Fascinated by the concert that was advertised throughout the city in the last few weeks, Zelalem Korme, 32, was looking for the salespersons to get his ticket when Fortune found him at Ghion Hotel. He is a fan of Aster Aweke and this was the first time he had a chance to attend a concert of hers.
“I had a long time wish to attend her concert,” he said.
The last time he was about to go to her concert at the Millennium Hall, it did not happen because of a family mourning.
He paid 350 Br for the ticket, and he felt it was not much.
As it happens the concert he paid for, featuring Aster Aweke and Madingo Afewerk, was the only one in town. What happened to the other local concerts which were once so popular?
One claim promoters and organisers make is that concerts are no longer profitable. Esayas Taddess is a concert organiser who also has experience of organising concerts abroad. He has now shifted into the night club business, opening a club he named CEO. The problem is that singers are charging higher and also preferring concerts outside of Ethiopia.
“The payment the singers are asking is becoming as much as all the money we make from the concerts,” he said. “There is a competition among the artists themselves on the amount they are paid and it is hard to negotiate with them. They negotiate on the basis of higher fee that has been paid to other artists.”
In his 12 years as concert organiser, he had worked with Tewodros Kassahun, Tamrat Desta, Tibebu Workye and Jacky Gossie. He has paid these singers 70,000 to 80,000 dollars on average, paying 20,000 dollars for hall rental, excluding other costs of security, lighting system as well as promotion with attendants buying tickets at an average price of 250 dollars.
“They want to promote themselves here by holding concerts abroad,” Esayas said.
Robel Haileselase, owner of Kabuka Entertainment, is another owner who has moved out of organising concerts, because the business is slowing down. For him the problem is chang in audience attitude.
The sole concert for New Year’s Eve, by Aster Aweke and Madingo Afewerk, was organised by Yougovia Club and EML Events in partnership.
On September 2, 2015 at Ghion Hotel 5,000 tickets had been sold in the VIP and normal categories, which cost 800 Br and 350 Br, respectively. The organisers are expecting to sell 10,000 tickets. That brings the total revenue from ticket sales to somewhere between 3.5 million Br and eight million Birr. Then there is payment from sponsors. This event has six sponsors, including Moha Soft drinks, Awash Wine, ABC Trading, Yu-Ye 27, Adika and Aurora Event Organisers.
Still the organisers feel that the artists are not doing enough to encourage more concerts.
“How can an audience buy tickets while there is nothing new in the songs, new albums, or in the absence of unique live performance of the singers as well as a fine sound system?” said Eyole Luelesged co-owner of EML events.
According to him in order to organise concerts there must be at least a new album as older ones are less needed for a live performance. But the trend in the local singers is that they persist in conducting a concert around a single song or album once released, which is boring for the audience, he said. It also reduced the interest of sponsors in covering the costs of the promoter.
In spite of this the singers also claim that the payment they demand is not too much compared to the profits obtained by the promoters out of sponsorship. If we take the average profit of the promoters in a concert, which is 2.2 million Br, the singer is not even entitled to obtained 25pc of the profit, said an anonymous manager of a singer. Most concert promoters that Fortune talked with complained about high cost of organisation and higher demands from singers as well as fewer venues for events. These venues have a monopoly of the business and charge higher rental fees, they claimed.
Ghion Hotel is one of the venues in which most concerts are held. The hotel rents its space for the concerts with all decorations and logistics to be provided by the organisers themselves. The hotel also provides catering and liquor services, which is a lucrative business, according to a source at the hotel.
Abinet Agonafer had three concerts in Ethiopia and three outside Ethiopia this past year based on his latest album. He is also holding another concert at Meskel, next year, having postponed it from the New Year’s Eve as originally planned, because of the Aster-Madingo event.
Artists are demanding higher pay, said Abinet, because there are now fewer concerts where they can make money. Events outside Ethiopia are also easier to organise, he added, unlike local ones which are rare, complex and seasonal.
“Considering these conditions, the payment singers are demanding are not exaggerated because concerts are held occasionally and even if the singer wants to be reasonable there is no promoter that gives you assurance that you will have concerts throughout the year,” he said.
Returns from albums are also not good enough anymore, he argues, and need to be supported with concert revenues.
“The trend previously was that singers were paid less and promoters were paid more,” he said. “But with the decreasing of the album profits this time, the singer should be compensated and keep his/her economic interest through concerts held abroad.”
Making new albums frequently is also becoming problematic because the singer covers all the costs of production and promotion costs, as well as finding sponsors for themselves, as most producers have left the industry.
An anonymous manager of an artist claims that no promoter goes out of the business bankrupt unless due to their own poor promotion and disinterest in continuing with the work. The events are also becoming more popular abroad because of the increased demand from the Diaspora, whose number is growing, Nahom Belayneh, general manager of Blue Media, a promoter that organises Taste of Addis festivals, explained to Fortune.
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