I happened upon on a brief conversation on Twitter some weeks ago where someone tweeted “Show Dem Camp needs to put that Palmwine Music 2 on Soundcloud. Abeg!!!” and another SDC fan quickly replied saying, “una no want make guys get money?“ That short convo highlights the Nigerian artist’s dilemma with the freemium business model and the fully paid model. As a music executive and talent manager, I’m always thinking about ways to position, promote and market the music properly for the best outcome. Trust me, after putting in all the time and effort into making a good song or an album, every artist and label’s ultimate wish is for everyone to get to listen to and appreciate the work. Even with the advent of digital marketing and distribution, getting and keeping the attention of the music loving public on one’s work remains a daunting task.
Like everybody else I am excited about the digital revolution that has significantly altered the music business in the last decade, from production to distribution to consumption, no aspect of the industry has been spared. The magnitude and dizzying pace of this change left industry players with little choice but to rethink and update old practices and business models. So, the freemium business model, where an artist/label makes their work easily accessible to anyone who cares to listen by putting it out for free, as well as on subscription-based streaming platforms for maximum reach, was adopted by many artists and labels to navigate the glutted market. I wasn’t a fan of this model originally, as I felt it undermined the piracy fight, but I have since come around to see its merits and practicality, particularly in the Nigerian context. With streaming becoming the predominant way that most of the top music markets in the world enjoy music now and how little it pays, it’s clear that putting up music on a streaming platform is only a means to an end, and that end is way more than the pittance that the streaming companies dish out to artists and labels.
For me it’s a no brainer, I believe that for any serious budding Nigerian artist, the freemium model is the ideal way to go. Freemium allows you to put up your music on every available subscription-based digital music streaming site out there while also making sure that your music is available to a vast majority of Nigerians who are not able to afford to sign on to any subscription-based streaming platforms for obvious pecuniary reasons. Anything short of this would amount to shooting oneself in the foot. The first goal for any artist is to be heard. I mean, what does it profit an artist if they make the best song ever and nobody hears it? Nil. And the Nigerian market isn’t useless just because it cannot afford to stream or buy your music digitally. If anything, the local market is a very important bloc that can help ramp up an artist’s visibility and popularity via social media and word of mouth and is not to be trivialized. In any case, freemium is not entirely new or peculiar to digital, it’s the same thing artists used to do (and some still do) where they paid Alaba bootleggers to put their songs on their “mixes” even while they have an album out because they knew that it was less profitable, in the long run, to have only 10 paying customers listen to your music than 100 people listen to your music for free plus the 10 paying customers.
Also, revenue from streaming platforms isn’t to die for, even for global superstars. Although global digital music revenue has seen consistent growth in recent years, digital revenue as a percentage of total artist earnings for top performing artists has been on the decline. To put this in perspective, Davido’s “Fall” which is currently the video with the highest views of any Nigerian artist with over 110 million views in 18 months is unlikely to have fetched the artist any more than $70,000 (something he earns in one busy weekend). Does this make Youtube useless? Absolutely not. It just shows that the real value of the platform, as with all other streaming platforms, is their ability to help artists reach new and ever-increasing audience which the artist and his team can now monetize through tours, merchandising, brand partnerships in the various parts of the world where their music is heavily consumed and other ventures. So, when you’re putting your music out there, you are not optimizing for revenue but for attention, as the music is no longer the main product, just the primary one. The real value of streaming and digital distribution is access, access to a massive number of music lovers, and access is everything. This is key.
The beat of the drum has changed and so must the dance step. Artists must begin to see themselves as content marketers, with their music being the content that helps them sell out concert venues, merch, endorse big brands, land major movie roles and so on. So, back to the Twitter convo I referenced above, If I was in SDC’s corner, I would advise them to put up their album on all the subscription-based streaming platforms on the planet including sites like Soundcloud and all other free music platforms to ensure maximum reach to both their local and foreign audience. And so should you, if you wanna be heard.
Obinna Agwu is a compulsive lover of music, Talent Manager, Music Business Executive, Adviser to Labels and Talents and the author of The Mob’s Take and BOM Series. He tweets via @d_angrymob.
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