Rainbow Tourism Group, the hospitality and tourism giant which owns and runs, among other things,  all the hotels in the country which have “rainbow” in their names has introduced an online music store and streaming service. The service is offered by Gateway Stream, their eCommerce subsidiary. The hospitality group joins an ever-growing list of otherwise traditional companies who seem to have taken a keen interest in the tech sector and the potential it holds for their balance sheets. They often act upon their ambitions in this direction by spinning off their IT departments into completely separate business units or even entirely new companies as RTG did with Gateway Stream.

A quick introduction to Gateway Stream

The RTG Gateway Stream (both the app and company), which the new music service is built upon, is itself nothing new as it was introduced back in 2018 by the hotel group. Among other things, the original app was meant to make it easier to book hotel rooms, restaurant tables and even buy tickets to events. Services such as ordering food, online shopping and ride-hailing were later added. The Gateway Stream app was basically built to be an e-commerce super application meant to offer a variety of services similar to the likes of WeChat. In their 2019 financials, RTG lauded the performance of the fledgeling Gateway Stream subsidiary and acknowledged its contribution to the group.

The music service

On 29 October this year (2020), Gateway Stream hosted a workshop attended by artists and journalists to introduce the company’s new music platform to local musicians. Artistes were invited to sign Music Partnership Agreements with the Rainbow Tourism Group for them to be able to distribute and sell their music through the Gateway Stream Music app which was subsequently later launched in December. The online music streaming app offers local artists, their agents, record labels and promoters a platform for them to distribute, market and (hopefully) make money from their music. The owners of music will apparently not only be able to set prices for their music but also the currency with which potential listeners can pay. Artists whose music is distributed through the service will continue to own the copyright and other rights to their work, RTG claims. The service is available as both a web and mobile application for users. Gateway Stream will keep 20% on all music purchases.

Strengths & weaknesses

The new platform has a couple of things working in its favour and a couple of others doing the exact opposite. Here are some of the existing factors which will end up determining its success (or lack thereof) at the end of the day.

Strengths 1: Addressing a real problem

With the market for CDs being now virtually non-existent, local musicians have had a difficult time finding suitable and established online outlets for their music. Many use the likes of iTunes and Spotify which also ends up alienating many local listeners (who, to be honest, constitute the bulk of their listening market) and driving them towards piracy. Even worse, these platforms are only really profitable for artists who have fans whose numbers are greater than the entire population of Zimbabwe. RTG’s Gateway Stream service will therefore be a boon for local artists and listeners if it lasts.

Strength 2: The size of the company

The legal distribution of music over the internet can be tricky. Bigger record owners and more successful artistes are usually difficult to deal with and also extremely litigious. That’s the reason why even though a small startup can easily build a world-class music distribution platform, without the firepower of a bigger organisation behind it, everything will go downhill once they start approaching music owners. Gateway Stream’s ownership by RTG therefore gives it the credibility to negotiate with artists.

Challenge 1: They are not the first

In recent years, Zimbabwe has seen the launch of many new online music stores, many of which barely manage to make any dent in the market before they quietly disappear back into obscurity. Here I am not talking about some varsity student’s pet project which immediately gets forgotten as soon as they find a job —some of these platforms have had high profile launch events with dignitaries and all, but the first time I’ve heard about them was literally just now when I was researching this article. Some attempts from the past include the likes of Jive Zimbabwe, OyOs, and the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association’s (ZIMURA) own “Zim Tunes”. A notable mention is Econet’s Buddie Beatz app which is still trudging along (with a rating of 3.6 out of 5 by users). Granted RTG Stream may succeed where others have failed but the fact remains that they are offering the same features as their fallen predecessors.

Challenge 2: The size of the company

The size of the company behind the platform is likely both a curse and a blessing. I have already talked about how the platform benefits from the size of its owner; I will now talk about the problems this brings, or more specifically just one of them: To put it bluntly, bigger Zimbabwean organisations hire based on academic qualifications and not much else. Unfortunately, when it comes to hiring for consumer software development this has not served these companies well. I now expect every internally developed app by a big corporation to be a pain to use—just look at the sheer number of negative comments underneath any of Econet Zimbabwe’s app offerings. Let’s hope RTG creates something more joyful to use.

How musicians can signup

Are you a musician who would like to try your fortunes through the app? Well, unlike other online platforms which allow you to do everything online, the Gateway Stream service requires artists to first sign a physical contract with the company. Gateway Stream Music (GSM) contracts are supposedly available at Rainbow Towers in Harare. If you go through the contract (please always do this) and find it reasonable and agreeable you can then contact the GSM team to submit the signed contract. Only after doing this can you sign up on the GSM app. Also, after signing up you will still need to get in touch with the GSM team again for them to approve your new account. After the account has been approved you can then start uploading your music.