Brands VS Hits; When Artists Can’t Grow Bigger Than Their Hit Singles


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Innocent Kawooya and Mohamed Kimbugwe

The Ugandan music industry has over the years had two slightly different but rather related scenarios, that have often times left fans and skeptics alike, confused. The first one is of artists that never grow past their massive hit singles; and the other is of artists who remain less famous than their hit singles.

From Samalie Matovu of Omukwano Gunyuma to Captain Dollar of Emmese fame, many Ugandan musicians have fallen prey to this jinx that is a little different from the one hit wonder phenomenon. They go ahead and release more songs, but for one reason or another, they remain in the shadow of their hit singles.

Samalie Matovu, for example, had a number of good songs after Omukwano Gunyuma. A song like Tolaba Balala was absolutely beautiful but fans didn’t find it enough to take her past Omukwano Gunyuma.

Those are just a few examples of Ugandan artists that have been swallowed by the huge pit of oblivion, even after having massive hit singles. What goes wrong with such artists? What fails to click for them?

Well, before we delve into that; let’s explore the other related phenomenon. Have you ever listened to a song, fallen in love with it and even grasped all its lyrics, but you struggle to remember the name of the artist?

That has happened in the Ugandan music industry quite a number of times. There are artists that fans will not recognize, unless you mention the title of their most famous song (s). That too is a very dangerous phenomenon in marketing music.

That takes us to the element of Brands Vs Hits. Truthfully speaking, musicians who project themselves as brands often times thrive better than those who just project hit singles. A brand musician will survive even at times when they have no good music working for them at a given point.

Let’s kick off with the basic example of Winnie Nwagi. She’s the kind of artist that a fan out there knows, even when the same fan can’t mention any three of her songs off head. This means that besides her music, her brand is famous, for one reason or another.

Hits will attract attention to an artist and what an artist does with that attention is what creates a brand. Hits on their own are not enough to create a brand and should they fade before the brand is established, then the artist fades too.

Before we dig deep into what exactly an artist should do with their hits, let’s look at perfect examples of brands in the Ugandan music industry; examples that will make it easy for us to understand the element of music brands.

Juliana Kanyomozi, for example, can last five years without a hit and will still be famous. Forget about the number of years she has been in the industry. She has projected herself as a brand. From a talent search judge to a corporate ambassador, she will always be in the ears of fans.

Another good example is Angella Katatumba! There are so many music fans out there that can’t put a finger on one Angella Katatumba song, but they know her as a musician. From the very start of her journey, she embarked on charity and fighting for the environment, a thing that projected her beyond music.

Artists like Bebe Cool, Chameleone and Bobi Wine are brands that can last five years without a hit and still be relevant. Bebe Cool branded himself around the Gagamel Empire, Bobi Wine around the firebase army and Chameleone around Leone Island Empire.

There’s still so much to keep them in the news, even if they stopped releasing good music; and that is simply because they have over the years projected themselves as big brands, beyond just the music they do.

Let’s also look at the brand that Radio and Weasel are. Around 2010, Radio and Weasel’s music went into a record low that many critics thought they were done. During that period, just before they made a comeback with amazing songs like Fantastic and a B.E.T awards nomination, they remained relevant.

They had branded themselves as East Africa’s best and most dynamic duo and whether they did good music or not, their brand still made sense and attracted a following. Their fans still had faith in them and knew they would return to the top in one way or another.

So, whereas it is important for a musician to focus on hits, they alone are not enough for continuity in the game. You can’t release hits all the time. There are always going to be periods of scarcity and only then will the brand save you.

Creating a brand therefore requires a musician to spread beyond just the music and focus on the X-factor. What are you known for beyond your music? What do fans admire about you that they will continue to admire beyond your music?

Eddy Kenzo, for example, is a fashion icon. Fans and critics alike admit that Kenzo dresses so well at all times. In fact, some have even said that everything he wears looks good on him. So, whether he has a hit or not, Kenzo will still attract attention with his sense of fashion; or because he is the big talent boss.

Build your name beyond the music! Who manages you? Who produces your music? Who shoots your videos? Some artists become strong brands, simply by associating with the best in the industry. At a time when Jeff Kiwa’s Team No Sleep was a formidable force, it was enough branding for musicians to be in T.N.S; and that is just an example.

It adds a plus to an artist, if they are for example managed by reputable record label or their music produced by a certain famous name and their videos crafted by a certain big name. Associate with the best.

An artist must from the very start strive to build numbers around themselves. How active are you on social media? Which numbers do you command on Facebook, twitter and elsewhere? How many awards have you won and how do you engage your fans in the entire process, including nominations and voting?

In all, Brands beat hits hands down and every artist must strive to become a brand!


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