‘Why artistes should take streaming numbers, royalties seriously’
Oye Akideinde is the CEO for MusicTime, Simfy Africa. With over 20 years experience in tech, media and entertainment, and degrees in both IT and Music Business, Oye has harnessed his various talents to build various successful Tech and entertainment related Companies and services across Africa. In this interview with Guardian Music, he speaks about strategies to help artistes benefit from their artistry, the growing rate of music streaming in Africa as well as other issues.
Which came first for you, music or tech?
Definitely music. From a very young age, I was always interested in entertainment. As a child, I was found singing, dancing or songwriting (my great songbook). I grew up in a home that was full of music and weekends that had special family movie nights. Everyone around me loved music, so it was only natural for me to embrace it wholeheartedly. Music was how I expressed myself; it gave me a voice and an escape. It became a part of me and as I grew up, music grew with me and come to think of it, tech wasn’t far behind. In fact it was tech that helped drive my love for music.
Tech powered music all around me and by tech, I meant the advancements in how we listened to it – from records & vinyl players; to cassettes, Boomboxes and Walkman; to CDs, CD players and Discmans; to mp3s, Napster, iTunes, mp3 players & iPods, to smartphones & music streaming services like MusicTime.
My love for tech reached new heights when in 1994 or so, my dad brought home a Windows 3x computer. At that point, I felt I was in an entanglement; I was in love with music, but tech had caught my fancy. Can you imagine learning MS-DOS on the computer while listening to Notorious BIG’s Ready To Die? To this day, I can’t separate both from each other and I’m glad I have a career that utilizes both of these passions.
In your previous roles, you’ve worked in a pioneering capacity. Now at MusicTime, how is that different from your prior experiences?
There isn’t much difference being that I joined MusicTime few months after the service had gotten launched. The challenges that face any strong start-up are very similar with my new role; from establishing the app in a matured or crowded market, to getting a team together and making it work like a single unit, to scalability, to ensuring that all regulatory and legal requirements are met.
At MusicTime, we are aiming to solve the biggest issues for music lovers on the continent – cost of data and ease of payments. It makes it possible to be able to create the music community that is user-centric, has really strong USPs and has a sustainable loyalty that artists can make a living from. I love music, you love music, we love music, everyone loves music and MusicTime is that service that is tailored to push local, African and International talents to fans to experience and discover more with each swipe, tap, touch or click in this mobile-driven era and with data inclusion thanks to the partnership with MTN.
What is the MusicTime advantage?
MusicTime is the world’s first time-based music-streaming service that comes data inclusive for MTN subscribers where users can stream their favourite local and international music from a catalogue of over 36 million songs. The service is aimed predominantly at unleashing the voice of Africa & the Middle East via its bespoke playlists.
The MusicTime current advantage is to deliver the best of African and International songs, to music enthusiasts, who are registered MTN users for a data inclusive music-streaming service while also building a sustainable digital music ecosystem for artists, labels, content creators and providers. The beautiful thing about MusicTime is that there is an in-built time ticker that continuously manages, monitors your MusicTime usage – you will always know how much balance you have available. MusicTime works like pre-paid airtime, you only pay for only what you listen to.
Our competitive edge is our product strategy, which is based on our users experiencing more. This edge is founded on emotion and innovation.
With an emphasis on emotion, we have moved our consumers from being fans to becoming critics and decision tastemakers. We believe that every human is a fan of music – regardless of the language, locality, mood, taste or socioeconomic class. We understand our users, their needs and how they interactive with our services. Through this understanding, we have empowered users to become curators and creators of the music culture.
Only 20 years ago, pirates in Alaba were the biggest beneficiaries of the music business. Is it still the same or things have changed?
Technology advancement has a way of solving problems naturally that we at times couldn’t figure out the solution. Piracy rose rapidly and became really bad due to the lack of proper distribution channels for getting physical CDs to the end-users when a void was created by the exit of the major labels in 1990s that had created the networks for music distribution. As you rightly mentioned, Alaba was home to the illegal bootlegging of artiste’s works on CDs. Electronic dealers had realised the opportunity to fill this lucrative gap and according to an International Intellectual Property Alliance 2007 report, piracy had peaked at 95 per cent in 2006 in Nigeria resulting to an estimated loss of one hundred and nineteen million US dollars. New opportunities would later emerge for “music marketers” wanting to secure licenses of top acts and control mass piracy by buying Masters of those projects.
But like I mentioned at first, a new tech was embraced in the form of digital creating a new format for music – mp3s and with it came overnight, new pirates known as “downloaders” who lurked in Computer village and other places where mobile phones were mostly sold. These “downloaders” allowed users buy music for next to nothing (NGN100.00 for 100 songs), and they in turn would either upload these songs directly into the user’s phone memory or unto a flash drive or an SD card. These were the first wave of people who made Alaba minority beneficiaries. Also with the availability of music-streaming services coming into the country along with the other factors I mentioned earlier – cheaper smartphone devices and lower costs in data, most millennials have embraced streaming services which in turn is beginning to have a spiral down effect on the “downloaders”.
At what point did you notice the tide began to change for Internet enabled businesses such as music streaming?
