Gospel artists take to social media to earn a living

Although many were already supplementing their incomes through online platforms, they have had to become more aggressive about marketing their music as the pandemic takes a toll on livelihoods

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, gospel musician Fredrick Omondi has been feeling the challenge of staying in touch with his fans and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whereas before the containment measures he travelled freely to gospel meetings to perform and promote his music, now he is relying fully on social media platforms to reach out. And although he was already making use of social media to promote his music and earn money, now he is being more aggressive and intentional about it.

“I mostly use Facebook Live to promote my songs,” says Mr Omondi. “Those who are interested then subscribe to my YouTube channel and some go as far as sharing the link on their social media sites. This way my subscription base increases and that translates into cash when the views and likes are monetised,” he told the SHEPHERD in a phone interview. He however declined to divulge how much he earns from selling his music online, citing security concerns and contract terms.

“On YouTube, if your song gets 10,000 or more subscriptions, you are sure of getting good cash at the end of the month,” he says. “I usually get feedback after every song I upload on YouTube or during my Facebook Live performances. People call or send text messages to say how much the songs encouraged them when they were low spiritually. Others say they have even been physically healed after listening to my music. This really encourages me to remember that even though the government has restricted our normal interactions, God is still at work,” says the musician whose song Shallom registered 52,615 views on YouTube.

Omondi, who sings in Dholuo, English and Kiswahili, also benefits financially from Safaricom’s Skiza, a ring-back tunes service that sells song codes for phone use. “We are paid monthly and the advantage of Skiza tunes is that the company pays exactly what it gets even if only 10 people subscribed,” he explains.

But even with this success, he says nothing can replace physically interacting with people at gospel meetings.

For Anastacia Mukabwa, social media platforms have enabled her to earn more money now than before the Covid-19 restrictions. She also promotes her music on YouTube, Facebook Live and Skiza tunes.

“I have a YouTube channel where I direct my fans and music lovers to, and like other established online singers, I get a good amount of cash at the end of every month,” she says.

She has however had to contend with the constant threat of hackers and has been a victim several times.

“As soon as I notice a hacker trying to interfere with my channel, or I receive information about a hacking attempt, I notify YouTube so they can arrest the situation,” she says. “Still, I can’t complain although I do miss the physical interactions during which I could minister, counsel and pray with people at gospel meetings.”

Many got to know Ms Mukabwa when she teamed up with Tanzanian gospel star Rose Muhando to produce her hit song, Kiatu Kivue. She also has several albums to her name and one of her songs, Watangoja Sana, uploaded on YouTube in 2018, generated 1,396,893 views.

A 2015 article in the Business Daily reported that YouTube paid $3 (Sh319) per 100 views for subscribers, and 1$ (Sh106) per click for international views.

Jane Itumbi, another gospel artist who promotes and sells her songs online, explains: “If a singer has at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time, he or she is already on YouTube’s payroll. But to get more cash, the singer has to encourage subscribers to share the song links on their various social media sites.”

Ms Itumbi, who has 10 albums to her name, adds that it is not automatic for anyone who tries to make it on the social media platforms to thrive.

“For example, there are those who do well with live performances but not online, and vice versa,” she says.

Others just entering the scene need some hand-holding to navigate cyberspace and overcome the hurdles, which include building a subscriber base, before they can hope to start earning any money.

Omondi says he is currently mentoring a number of musicians and helping them to produce music through his Rabbi Production studio. He also helps to promote their songs on radio and television, and encourages the artists to aggressively market their songs to increase their audience.

Peace Mulu, who sang Ombea Adui Yako, is also involved in mentoring younger singers while Itumbi cautions them not to enter the gospel music industry just to make money at the expense of serving God wholeheartedly.

The challenges brought about by the pandemic have also driven some gospel singers to their social media networks to raise money for music production or to launch their VCDs and DVDs. For example, a prominent gospel singer in Kisumu County (name withheld because her consent was not sought) managed to raise more than Sh300,000 ($2,815) in April through a WhatsApp group to help her produce a DVD version of her new song.

Before the pandemic, many gospel singers earned money mostly through selling physical CDs, VCDs and DVDs at church events and other public forums. Some, by virtue of being famous, charged up to Sh300,000 to perform at gospel crusades or conferences. In addition, there are those who make money working as brand ambassadors for various companies.