Music and entertainment are a lucrative endeavour that has the potentials to turn poverty into affluence almost overnight, if only properly structured.
Through history; before the era of cartridges, cassette tapes and vinyls, notable musicians used to make money through live performances, while there was also room for underground artists to also use this as major source of income.
The idea of making music a career means heavy reliance on assured monetization of talent, after investments have been made in terms of time, studio sessions, promotions and more.
The advent of capitalism and individual business meant the music business recognized an opportunity to bridge the gap of turning fan-dom into profitability on a larger scale.
The idea was quenching a craving that the fans didn’t realize they had; giving them what they wanted on a full scale basis, an encore of music and acts.
Hence, the influx of companies coming to fulfil the vanity of listeners and fans by helping them have an avenue to access their favourite artists at any and every need. Thus, radios found a new use and even comedians discovered a higher calling. [cue in names like Alam Blow, Gordons]
With these and the advent of branding and leveraging, came the need to turn popularity, virality and following/vertical acceptance into currency.
The higher these attributes, the higher the monetary prospect and potential for vast wealth.
There’s a price for everything
In the late nineties, the music industry was swept by the new wave of pop artists led by the likes of The Remedies, Trybesmen and the Plantashun Boiz.
All of a sudden, the radio began to play Nigerian music again, videos were been shot, event organizers were getting in on the act, label owners were comfortably buying hummer jeeps and music was becoming a viable revenue stream.
The economy also indirectly got a boost through taxation and added employment/job security as long as fans and listeners continue to add up in numbers. Artistes became demi-gods, imitation got a trigger and so did psychosis, inspiring obsession.
Even though capitalists and radio personalities became demanders of rightness from artistes for relevance through obeisance and payola, a lot of them were and still are happy to oblige, as long as brands stayed healthy and money is being made. Who wouldn’t?
No gainsaying that the advent of the internet has further opened up more avenues as a viral trend is now key to a huge following.
The major sources of accessibility to artists for most people were actual sales of cassette tapes/cartridges and vinyl. Yes, bootlegging was also a booming business, but you still had to pay for what you wanted.
Only a few people had the luxury of getting music for free because they had the knowledge to bootleg and pirate music, and even they had to purchase empty cassette tapes and vinyl.
Thus, business was booming and the fashion world and pop culture were also vastly inspired by music.
When the Internet came, the chain accessibility got warped by masked inventions of piracy and bootlegging. All you needed were accessibility and a device.
It was worse than the enemy that came before; studio managers sending out uncompleted music to Mixtape DJs for cheap money, the era of ‘leaks.’
A case of dwindling sales
In Nigeria, the case and progression or regression were the same. The only difference is Alaba piracy soon graduated into an accepted phenomenon, even by artists themselves and music companies alike.
Across both worlds – Africa and the West, it’s safe to say technology and the internet has in a way ruined the business of monetizing music.
As years turned into eras, piracy and bootlegging became greater mainstays and the likes of Sean Parker even attempted to bridge a gap that streaming has now built upon with Napster but was destroyed by threatened capitalists.
Every 3-5 years, album and single sales would dwindle even more. Legitimate music purchase became more of a choice than a necessity for accessibility.
In 1996, it was easier to go platinum and/or diamond than it was in 2006 – from pure sales and not album equivalent [streaming and virality].
Platinum in 2006 is probably a Gold equivalent in 2016. In 2018, global superstars like Jay Z and Beyonce dropped a joint album, Everything Is Love, and barely had 200,000 ‘pure sales’ in their first week of release. [HDD reports first week sales to be 124,470 album units (69,996 in pure album sales and a streaming count of 73,239,130), even though its release as a surprise album might have played a role]
In 1996, they would probably have moved 500,000 in pure sales. Websites like iTunes couldn’t even abridge the divide.
