Uganda: Making Money in the Business of Entertainment
By Eronie Kamukama
“I make money out of entertainment and its good business. You put in money, get it out and see that it has a future,” says actress, singer, playwright, film director and producer Mariam Ndagire.
The Kampala-born entertainment entrepreneur always had a ‘thing’ for the arts. She confesses that it started as a hobby before it turned into a job.
The story of the 45-year old’s venture into film business began in 1986, with the 15-year old making a decision to start acting while studying at Kampala High School.
Then, the Byona twala singer morphed. “I transitioned into a commercial actor, someone who acts for commercial companies. Then, I went on to having my own group where I started singing,” she explains.
Having noticed that people’s ways of consuming film had changed from sitting in theatres to watching film in the comfort of their homes, Ms Ndagire could not pull down the shade when she believed a window of opportunity had appeared. She had to follow her audience. In 2007, she withdrew money earned from her singing career and injected it into Trendz Studioz, her film production company.
She wrote her first script, Down This Road I Walk, revisited her coffers thanks to her music and stage plays, teamed up with people she knew, produced the movie and the rest is history.
Asked how much she invested in the business, Ms Ndagire said: “I cannot remember, but it was not less than Shs20m because I had to go for a working holiday in the US since I was transitioning from stage. I had to know the tricks of screen. So we bought books, read online and it worked out.”
However, Ms Ndagire remains tight-lipped but says there is good money, especially when television companies commission one to do a project.
For Mr Washington Ebangit, a career in music production was inevitable because entertainment was second nature to him. The seasoned audio producer knew he would later use this to earn a living. Twenty years after joining this business and starting Magic Records, he says the journey has been tough.
“Financially, it is not a business one can easily earn money from because the value of producers is not recognised,” the sound engineer who has worked with artistes such as Bebe Cool, P-Square and the Goodlyfe Crew, explains.
Uganda’s entertainment industry is mainly about film and music production, dance, theatre and poetry. All these aspects offer huge opportunities for the growing number of unemployed youths because they require record labels, studios, instrumentalists, writers, composers, directors, producers, on-road and off-road managers, events promoters, Social Media managers, entertainment bloggers and distributors to thrive. Potential investors can start cultural troupes, cinema halls, and theatres, run theatre companies or set up shops that sell equipment used in entertainment. And indeed many Ugandans are reaping from the industry.
Through Ms Ndagire’s eyes, the industry is growing. But she quickly admits it is a bit scary.
“It is not that nobody is making good films. We are not many who are on the same page and this is very dangerous. If we had more people, this would make the industry grow,” she elaborates.
Mr Ebangit describes the industry as ‘inorganic’. He explains that the industry is interested in those who have money to invest unlike the past when it was about who had the talent to deliver quality work.
Mr Edward Sendikaddiwa, a performing arts critic, says business in the industry is tight and musicians are not doing well generally. For instance, musicians are invited to fewer shows and the pay is very little money depending on whether one has a hit song or not.
According to Ms Sheila Mugyenzi, the Uganda Investment Authority acting director of investment promotion, determining domestic investment in show business is difficult because it is optional for these businesses to get licensed.
It is also difficult to determine annual sales. For instance, it is hard to estimate local movie sales unless one engages movie libraries according to film director Kennedy Kihire.
“I have friends who have sold more than 2,000 copies of a movie, but this is normally when they do campaigns upcountry and reduce the price to as low as Shs1,000,” says Mr Kihire while explaining that the film industry is profitable with good investment.
He adds: “Most of my revenue is through partnerships with broadcasters. For instance with my movie ‘Hangout’, I made an 18-month agreement with Mnet at a cost of Shs7.2m. I am yet to venture into sale of DVDs.”
Deep concerns exist because making a deserving living out of the entertainment without the proper implementation of the Copyright and Neighbouring Act 2006 seems impossible.
“We do not have the royalty system or proper copyright law which protects the right of the artists, composers, songwriters and producers. We have fake systems that are busy collecting a lot of money so it does not reach the rightful people,” Mr Ebangit explains.
If royalties were rightly paid, even least paid players such as songwriters, who unfortunately approach musicians to buy their work, would earn from every penny once revenue trickles in, be it through a caller tune, a concert or an advert.
But according to Uganda Registration Services Bureau director for Intellectual Property, Ms Mercy Kainobwisho, this partly begins from ignorance and negligence among industry players who know their copyrights are infringed on but wait for government to act. She says some musicians release songs and distribute them to the media for free searching for popularity instead of securing their returns too.
Also, for promoters, attracting large numbers to attend an event is risky because anything can happen and revellers shun an event yet promoters pay performers in advance.
Breaking through is difficult. Budding 24-year old musician/songwriter, Bruno Kiggundu alias Bruno K had his breakthrough in 2015 following a cover of Goodlyfe’s juicy hit song. He characterises the industry as competitive and challenging because he has to share the little he earns with the media.
Venturing into the business
Entertainment industry can still play a role in enriching Ugandans even in the face of challenges. There is hope as analysts say there are many untapped opportunities because the industry is still very raw.
Experts give a list of golden tips, including having a business plan and understanding where to wisely invest.
“You need to understand what part of the industry you want to invest in because it is wide,” advises Ms Ndagire, adding: “You have to know what you want to achieve in a particular period of time, what people to employ.”
Others explain that anyone trying to put their leg into the entertainment world has to build a brand before they start to earn money.
Mr Sendikaddiwa says the success of the industry relies on the adaptability of the primary stakeholders be it musicians or film makers.
He projects a bright future if industry players embrace technology. “I know of three companies that are developing apps that can help to sell music online and a musician earns instantly. There is an app where you can buy a call back tune and money goes to a musician’s virtual account,” he explains.
For some analysts, it is until the copyright law is fully operationalised that industry players can benefit from their business since they would not be relying on performance fees alone.
However, Ms Kainobwisho calls for vigilance among performers. “Copyright owners should know that these are private rights and government comes in to regulate. When there is suspicion of any infringement, you can always report and we engage the authorities,” she advises.