caring about making music without a care in the world about the business of music. Some of us don’t necessarily even know the people who stream our music, making it difficult to determine our core fans. If we want to make the best of our talents, we ought to take an interest in the business of our talents – Rabs Vhafuwi.

It takes more than a radio-favorite and a hot body to turn music into a full-time career. 

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