Presumably, you have heard about it right now. Zimdancehall music star Enzo Ishall inked a three-year deal with a 23-year-old Malaysia-based promoter-cum-financial expert, Taona “TeeMak” Osward Chipunza after his alleged upshot with US-based Zimbabwean promoter Passion Java. Both parties officially signed the indenture at the Meikles Hotel on Thursday morning and it proffers the Kanjiva hitmaker a five-figure United States dollar amount advance, monthly allowances, foreign tours, local and international collaborations, among other features.
In his remarks at the signing ceremony, TeeMak, who is likewise an artist in his own right, said the new charter was reached after a year-long talk with Enzo after their first engagement in Cyprus in which the later indicated a “strong desire to be an international act”.
“He (Enzo) came to me with his concern; this is last year, and he told me how much he wanted to go beyond but somehow, there were so many limitations and it is since last year we’ve been planning what you’re witnessing now. Unfortunately, we couldn’t commence earlier for many reasons that are known to you or not known to you but that is in the past,” said TeeMak.
Enzo also corroborated the claims, saying that he has been telling TeeMak that if possible he would wish for international collaborations and swings.
“He would always say he will see what he can do for me, and it is this year that he called me and said he was coming down to Zimbabwe so we can talk. Today you are all witnessing our agreement,” he said.
TeeMak said the new deal was more beneficial to Enzo as it will thrust the artist to reach the international audience by bringing dependable financial capacitation and varied expertise to sprout up the brand that is Enzo. Besides having his music recordings and video done for him, it also comes with a team of almost ten “experts” that will handle Enzo’s local and international bookings, publicity and social media and the likes.
The promotional entity said it didn’t seek to experiment on Enzo nor does it propose to bill big on him as it had the monetary efficiency and has worked with stars such as Boity, Nasty C and Tekno in the past.
The new contract comes after Enzo Ishall, real name Stephen Kudzanai Mamhare, purportedly had a fallout with Passion Java and the Chillspot family, a claim he, however, debunked at the ceremony.
In a statement seen by Earground Radio, Passion Java Records said they were not happy with Enzo’s latest move and insisted that he was still their artist. The stable further claimed that he was verbally signed with them and him striding out to undertake another contract with TeeMak was a glaring disregard to their undocumented agreement. They also claimed that they procured him a car and paid his monthly bills.
Enzo Ishall, on the other hand, denies ever being signed to Passion Java Records but conceded that Passion helped him and he appreciated his role in financially powering the Zimdancehall movement. While he retains that there was no bad blood between him, Passion Java and the Mbare-based Chillspot Records, there are several videos in circulation on the interwebs in which Java sends subliminal threats to take legal action to the chanter and his new executive.
Enzo’s new handlers, TeeMak Promotions, yesterday asseverated to settle any compensation demands coming from Java, provided they are solely warranted. They said their entity had the “financial capacity” to pay back whatever demands that may arise from Enzo’s previous engagement, albeit the demands will have to be justified, as they have a team of necessary bodies to determine whether or not it was necessary to compensate and if it is the right thing to be done.
And yet beyond the abovementioned on-signee packs, there wasn’t much revealed about the nitty-gritty of the contract during the signing ceremony, except that the presiding legal counsel said it was one of the deals he’s ever seen an artist gets.
“The beauty of it is a lot of the stuff he is supposed to be getting, he already got it from the time we started working,” TeeMak said.
Asked if he owns the master recordings for his Chillspot catalogue which had most of his hits like Handirare Kuden Kwenyu, Matsimba, Magate, Fear No Man, Smart Rinotangira Kutsoka among others, and if part of his new deal gives him ownership to his material, Enzo said he owns “part of it” and he “thinks” that he has to procure the other part from his former home.
While TeeMak maintained their new arrangement grants Enzo with essentially complete creative control over his music, it remains to be confirmed who will own the master recordings of the music they will create during their contractual tenure, as labels and promotional entities are notorious for leveraging the allure of a full-time music career to ink deals that swipe copyrights from artists.
For short-term financial stability, marketing and promotional purposes, a majority of artists have sacrificed their creative control and ownership of master recordings to make it.
A “master” refer to the elemental rights to a song. In literal terms, the “master recording” is the original version from which everything else stems. A CD, a stream on Spotify or iTunes, an appearance on a film soundtrack, being released publicly at all — all of those are licensed by the holder of the master rights. This also means that the holder of the master has control over the financial gains from the recordings as well.
Put simply, controlling the master rights essentially means you have control over what is done with the song or album.
The conventional music industry, ie stables like Chillspot Records, often structures deals so that the label, not the artist, owns the masters of all songs created during a deal. In exchange for signing over the master rights to their recordings, artists are often given an advance and a royalty percentage from all profits made off the music. The royalties only begin coming to the artist after they’ve earned back their advances.
In Enzo Ishall’s case with Chillspot, where Java is presumed to hold a stake, the only way the label would let him buy back his masters, as he said he intends to do, could be if he signs a new contract, say with TeeMak, promising to create new material that would “replace” the old ones — selling the masters for new music in exchange for the old ones back. I’m not saying that is what he did with TeeMak.
Call you back, Enzo Ishall is not in this alone; even the biggest names in music have contracts that sign over their master rights to their labels.
But that may change soon, though. Newer artists are pushing harder for more control over their own work, rather than surrendering their intellectual property absolutely in the hands of labels or promoters. Instead of completely signing over master rights, newer contracts may include different language that gives artists a wider cut of the percentages made from exercising the master rights, allows the rights to regress back to the artists after a set amount of time, or other contract models that would allow artists to have a bigger say in what’s done with their creative work.
Although I stand to be straightened out, I would like to believe that the new Enzo Ishall creative marriage with TeeMak, as cloying as it was decorated at the conference, allows him to keep ownership of his own masters from here on out.
As Enzo and Chillspot’s present situation illustrates, it makes all the difference. Because he doesn’t own his own masters for his biggest records, Chillspot and Passion Java can simply do what they want with them, without consulting him at all. They could theoretically license out Enzo’s songs for things he wouldn’t want his music associated with, and he couldn’t do anything about it; a situation that many other artists find themselves in.
The idea of signing overmasters to a record label signifies a degree of trust between the artist and the label or promoter. So, in an event that that trust is ruptured, either by a bad-faith record company, artist’s whims or a buyout by someone potentially hostile, it can be crushing.
Silvia Montello, the Senior Vice President at Artists Without A Label (AWAL) a London-based distribution company and record label, criticised this kind of deal.
“That deal traditionally has not been that great for the artist because it means that, in return for the advance that they get, they’re having to sign their rights away, often for those particular albums or tracks under that contract in perpetuity,” she said.
For Enzo at least there is one silver lining because he’s credited as writer or co-writer on most of his songs, right? That means that he does still hold publishing rights for his music. That provides him weight, in some cases, to quell on some uses of his older music, the ones his fans fell in love with.
But is there a case where giving up control of masters could be a great thing?
In the short term, yes. For artists who aren’t on Enzo’s level and are just breaking out, the advance that’s often earned in exchange for signing over the masters may be too extensive to pass up. Music can take a long time to pay off, so it may be absurd to turn down an advance to try to confer a better long-term deal.
When it comes down to it, though, it’s better for artists to retain control of their masters — that way, they can control and own their own work.
Nonetheless, we wish Enzo Ishall and TeeMak well in their new journey and hope that their relationship which they claimed stemmed out of a genuine friendship won’t become sour grapes.