Written by: B1 is an Expression Artist, a Media Production Consultant, and a Brand Strategist

Making money as a Malawian artist is easy. I have my own trusted go-to steps that I have used for quite a while—steps that have worked more than they have failed. I'll be sharing some of them below:


This is the process of deciding how your target audience is going to view you. It is something that is lost on a lot of people in the industry - fans and artists alike. 

An artist typically starts their journey without all the pressures of being in the industry—no pressures on what you give to the people, how you should sound or how you should carry yourself in certain spaces. You start off with your writing and realize, "Oh, this is good. I'm quite good at this!" and then you share it. People, after consuming your music, then decide what kind of artist you are, who you sound like, and where you should be placed in terms of identity. A good example of a scenario like this in Malawi is how artists are identified as either doing gospel music or secular music. That right there is artist placement or positioning because it determines what sort of target audience you're going to cater to and also the target audience you're going to attract. Artist placement is important because if you do not decide what or where your fit is, your listeners will do it for you and you may not be satisfied with the results. Another example of artist placement is Martse's "Too ghetto, too gutter" or Fredokiss' "Ghetto King Kong". What their monikers are doing is affiliating them with a particular audience and affirming that they are "one"  with that type of audience and that target market. They are telling people what they should be identified with. That is what artist placement is in a nutshell. How Namadingo puts out his music or carries himself is part of artist placement. Jolly Bro saying, "Musandifananitse ndi Tay Grin" (Don't compare me to Tay Grin) in his song "Khala Pansi" was communicating what he did not want to be viewed as or compared to thus feeding into his artist placement. 

At this stage, you aren't really concerned about your product. You trust the product and its quality because you have done all the necessary background work on it. All you want at this stage is accessibility and a unique identifier.

Placement is, I believe, the first step that every artist has to take if they're going to make money. Where you place yourself is where your target market is and if your product and your presence resonates with them, then it's easy for you to get money from people having access to you - say charging 1000 Kwacha if people want to see you perform. That brings me to my second point…


When you have done your work on artist placement or positioning, you then stick a price on it. That's called valuation. 

Say you are Lawi and you decide that your album will cost 15,000 Kwacha. Remember that you are coming to this decision after putting in the work and are confident in the quality of your product. You have proved your metal in the industry and you're saying that your quality, your content, and the experience you are sharing through your music, if packaged into a collection, will not cost 5, 000 Kwacha like that other artist's music. Again, this is the scenario of "I am not them therefore I will not act like them". As you are on your way to determining your price, remember to be realistic. Your fans aren't forgiving, and they're definitely not your mother. Your mother might see you struggling with your art but still buy it because she's your family. Fans, however - especially music fans - want the next experience and the next song. They are not slow in skipping to the next song if you're not giving them the experience they want. That is why an artist still gets booed off stage if they fail to perform satisfactorily, even if the song is one you listen to at home all the time. The reasoning is that they are simply not giving you the experience you want to have. With that said, be realistic, know your quality and know your content. 

The process of pricing will become much easier when you have done your work on artist placement as it is all connected and important to the success of any artist. If, for instance, Fredokiss says he has a free show at Kamuzu Stadium, that venue might fill up pretty quickly whereas an unknown artist using a smaller venue might not even get half of Fredokiss' audience. All of this is to say that artist success takes work - work on how you have positioned yourself and the kind of presence you have as an artist.


The third step in how you can make money as an artist lies in your sustainability plan.

Let's, for instance, say you are the Daredevils. Everyone knows you. They know you don't do shows, and they know you have an album out—one you've stuck a price of 5, 000 Kwacha on because you haven't put anything out in a long time. You think this is your selling point. What will make me, as a consumer, come back to you as an artist? What practical and unique ways have you laid out to ensure that I keep consuming your work? That's the first part.

The second part consists of figuring out what your "lifespan" as an artist is. Sometimes you get what I call a hive because the buzz has been out for too long. So when an artist breaks out, you may not want to pay him any mind, but you also can't avoid him. He is everywhere you go. You get in a minibus and he's there. You get on your social media and somebody is talking about him and his music. You tune in to the radio and the jockey's playing his song. Someone may even refer his music to you. That plan - that's what I'm talking about.

How long a buzz is sustained taps into people actually dipping into that particular artist's presence just so they see what the noise is all about. So, stage three goes back to stage one in that, if an artist is positioned well then their fans might stay longer. It also goes back into stage two in that, if the price that the artist has stuck on their value is realistic then their fans won't mind staying longer and spending their money too. The key here is to remember that it is in the second stage that money is spent on artists and their products.

Tips For Sustainability

Sustainability for a Malawian artist may look like airplay. Register for the Copyright Society of Malawi (COSOMA). There are many examples of how radio spins and COSOMA have connived to get artists paid. Your songs might not be known anywhere but if they are played on the radio then you will get paid. You might not get booked for an entire year but you will get your money if you get airplay. A certain gospel artist I worked with about a decade ago still gets paid for their music simply because it still gets played on radio and COSOMA remits their cheque to them. You may never know when your pay will come in, but if you got registered under COSOMA and have pushed for airplay, then it will definitely find you.

This option may, however, be hindered by your artist positioning. There are some artists whose music simply cannot get played on the radio because of its lyrical content or other factors. If that is you, you may want to look at other options for getting paid for your music. We'll cover that below...

I realised that online stores and streaming apps generate revenue, though minimal. I personally do not advise Malawian artists to depend on streaming apps for all their revenue returns because you need tonnes of streams for you to actually get paid but you will pay the hosting app monthly or annually (depending on the terms they have in place). This means you would be, in essence, paying for exposure. This isn't such a bad thing, but it is highly dependent on how big you are as an artist, or how big you think you want to be. At the end of the day, what matters is being realistic and knowing your target audience because these two will be the gauge that guide where you invest your money as an artist. Streaming platforms are great for exposure if you are an upcoming artist, and they are great for revenue generation if you are a huge artist whose music is consumed by multitudes.

Streaming platforms will also give you a much wider reach. If someone from, say Angola, sends you a message asking where your music is, then you can point them to Spotify or something similar. Radio has its limitations when it comes to this kind of reach. 

Moving on, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the Copyright Act. I suggest that every creative, not just music artists, reads it to understand how you can place your product to generate revenue from it. You'd be surprised how many avenues of revenue generation you can tap into if you simply took the time to understand and document your own works and the works of others that are a result or product of yours.

Collaboration can also help with sustainability as it gives you longevity by prolonging your presence in the industry that you work in. Collaborations give artists the flexibility to work on areas that they aren't positioned in because the body of work they are involved in isn't necessarily theirs. That feeds into your sustainability because you get to tap into a new audience and explore and expand your own creativity and consequently, your legacy. In addition to that, collaborations can help give artists who are "past their prime" a lifeline. Music can be a non-forgiving sport and collaborations can help older artists remain relevant if they utilize connections with younger artists.

I know I'm putting my life on the line here, but I have a theory that the Malawi music industry gives you hype on a maximum of two albums. The first album is always exciting because "there's a new guy on the block" and you get to ride on that wave right onto the next album. Anything else after that is just a matter of relevance. I believe that, no matter how relevant you have managed to be, your numbers will never hit the first ones nor will they manage to hit the second. You would need to reinvent yourself on the third album if you are to get any buzz because you can only be the "come-up kid" or golden boy once.   

Those are B1's genius tips on how to make money as a Malawian artist. Quick reminder: Position yourself, stick a (realistic) price on your work, and set sustainability terms and practices that will help you make money even when you are inactive as an artist. You're welcome.