Rethinking Success in the Malawian Music Scene, Beyond Vanity Metrics

The Illusion of Numbers

In the quest for recognition and validation, its now very easy for emerging or independent artists to fall into the trap of chasing numbers, measuring their worth by the size of the social media following, the number of streams on their latest release, or the attendance at their live shows.

While these metrics provide a fleeting sense of accomplishment, an illusion of what the real deal would be like when all the right boxes are ticked, they often fail to capture the true essence of an artist’s journey and cultural impact. As a rising artist or indie artist, you are better off investing your time, resources & focus on your artist development. You have to actually DO the work – that looks a lot like writing songs and recording demos often; performing at different types of gigs where you are trying to find your audience and fans; and collaborating with fellow artists who are as hungry and authentic as you are.

The Real Measure of Influence

True cultural influence and impact in the local music industry can only come from allowing time to shape and sharpen you in all the ways short-cuts will not. You have to make yourself a student of life and various art forms; understanding their principles in a way that adds depth to your own artistic expression. Apart from working on your music by yourself, you stand a lot to gain from forming authentic connections and meaningful interactions with other artists, producers, songwriters, & other industry experts who can help take your talent to the next level.

Industry experts not being limited to the music industry but other industries as well such as tech, gaming, sports, economics, finance and fashion, to name a few. These industries can also bolster an artist’s cultural influence and success in that they add an influential edge to artists who are multi-faceted and able to connect with diverse groups of people and industries.

Taking the time to develop the ability to touch hearts through words and melody, to inspire minds, and evoke emotions through your artistry is the stuff of legends – a lot of our favourite local and international legends and superstars figured out this formula to their advantage. The next generation of Malawians needs more intentional cultural icons and influencers who elevate what it means to be a new age Malawian living at the intersection of never forgetting our history and traditions while embracing the diverse global village we have no choice but to integrate ourselves into.

The Negative Impact of Cooking Numbers

How far are you willing to go with the obsession with vanity metrics? The increased speculation about local artists resorting to unethical practices such a buying followers, inflating streaming counts, or manipulating engagement metrics is setting in motion a cycle of watered down, bubblegum music releases – just to attract numbers and engagement.

While these tactics may provide a temporary boost in visibility, they ultimately undermine the integrity of building the local music industry differently from the tumbling down capitalistic Western model; particularly at a time when Africa is attracting a lot of financial and resource investment in the development and exportation of local and continent-wide art and creative industries.

Cooking numbers not only erodes trust between artists and their fans but also misaligns opportunities the industry could benefit from as a whole and for new artists as well as the next generation of Malawian artists. Now that we are catching up with the rest of the world in terms of access to monetizable platforms such as YouTube, Tik Tok, Facebook & Instagram, we have to collectively think long term for how the Malawian music industry, music creatives and music businesses ought to position themselves in order to become a global contributor and influencer in the conversation around music and content creation while delivering consistent high quality creative products and performances.

For artists interested in securing international collaborations and brand endorsement deals; keep in mind there are many tech platforms and software that allows companies to see the details of your numbers such as how many of your followers are bots and organic; how much of your content is engaged with by followers especially if you have a lot of followers. Make sure you are ready for that level of scrutiny especially if you plan on securing deals and business in the entertainment arena.

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The Road to Longevity

For artists looking for longevity and icon status, the pursuit of vanity metrics is unsustainable. Creating a culture of illusion where artists think gaming the system is the measure of success without taking the necessary steps to develop their art and brand is misleading a lot emerging artists and setting them up for failure.

Artists relying solely on numbers to measure their success will find themselves burnt out chasing an elusive goal, constantly striving for more without ever feeling fulfilled. In contrast, those who are focusing on building authentic connections and nurturing their craft are more likely to enjoy longevity in the industry, both locally and internationally.

As an artist, prioritising authenticity over vanity will help cultivate a loyal fan base that supports you through the evolution of your music career. We are living in a time where creating music that resonates deeply with your niche audience is one of the major determining factors leading to generating consistent revenue for many indie artists.

As the Malawian music industry continues to grow, with many local artists setting their sights on international music markets and audiences, the true measure of their influence and impact lies not in numbers but in who is moving the culture; in terms of the sound, the impact; breaking status quo for other creatives and connecting with the diverse next gen of Malawians.

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