Pay to play, radio stations told by local musicians

HOPEFUL: Ivor Haarburger. Pic. Marianne Schwankhart. © Sunday Times.
HOPEFUL: Ivor Haarburger. Pic. Marianne Schwankhart. © Sunday Times.

Xolile Bhengu

Xolile Bhengu

Local musician's long battle to get radio stations to pay "needletime" rather than "mechanical rights" might finally be won.

If needletime is implemented, then musicians would get paid every time a radio station plays their song. But with mechanical rights musicians receive a blanket fee regardless of the number of times their song is played.

Legislation opening the way for radio stations to switch to needletime was introduced five years ago, but broadcasters and the music industry haven't got their act together to make the switch.

Mechanical royalties are simpler to administer - broadcasters pay the Southern African Music Rights Organisation music tax, which the organisation divides between registered musicians irrespective of whether they have a hit on high playlist rotation or not.

Gallo chief executive Ivor Haarburger said switching to needletime would be a breakthrough that would help everyone in the industry.

"There is a lot of usage of music in the country and we are not getting paid for it. We would work out rates with the radio stations on how much would be paid for the use of material, and this will boost independent labels as well."

Mechanical royalties are so little that even the celebrated Busi Mhlongo could not afford cancer treatment. Her fellow musicians, who were aware of her predicament, planned a benefit concert to help Mhlongo with her medical fees.

The Recording Industry of South Africa (Risa) said under the new rules, needletime fees would be shared equally between the artist and recording company.

Risa operations director David du Plessis said products had been given to broadcasters for free for a long time without payment.

"If you use someone's work you have to pay for it, it's only fair," he said.