By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published October 6, 2017
A music business expo in East Africa has highlighted the opportunities and challenges of digital music distribution.
The 2017 DOADOA East African Performing Arts Market held May 3-6 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, not only tackled issues like how artists can avoid living from hand-to-mouth, performing arts in conflict areas, making music education more relevant, setting up recording studios in rural areas and managing artists in Africa but also conducted workshops, live recordings, speed networking sessions and live band showcases.
The conference noted that though Africa has several online digital distribution platforms–Spinlet (Nigeria), Tigo (Tanzania/Ghana), Mdundo (Kenya), iRoking (Nigeria), Mziiki (Tanzania), Simfy Africa (South Africa)–to which African musicians have subscribed, there is very low consumption of digital music on the continent.
Digital may have become the primary revenue stream for recorded music, overtaking sales of physical formats for the first time in 2015 according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) Global Music Report 2016. Digital revenues may account for 45% of total revenue from music compared to 39% for physical sales. But how much is Africa reaping from this new music business?
Mike Strano, the founding director of the Nairobi (Kenya)-based Phat! Music and Entertainment Limited and ONGEA: The Eastern Africa Music Summit, noted, “The consumption of legal digital music is still very low in Africa. The continent generates 2% of the global revenues. South Africa alone takes 1% and the rest of Africa consumes the remaining 1%.”
What! Even with the 10.2% rise in digital revenues to US$6.7 billion and a 45.2% increase in streaming revenue more than offsetting the decline in downloads and physical formats reported in the IFPI’s 2016 report?
According to Scoping the East African Music Secto, a British Council-commissioned report on the music sectors of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia, the collection of royalties in these countries is poor and often not enforced.
The report notes that music distribution is changing rapidly and ownership of archives and recordings are sometimes disputed as the impact of digitisation on both music-making and distribution is neither fully understood nor is it encompassed by statutory law, with most regulations having been passed before the digital revolution.
“Internationally, downloads are relatively inexpensive and well established, yet the income from sales is largely invisible to artists in East Africa. While these sales remain inadequately governed by legislation, little income will filter back to writers and performers,” the British Council report says.
As if to defend digital music distributors in Africa from accusation, Martin M Nielsen, the chief executive officer of Mdundo, said, “We have transparency links within our service and supply chain. A musician signed on with us can tell how many times his or her song has been downloaded aided by a system that collects this data on our website,”
Rachel Magoola, a Ugandan dancer, songwriter and songstress, acknowledged that music downloads are invisible because connectivity and accessibility to the internet is still very low in Uganda.
“The strength of any industry can only be measured by the ability of the consumers. In economies where the majority of people earn less than US$1 a day music is not considered an essential need. And you can still get it very cheaply from the pirates than you would buy it from a store,” Magoola told ArtMatters.Info.
“How do we get people to consume more music and in what format and with what device? How do we get people away from illegal music downloading websites?” Nielsen asked rhetorically.
Ben Oldfield,vice president of The Orchard, an independent music distributor and label services company operating in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg and West Africa, observed that musicians can make direct sales of their albums, t-shirts and other merchandise online as the internet gives them a wider reach.
“No one has advised our Ugandan artists on how to make money on websites or online. They should hire legal, public relations and marketing experts to enable them genuinely gain from their music. They are more into concert revenues and not in for other revenue streams,” Simon Kaheru, a member of the Kampala Arts Trust, said.
But Strano noted that the global music landscape has changed from direct record sales to concerts as the main source of income.
“If you are going to earn between US$500,000 – US@1Million for a single concert in the West, for example, direct album sales may not be a big deal,” Strano said.
DOADOA, that is touted as a platform for professional networking with a view to creating demand and developing a market for East Africa’s performing arts is organised by Bayimba Cultural Foundation.