Music in the digital age

The entertainment industry is becoming more and more digital with each passing day. From streaming platforms like YouTube and Netflix for visual content to audio streaming and distribution platforms like Spotify and iTunes, the digital age is here to stay, bringing with it the need for artistes and creators to adapt.

ChoKoLAATe magazine in partnership with the Nawaloka College of Higher Studies (NCHE) invited a select group of musicians and producers to share their insights and strategies on how aspiring artistes can create quality music and become successful musicians and producers within the context of the digital age.

The webinar took place on 27 June and was moderated by singer, metal vocalist, and songwriter Shehara Jayathilleke, who consulted with rapper, producer, vocalist, and beatboxer Costa; TV Derana Head of Digital Arm Janeeth Rodrigo; producer and songwriter Sasith Gamage, also known as iClown; and producer and songwriter Hibshi.

The discussion commenced with the panel commenting on how aspiring artistes need to put a lot of time and effort into mastering their crafts, adding that the most important thing an aspiring artiste need is being consistent and dedicated to developing the right level of skill to be able to compete locally and globally. The panel also commented on how high-quality equipment and software don’t guarantee quality but skill does, and that good music, like any other form of creative content, will always make a mark for itself.

Rodrigo, who also serves as the General Manager of IdeaHell, Sri Lanka’s first YouTube creator space and multi-channel network (MCN), shared that music, like any other art form, needs to be monetised to keep artistes creating, if for nothing else, also noting that musicians should think like content creators in order to make an impact and be able to effectively monetise their music or content.

He also explained how monetisation of content through platforms like YouTube and even Facebook (who has recently announced plans for monetising Facebook content) worked and that many creators find themselves locked into agreements and contracts with platforms and MCNs that limit how they can use their own content as well as how much money they can earn from it. Rodrigo also explained that in the wake of the pandemic, Sri Lanka’s online community has grown massively and that in the coming months and next year, the potential to monetise content for the Sri Lankan market would be huge, not just in terms of making money through advertisements and similar, but also in being able to convince customers to make purchases online.

The panel also discussed the challenges faced by local musicians in making a mark in the digital music industry, which is dominated by English music with non-English music being at a disadvantage when gaining traction.

Costa explained that an effective strategy for aspiring, independent artistes looking to make their music known is through leveraging platforms like YouTube for exposure and using Youtube to drive listeners to other channels like your own website, Spotify, and iTunes where music can be purchased. He also noted that for musicians, YouTube is not a very effective money-making platform because music content is short – typically being about three minutes long – and doesn’t lend well to monetisation on a video-driven platform like YouTube.

Jayathilleke explained how there’s room in the local music market for labels like her own online label “Shehara – Sri Lankan Music” that allows local artistes to sell their music locally and receive payments and royalties easily.

This is a problem with international labels, where artistes often find themselves unable to access their royalties because of payment methods that are not available in Sri Lanka as well as not being able to collect maximum royalties because of commissions and similar deductions.

The panel also noted that international and larger labels did give artistes very effective channels to promote their work and provide support to artistes when their work is stolen or misused.

Furthermore, they discussed Intellectual Property (IP) laws in Sri Lanka and the lack of comprehensive laws that protect creative content like music. Rodrigo commented that Sri Lanka is making positive advances in this regard, with services available for those who have had their IP violated, like the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (SLCERT).

Overall, the panel stressed the importance of Sri Lanka’s aspiring artistes to focus on quality above all, and that once consistent quality has been achieved, exposure, numbers and success will follow.

The panel also encouraged the Sri Lankan community to support local artists by investing in them as well as purchasing music and merchandise by local artistes.