The Impact Of Smartphones And The Internet On Music, A Chat With Molefi Makananise

There's no denying it, the way we consume music in 2017 is vastly different from how we used to listen to music (and watch music videos) about ten years ago, even five years ago. This change can mainly be attributed to two main factors, the smartphones and the Internet.

Even on a continent, Afrika, which some from outside the continent might consider as backwards, the way both young and old people buy, watch and listen to music today has largely been influenced by the proliferation of smartphones with Internet access. Add to that, thanks to the Internet too, with social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram you sort of have direct access to your favourite artist, you can get direct replies from them and get all their latest gig info, free singles, videos etc. instantaneously as they are made available. From a music fan and listeners perspective this is great, but how have smartphones and the Internet had an impact on music from a music artist's perspective?

BLK JKS Rolling Stone South Africa August 2012
BLK JKS on cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in August 2012 | Rolling Stone Magazine

To answer this question I had a chat with Molefi Makananise, an acclaimed and experienced music artist who is a guitarist for the well travelled South African rock band, BLK JKS (pronounced black jacks). Makananise is also a founder of Who Are We?, a multi-disciplinary campaign that aims to highlight our similarities as Afrikans in the hope of changing mindsets around Xenophobia & Afrophobia. He is also a founder of Mashed Up Jazz Sessions, CEO at Afrika Implode Explode Hybrid Arts and an executive member at Busking Jo'burg Incorporated - an initiative looking to activate formally exclusive spaces through multi-art disciplines.

"I think they both (smartphones and the Internet) played an important part in the creation and the recording of music." said Makananise in answering the question of the impact of smartphones and the Internet on music. "Smartphones can be a great storage of musical ideas and the Internet is needed to exchange those ideas to develop them to greatness. Through the Internet, the music world is (made) smaller, therefore the inspiration travels around the world at the speed of a click of a button." Makananise elaborated.

It is true, though, that smartphones are a great way of storing not only music ideas on the fly but ideas in general, but this comes with a downside that has haunted the music industry even before smartphones became popular. Music piracy has been blamed for the decline in album and song sales, Bluetooth technology (before the popularity of smartphones with Internet access) was also blamed for accelerating music piracy and to date, the music industry hasn't found an answer to stopping music piracy through the sharing of songs via MP3 files. But Makananise chooses not to focus on the negative side of this.

"Well, I think everything we create as humans is to close a certain gap, to sort out a certain problem or close a certain human need, but (the) Internet like many other creations can not at the moment filter out good or bad intentions, we just focus on the benefits." he says.

In Hip-Hop, for example, artists have chosen to somehow embrace how quickly music spreads via the Internet and smartphones by releasing on occasion free songs and sometimes mixtapes to fans and focussing on generating revenue in other ways, but not limited to, performances, merchandise and endorsements. With that said, there is definitely a decline in music sales (generally speaking), especially CD sales, "the music business must adjust to the developing technologies for a better and faster industry. We don't have much choice but to keep adjusting if we want to keep relevant." Makananise believes.

Molefi Makananise
Molefi Makananise on bass guitar performing on stage.

He further said that the "CD (sales) system is fading away. We now know more vast music from the Internet than the radio and buy through it too. So yes, some how the internet is a non-discriminating radio and record label for both the known and unknown artist, so with smartphones even better, it can only be good."

"What I can say is the Internet and smartphones couldn't have happened to us (music artists) at a better time, these things made the life of musicians so much easier."Molefi Makananise

In both the developed world and also gaining popularity across various parts of the continent Internet music streaming seems to be replacing CDs as the way people listen to music. Just recently Spotify reported that it had reached 50 million paying subscribers. Artists make money from Internet music streaming services based on the number of times their songs are played compared to CD sales and even digital music sales where they only receive royalties on song or album purchases, this makes the potential upside for making money quite huge considering that the same person can listen to the same song several times and Makananise seems to agree that these music streaming services are good for music artists saying that "you just make sure only good tunes come out of you".

Smartphones and the Internet are here to stay and despite some of the negative impact they might have on music such as piracy and declining music sales, the good seems to outweigh the bad. The positive effects can only grow with, or should I say if, Internet access prices dropping across Afrika as Makananise concludes by pleading "I do think internet should be free in South Africa". A wish we all hope for.

Cover Image Credit: Molefi Makananise on guitar | Supplied by Molefi Makananise

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