Record labels are praised for turning music into business and freeing artists from the overwhelming task of recording, promoting and distributing offerings singlehandedly.
In Malawi, this shift is pronounced in urban music with the likes of Biriwiriâ€™s Ndeâ€™feyo Entertainment, Tay Grinâ€™s Black Rhino and Daredevils signing promising stars.
But are they worth the buzz?
Many are stories of self-crowned managersâ€™ failure to update their signings on progress, sales and takings from showsâ€”and others disappear with the money while the artist is still on stage.
Subtract the fraudsters. Online sources define a record label as a brand or trademark associated with the marketing of music recordings.
They sign exclusive contracts with artists to record and market their music in return for royalties on the selling price. Others prefer 360 deals which are broader. The multiple-rights deals entail even managing the bookings, shows, image, promotion, sales and copyright issues, the same way South Africaâ€™s Faith Works engaged Malawian-born Aemo Eâ€™Face.
In Malawi, Ndeâ€™feyo boasts taking this path. According to its co-director Ken â€œZizwaâ€ Limwame, the label signed comprehensive deals with Piksy, Armstrong and Maskal. The firm recently terminated Maskalâ€™s contract.
Zizwa says labels allow an artist to concentrate on music.Â Normally, he argues, the organisation pays for shows, studio work, transportation, accommodation and other costs the artist incurs.
â€œThere is no way serious artists can solely manage all that. You need someone to do thatâ€”and thatâ€™s what we do,â€ explains the Ndeâ€™feyo ace.
Despite the advantages, the likes of J&D Records have closed shop due to low returns.
â€œI tried it in 2008, but I stopped signing artists because of rising expenses which brought nothing in return,â€ says J&D Records proprietor John Nthakomwa.
The arrivals and departures have made some artists rolling stones. This band includes Kumbu, formerly of Lo Budget, and Black Rhyno. Having parted ways with Black Rhyno this year, the Wakwiya ndi Mfiti star says he no longer believes record labels are havens for artist.
â€œThe problem is that label owners sweeten their deals. But once you sign up, they do not make any effort to make your life as an artist easy,â€ said Kumbu, who has released no album after two years with Tay Grinâ€™s music line.
He added: â€œWhen you are affiliated to a label, you relax and focus on your work thinking you are covered on all other aspects. Sadly, you arenâ€™t and you can do better by yourself than under somebody.â€
By contrast, Maskal, the disowned firstborn of Ndeâ€™feyo, paid tribute to Zizwa and company, saying: â€œI will be very ungrateful to say record labels are useless because they lifted me from nothing to where I am today.â€
Â â€œIt all depends on the contract. However, being on my own has given me a lot of lessons as an artist and Iâ€™m still learning.â€Â
In the interim, the Access Communications Limited (ACL) brand ambassador is being managed by Dove Tale.
The new company recently described Maskalâ€™s relationship with Ndeâ€™feyo as one with â€œa few hinges that need greasing.â€