Where global superstars like Britney Spears, Celine Dion, U2, late Whitney Houston and Tupac were moving 15-25 million copies in global sales in the 90s, top superstars like Adele, Taylor Swift and Drake barely even sell 5 million these days – even with streaming.
It is fair to say that global sales will naturally continue to dwindle with only America – to a larger extent than others – still loyal to the album and single purchases.
The UK, like the rest of Europe, has never been big on sales, same as Africa, where sadly we don’t have the accurate figures to build on.
The larger percentage of artiste revenue these days is from endorsements, tours, live performances and franchise/merchandising. With the advent of streaming, the reality that was meant to save monetizing music, sales and numbers is gradually becoming an illusion.
Major streaming platforms like TIDAL and even the bigger Spotify and Apple Music struggle to turn a profit.
The streaming model is very flawed and guarantee of consistently turning a profit is very remote. Due to competition, these platforms give a lot away for free, percentages paid to artists get cut and because they don’t have a choice, they accept what they get offered and instead overload projects with lenghty and unnecessary songs just to add up the numbers.
Back home in Nigeria
Nigerian acts have long accepted this reality that album and single sales, though with some revenue guarantee pales in imitation of what should be obtained.
Streaming platforms and selling apps like Boom player and Selar struggle to make any reasonable money due to low patronage. Most upcoming acts, with only a respectable following would rather put it on blogs that provide download links [why some people still do this beats me] or put them back on SoundCloud.
Facts though, data is still a luxury in Nigeria. As a millennial music lover, it’s hard enough to load your phone with ephemeral and swift burning data from our phoney providers. To then pay for music seems a chore, but in the grand scheme, it is necessary.
Artistes have to make money and survive. They invest to make the music we want to get for free, so if it is good enough for you to have on repeat, then it is worth paying for.
So when next you hear your favourite artist say the market is a ‘singles’ market, now you get why.
This has in effect put record labels [the ones that continue to survive] in a dark place, as they mostly take the hit from dwindling album sales, the ripple effects will, however, start affecting artistes soon – it’s already happening in bits.
No business or investor will fork out money like it used to if markets have become volatile and return on investments have become uncertain. Artistes will have to live with it.
Listeners are getting more entitled. Not all of them are rich and can sacrifice the money to buy music. And sadly, streaming isn’t the answer – at least, it doesn’t look like it, for now.
Even though a number of streaming sites have been commendably collaborating to remove certain pirated content from their visibility or advise outright removal of content from those sites. Sadly, it’s not enough, it remains all about copying links and downloading, and it could require a more aggressive, collaborative and meticulous approach.
This is why the likes of Davido, Wizkid are really pushing the boundaries globally and why Yemi Alade cares less about her critics, when her fans in the diaspora turn out en-masse to watch her perform. The new plan is simple, make the music at home, earn your revenue abroad.
Aggresive measures need to be taken
Some implementations may not in one swoop bring sanity to the industry or revenue to the pockets of the artist, but it may work out long term if holistically approached.
The custodians of domain names and web hosting need to play a role and it will mean outright bar on piracy and music bootlegging sites once they are noticed, by creating a strict illegality term and condition, with a penalty attached.
We might also require a monitoring technology to discern and identify these sites by identifying traffic and usage.
We know web hosting and domain name management services need these sites to thrive, but they can still make money if these sites legitimately partner with record labels and artists to sell music.
Only then can the quest of a platform like Google to keep pirated content off its visibility services thrive and be effective. It’s also one way to aid the success of streaming by gazumping the process of acceptance. Sadly though, streaming might go completely of relevance if this move is successful.
Blogs need to also begin to discourage the ‘download’ option on their sites, especially when it is not paid for, or a subscription charged.
It’s a long shot, and it’s easier said than done, but I don’t think impossibility is even in the conversation. It must be done or at the very least attempted.
If we don’t, processes to work around these existing issues, mal-existence will continue to hamper monetizing audio and video content leading to an industry where less than 2% of its talent will make money off their works.