This would be at the beginning of 2000, after the infamous “dot-com bubble” – Internet enabled businesses in the late 1990s had suffered immense crashes, leaving investors with significant losses. E-commerce companies such as Amazon and eBay had forged ahead to become successes at the turn of the millennium. Even Nigeria was able to boast of its own ecommerce site – tokunbo.com.
With music, the tide pretty much turned with the release of iTunes music store in 2003, which brought about legal purchases of music digitally. ITunes has been credited with accelerating shifts within the music industry. Other services such as Pandora and Last.fm had launched around the same time to provide actual music streaming, as we know it – albeit it was fashioned as the reinvention of radio.
During this period for most African artistes, majority of their revenue came from music marketers buying masters of their physical music distribution (CDs and tapes), touring, concerts and ambassadorial deals from popular FMCG and alcohol brands. Even in Nigeria in the late 2000s and early 2010s, artistes used music blogs and sites such as NotjustOK and 360nobs to help put out their music for free to the already growing online audience just to become popular and attract Businesses for concerts and endorsement deals.
Coincidentally, Do-It-Yourself platforms such as MySpace and Soundcloud emerged, as the music landscape digitally remained fragmented. Music fans could stream music from unknown and not so popular artists.
But 2008 was the tipping point when Spotify came to the scene, and for the first time ever users were able to stream all the music they could listen to for ten dollars per month. Since then, other music streaming services have been launched even from the tech giants like Apple, Google and Amazon. Africa wasn’t left out with music services such as Simfy Africa, Spinlet, Music Plus and Boomplay all springing up as well to see how to localize and tailor their service for the continent.
It is now the year 2020, and music streaming is definitely here to stay and with it comes along services such as MusicTime that are tailored to solve issues around mobile data and ease of payments for Africa which was a previously-underserved market.
Has the Nigerian music business reached its potential?
The Nigerian music industry hasn’t reached its potential; in fact, we are just scratching the surface. We don’t have a coercive sound recording body; what we have is a body which was formed during the cassette and CD days, we don’t have any body/association which is interactive in the digital age similar to the US and other International recording associations. I would say that we don’t have bodies that are strong enough to represent the rights of artists.
We have good laws backing artistes and their rights, but the execution (damages and representing artists during copyright infringement issues, the fine is NGN100, 000.00). We need an updated law, which is in line with the trades and practices of the business of today.
From the creative standpoint, a whole lot of local genres are growing fast but we are yet to reach its full potential, the revenue side of the music industry is growing but the huge part of it, – merchandise, equity, branding, convertible metadata or valuable consumers who pay subscription value for music, these numbers are not even high yet.
We are just in the early era of monetisation of digital music, there are also so many job roles that are needed, but the music industry cannot either afford people like that or there aren’t people with such skills. So yes, we see the potential, but we are yet to reach its full potential.
Several foreign record companies (SONY, Universal, Def Jam) have set up shop in Nigeria recently. Is this good or bad for the industry?
Many foreign entities have significant permanent and registered entities in this territory and this is a positive sign that for someone to put money into a market, he is investing into the future and that’s a very good sign and since Nigeria is a very competitive space, it means that where there’s a competition, the creatives will always win because the their competing market demands for what they are supplying.
How do you think music streaming has impacted the Nigerian music industry,
Music streaming has affected the Nigerian music industry positively no doubt; it has been able to make our music go beyond our shores and get discovered. Afrobeats to the world, baby! Streaming makes music more accessible and available to everyone anywhere globally. Up and coming artistes stand a much better chance of being discovered as new artists and all genres of music are more accessible to customers.
Because streaming services offer customers a vast selection of music to choose from, out-of-print physical recordings (hits from Onyeka Onwenu, Rex Lawson, Majek Fashek, KSA, Blakky etc.) become available to users who have fond memories of them or who discover them for the first time.
In a country that is mobile-first, where literally about 90 per cent of Internet activities are done on mobile, music streaming is perfect as it doesn’t really use up storage nor take up space on the user’s hard drive. It has also provided ad-funded (freemium) models where music lovers don’t have to look for money (beyond their mobile data) to enjoy music.
We live in a country where there is poor infrastructure, mobile payments aren’t optimised and a high poverty level where in as much as people love music, they can’t afford to pay for it or even buy the data bundle.
And with a music-streaming platform like MusicTime, the service has been localised to further benefit the Nigerian music industry. By partnering with MTN, the service, which is the world’s first time-based (a pay-as-you-go model) music streaming service, comes with data inclusion, ease of payment and a listen for free section. The service pushes local and African talents via its bespoke playlists and Telco partnerships, whilst offering a full catalogue of international content.
What have been the factors in the way of tech development in Nigeria?
The explosion of tech hubs across Nigeria, particularly in Lagos, has shown no signs of slowing down; growing by nearly 40 per cent in 2019 alone. As startup and innovation culture continue its growth in Nigeria, these tech hubs play crucial roles for the economy and businesses bringing about innovation in the country.
