Creators and consumers of music seek African online music platforms even as global entities and record labels hesitate to fully commit on the continent.
Africa is a continent of over a billion people, with a young, increasingly tech-savvy population that has growing spending power and a desire to find new ways of accessing a wider range of content. And, at a sociocultural level, music plays a huge role in Africa.
A ripe environment for major global players in the music industry, you would think, but things have been rather quiet around digital music on the continent.
Spotify only launched in South Africa last year, and its only other African markets are Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. Apple Music is still only available in the same handful of African countries as at the time of its launch.
Where these companies have, so far, looked on, others have filled the gap. Chinese company Boomplay, founded in 2015, through a joint venture between phone manufacturer Transsion and consumer apps firm NetEase, now has 42 million users across multiple markets on the continent, and recently secured $20 million in funding to break into more countries.
Locally and regionally focused platforms are also seeing traction. Key among them is the Nairobi-based Mdundo, which has more than 3.5 million monthly active users in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria.
The company works with 50,000 musicians across Africa and has signed a licensing deal with Warner Music Group.
The company’s CEO Martin Nielsen says the sector is seeing strong progress, with artists flooding to online platforms to distribute their music and labels paying more attention to the continent.
“We’re experiencing an increasing interest in Africa and the music industry, both from commercial partners, record labels, music distributors and global music services. This is a very positive development, Africa is next in line,” he says.
The growth of platforms like Mdundo, and the launch of new ones, has benefits for both creators and consumers of music on the continent. For artists, they provide new ways of getting their music out there.
Dumisani Kapanga is founder of the Malawi-based streaming platform Mvelani, which has almost 100,000 songs in its catalogue and claims to have at least 40,000 users each day. He says services like his have broken down barriers to entry for artists.
“It’s now easier than ever for musicians to put out music to their fans without relying on record labels to do so. Within minutes an artist can have their music on some of the biggest platforms out there. We are providing the means for artists to be heard easily, without the need for expensive middle men,” Kapanga says.
For consumers, it is ever easier to access music new and old, in a variety of different ways. Damola Taiwo, co-founder of Nigeria-based music downloads platform MyMusic.com.ng, says download platforms such as his own remain the most popular due to factors such as accessibility and affordability, but sees a future in Spotify-style streaming services in Africa.
“The download services seem to still be the preferred method, where individual tracks are downloaded on devices and permanently owned. This is probably due to the cost and quality of internet access on the continent,” he says.
“However, there are other more structured platforms that also exist where listeners consume music. Some of them are streaming services similar to Spotify and Apple Music while others are download services, or a mixture of both.”
What business model to pursue, and how to monetize, are key challenges faced by local music platforms, and the fact that there are, as yet, no clear answers might account for the wariness of the likes of Spotify and Apple Music to bet big on Africa. Taiwo says another key issue is the lack of major record labels on the continent.
“Most artists will fall under the ‘indie’ bracket, and even the ones that have record labels are more like a one-man business with a maximum of three artists. This makes licencing difficult as there are too many entities to talk to,” he says.
The diversity of what is loosely referred to as the “African consumer”, but is, in fact, a huge mass of people with differing tastes and preferences, also poses a problem for music platforms. Nielsen says there is a rapidly growing middle class that demands the same service that global music services offer, yet they are still very data-cost conscious.
“Plus many of the smart devices have limited storage, so we tailor-make our solution to their needs. In addition to that, we have a mass-market segment on our service with low-end smartphone devices that we see a huge potential in with simpler music offerings,” he says.