Roughly 13 years ago, African music was very difficult to find if you were not on the African continent. The few artists you could find with music available online were those that were managed by or signed to western labels. A lot of independent online music stores also popped up around that time often selling physical CDs that could be shipped to buyers. At the time I thought “If we find a way to quickly get new releases from Africa to the diaspora, it would be good business.” Oh how things have changed.
This is how I used to get my music in the 90s:
I would switch on the radio or watch a music show on TV. From there, I would take down names of artists and song titles I liked. When I had money I would go and look for the cassette tape or CD at one of the local stores. With any luck I would find it or I had to wait until they had it in stock or I would need to go to a bigger city with the hopes of finding it there.
Fast forward to 2018 and how I find my music now is very different:
I hear a song I like. I Shazam it for the title if I wasn’t already playing it off of YouTube. Next step is to find the artist on Spotify so that I can follow them and add their music to my playlist.
At no point in the ‘buyers’ flow do I consider ‘buying’ music. Instead, if I am very interested in the artist, I look at their upcoming shows and if they have one in my area. This is the kind of information I wish more African artists would pay attention to: the music buying process based on demographics. This approach will help formulate the strategy and brand campaigns the musician’s team will focus on at any given time. For example, the uptake of streaming in Germany is slower than other western countries because they have an older average population that is attached to the novelty of owning CDs. In this market, CD sales are still a thing – if you appeal to the ones doing the buying.
If you want to be an internationally recognised musician but your music is not online, you have about zero chance of getting there. No one is going to magically ‘find’ you. Very few people have talent so pronounced that somebody literally walks up to them and say ‘I want to sign you’. Especially in a world where millions of people are vying for attention online and wherever else.
Music streaming is here to stay. A few years ago I was a bit unsure about how artists would take to it but the success of services such as Deezer, Apple Music, BoomPlay, Spotify etc has seen many artists jumping onto it. I knew the day would come, just not so soon. With the success of services such as Netflix and Hulu for on-demand video, there was no way music was going to get left behind. Our very own once dubbed ‘African Netflix’ in the form of IrokoTV (more like Nigerian Netflix really) and Showmax are big players affording the African diaspora and people on the continent access to local content online which was unheard of 10 years ago. Music streaming has followed closely behind and without much effort except a small monthly subscription I can access a good chunk of the music I want to hear.
What does the trend in streaming mean for African musicians?
You have no choice but to adapt or get left behind. Streaming services are getting music out to more people than ever. Better than CDs or cassette tapes could ever do. Technology has helped open up doors to markets that were impossible to penetrate barely a decade ago. As an African musician, do your homework on which streaming services will benefit your craft the most. Conduct a survey of your fans’ preferences when it comes to accessing your music online. How can you meet them halfway.
You can’t just keep doing what you have always been doing because the world is changing. The strategies from 3 years ago are no longer as effective now. Your strategy should be reviewed at least every few months to make sure you are always on track to realise your goals. This is why it’s time for African musicians to embrace streaming services to reach more markets but most importantly to make it convenient to find their music. That convenience you afford your fans to easily find your music, will push them to spend money on other aspects of your brand such as shows and merchandise. The other side of the coin sees view counts, play counts and the like being leveraged for sponsorship and corporate partnerships = money in the bank.