The mobile industry in Nigeria continues to scale up quickly with Africa itself seen as a “mobile-first” continent. Nigeria currently has the highest Smartphone penetration rate in Africa (about 44 per cent) with android devices having about 85.98 per cent market share. This is a key factor driving tech development and adoption because a lot of the OEMs operating in Africa are able to provide smartphones at a very close price range of featured phones, making the transition easy and encouraging the rapid adoption of smartphones.
As Internet adoption in Nigeria continues to grow, transforming communications in Nigeria. Data prices keep falling due to the healthy competition amongst data service providers with the providers providing even better and higher speed networks to the end users. A recent report reveals that with N1000, users can buy 20 times more data in 2019 that they could in 2010.
Mobile penetration is said to be currently around 40 per cent in Nigeria and Nigeria has officially been tagged as the most “mobilised” country in the world with 80 per cent of all internet traffic in Nigeria coming through mobile according to the same report. All these factors have created opportunities in the Nigerian tech environment with users wanting a constant supply of tech solutions that solve their daily needs and requirements.
Over 52 per cent of Nigerians using featured phones have switched to android smart-phones, whether high end or low-end prices and in turn, this makes them, users of mobile apps. This has allowed Nigerians to jump right into the digital era by accessing cheaper and affordable data rates and easy access to social media and app downloads.
With much access to the Internet and mobile technology, the Nigerian tech environment continues to develop and the tech business in Nigeria as a whole is laden with huge potentials.
What are the obstacles in the way of music streaming in Nigeria?
Further to the ones I had mentioned earlier – ease of payments and data costs – I would say how accessible free music is. Apart from the illegal websites, artistes also put their songs online for free as part of their content strategy to drive popularity of the songs amongst an ever-growing fan-base and make the song big enough so that there is a demand and top-of-mind awareness from show promoters for the song to be performed and for income to start to roll in. When you realise that a generation grew up illegally downloading content, many music consumers are very happy using ad-supported websites like YouTube to hear most of the songs out there, there’s no bigger challenge than these – competing against free and pirated content.
There is an almost non-existence of copyright enforcement and distribution structures. Nigeria and other African countries need similar regulations that enable the effective takedown of illegal digital content like that of the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the EU’s Copyright Directive (EUCD). Until these government policies and regulations are created and put in force, we will continue to constantly educate artists on the need to monetize their content effectively and promote it as well through their social media assets.
There is also a lack of structure and lack of wanting to break the ice of unaccountability on the path of artists and major music industry players. Some people argue that for streaming to really catch on in Nigeria, artists need to commit to it. But for any artist whose livelihood is fully dependent on music, it’s hard to prioritize streaming over the other forms of revenue which form the bigger parts of the revenue pie. But with the current pandemic where touring and performances isn’t a possibility at the moment, every artist has been forced to now try and understand music-streaming, plan releases better, understand pitching to DSPs and even monitor their streaming numbers, which in turn should give them that desired education and have them handle distribution better and get their numbers up.
With MusicTime’s data inclusive plans (the partnership with MTN), we will soon stop hearing user comments such as “So you mean, after I pay to subscribe, I will still use my data?”
What should artistes and label owners know about their streaming numbers?
Music streaming numbers and analytics give artistes valuable insights into how widely their music is being circulated and how much income they stand to make. Similar to social media platforms, there are 2 types of analytics – vanity metrics (metrics that don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things – total number of likes or followers) and actionable metrics.
The actionable metrics offer access to demographic data that show which fans enjoy their music and locations they’re enjoying it from. This could be used to help promotions and even to plan tours. Paying attention to metrics, which help the artist make data-backed decisions can actually have an impact on their music career growth. Once an artiste begins to regularly check their streaming data, they’ll be able to make better decisions about different aspects of their music career.
Artistes should get reputable distribution companies to help distribute their songs to music streaming platforms; they should also understand when to ask for their records and royalties. I see a lot of artists who don’t even post their songs for their fans to stream on social media, and this is sad because it’s simple marketing 101.An artist should also create relatable content and employ the services of a renowned lawyer who would monitor their success and help them navigate their way around.
What are your thoughts on the constant battles between record labels and dissatisfied talent?
I think it all falls down to the understanding of both parties before they entered into a contract. Did the artiste – a young hungry cat looking for a way off the streets – get legal advice? Did the artiste understand what he or she was getting into? Did the label fully understand the magnitude of running a label and there was a probability in place that the artist you are taking a risk on would fail? Did the label realize that label operations require some knowledge and skill sets to be able to run a label? Do they realize it’s a long-term investment, which is heavily capital intensive and requires a lot of human contact and management capacity? Does the label have structure to support artist services?
Battles are going to continue until that point where labels start to understand what it means to manage creatives emotionally and mentally. Being able to manage them financially is not enough. It’s not always about the money although in most cases, it is – the splits. With tech advancements, artists are able to do everything themselves from production to distribution to marketing. The idea of the 360/traditional record deal may soon become obsolete and I see more and more artists wanting to go — or stay — independent. But like I always advise artists, the first person you need on your team is an IP lawyer. That way, you don’t sign your life away and get frustrated at your naïve decisions. When you see record labels and artistes, who work in harmony, it is because each party knows and understands his or her role in the partnership.