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Sauti Sol: When the pandemic hit, we pivoted

By Ian Dennis | May 5th 2021
Sauti Sol. [Courtesy]

In 2019, the music group Sauti Sol set up Sol Generation. The aim was to push their vision in the music industry. And then Covid-19 hit and upset the world of entertainment.

Savara Mudigi, a band member and the group’s financial director, and William Nanjero, the general manager, share with Enterprise the strategies that have kept their business alive.

Transforming a passion into a successful business takes business smarts. Did that come naturally?

Savara: No, before we set up Sol Generations, I enrolled for a business course at Stanford that helped me understand better the basics of setting up and growing a global business. I learned what I needed to do to set up the required structures of a business.

The pandemic completely disrupted the music industry. How did you cope with the disruption?

Savara: Sauti Sol was due for a world tour for our fifth studio album, the Midnight Train when the pandemic hit.   It was then we thought of exploring different business areas. That is also the time we launched Sol Family, our reality TV show. Since most people would be home during the pandemic, we thought it was the right time to show our fans a different side of us. 

Nanjero: The pandemic forced us to reinvest in the business and review the existing business model. We were due for international tours but all those plans were disrupted and as a business we had to turn to technology for revenue. Streaming and working with different brands became key revenue sources.

What does the business side of music entail?

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Savara: We have a team within Kenya that manages our business as Sauti Sol. We also work with an agency appointed by Universal records; the ACA Agency, which manages our global business. We also have a local legal team to ensure things are done the right way. 

Nanjero:  Sol Generation Records has a team of 12. These include artistes’ managers, graphic designers, visual directors, an accountant, PR/Digital marketing team and an operations team. We outsource producers and sound engineers.

How have you managed finances being in the music industry?

Savara: Back in the day when we came together as Sauti Sol, we registered the band as a company. This means that we are all on a salary and the figure doesn’t change depending on how much we have made in the month. Then we save and reinvest the rest of the revenue.  

Nanjero: Sol Generations Records runs like any other business. Key in our operations is to cover all costs directly associated with the business and invest some of our proceeds. We choose what we invest in based on data from research.  Nviiri and Bensoul, two artistes under the label, released their Expended Plays (EP) and from the data we got from the streaming platforms, we were able to identify songs that needed videos and more promotion. For example, the song Niko Sawa by Nviiri had over one million streams and this informed the decision to produce a video for the song. 

Savara, have you managed to diversify your investments beyond music as international artistes do?

Savara: The beauty of music is that it opens doors, networks and gets you to places that you would have never thought of. I have invested in stocks, bonds, my friends’ businesses, real estate and I am also in various Chamas.

What are some of the business mistakes you have made over the years?

Savara: We made some decisions based on our intuition rather than data. That lost us a lot of money. We also took too long to invest in merchandise and products associated with the brand. 

Nanjero: I feel that we were not as agile and efficient as we should have been when the pandemic hit. 

Where do you think the future of music lies?

Savara: With the rise of artificial intelligence, music festivals may become a very different experience. People could watch a concert via smart glasses.  I also see increased consumption of indigenous music due to the availability of more streaming platforms.

Nanjero: I see data scientists being a big part of the music industry. Also, anthologists will be involved in income, a big part of songwriting.

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