Building a Distribution and Funding Hub for Nigerian Independent Artists

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In 2018, Davido, a Nigerian artist, sold out a concert in front of a crowd of 10,000 in Suriname, a small country of around 600,000 people, located on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America. In terms of distance, culture and recognition, Suriname is a country far from Africa; the official language is Dutch. But during the concert, the Surinamese crowd surprisingly sang the lyrics of Davido’s songs, word for word.

Although African music has been global for decades, with artists like Angélique Kidjo, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Youssou N’dour and Miriam Makeba touring the world, its current global reach is astronomical. The growing penetration of smartphones and the internet has led to music from the continent being hosted on streaming platforms, pushing it far beyond Africa’s borders to global audiences.

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“Streaming is one of the best things that has happened to African music, in terms of reaching a wider audience and tracking the reach of artists,” said Olabode Oyawale, Head of Music at Ultima Limited. , at TechCabal.

The growing number of African artists streaming has fueled interest from international record labels, social media companies like TikTok and digital streaming platforms (DSPs) like Spotify to invest in the continent’s music industry. In 2020, Audiomack and YouTube expanded into Nigeria; Last year, Spotify followed suit by adding 41 more countries to its existing 5 African markets.

Now, by combining the firepower of social media and streaming platforms, the size of an artist knows no bounds. For example, “No Wahala”, a song by Nigerian artist 1da Banton, exploded on TikTok and Instagram and continued to rack up streaming numbers on various platforms. Similarly, “Love Nwantiti”, a song by CKay, another Nigerian singer, became a global sensation last year. What is remarkable in the case of “Love Nwantiti” is that it went viral 2 years after its initial release.

Distribution is difficult for independent artists

Despite these successes in African music, the opportunities that make them possible are not available to all artists. Only a handful of artists, usually those signed up to record labels, rack up views and sell shows. Freelance (independent) artists, on the other hand, with the exception of a few, struggle to get their careers off the ground and float.

This is where Melior Africa, a musictech start-up founded by seasoned music executive Ayoola Oni, comes to play.

“We are building a single platform for independent artists to manage, distribute and monetize their music,” Oni told TechCabal in an interview. “Think of Melior as a complete mobile music management tool.”

Prior to Melior, Oni had, in 2018, co-founded Ejoya Music, another music distribution company that helps artists submit their music to DSPs. He led it as CEO for almost 3 years before stepping down in February last year.

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But if Melior does what Oni’s old company does, what’s unique this time around? Oni told TechCabal that Ejoya’s distribution process was quite manual; artists emailed their music to the company, and the company distributed it on their behalf.

“It was a stressful process,” Oni said. “I usually call or get hundreds of calls from artists every day – there was just too much human contact, and it wasn’t going to grow.” He said he had already started exploring how Ejoya could digitize his process before he and his co-founder started having “trouble with some business decisions”.

When he quit Ejoya, he intended to try his hand at something other than music. But 3 months after its release, it was brought back into the music world by a friend, a DJ and producer, who rekindled his passion for creating solutions for the music industry.

The Melior platform allows artists to reference their music for distribution and monetization. It allows its users to track performance metrics of their music like number of views, downloads, likes, and amount of revenue generated while allowing payment automation. On Melior, artists can choose to withdraw their earnings whenever they want and also share the payment with their team members, such as producers or managers, without third parties.

“Making music is already tedious for independent artists; distribution should be at least transparent,” Oni said.

Melior launched its beta early this year with 5 artists, including gospel singer Lawrence Oyor, and went public last week, with over 100 artists on the waitlist. The platform makes money through annual subscriptions and revenue-sharing models. It has 3 subscription models. The first is a free plan, where the company takes 30% of the total music revenue. Then there are 2 paid plans: one costs ₦850 ($2.05) in which Melior takes 15% of the artist’s total income from music; the other plan costs ₦2,500 ($6.02), and here Melior takes 7.5%.

Yet distribution is just one of the many problems independent artists face in Africa. There is a lack of structure, management and benefit sharing between teams. Record labels are typically tasked with building and structuring artists’ journeys from pre-production to post-production as artists focus on their music. In the case of independent artists, they take on these responsibilities themselves, sometimes with friends or family members filling leadership roles. Melior said that with its payment automation, it solved the problem of profit sharing between artist teams. All the artist needs to do is preset which amount goes to whom.

Lack of funding is a major problem independent artists face

But at the end of the day, the lack of readily available funding is the main problem for independent artists. “If you don’t get money, you kill the idea (Being broke kills the idea),” sings Bnxn (formerly known as Buju), a Nigerian artist whom Oni worked with early in his career, before signing to Burna Boy’s Spaceship Records. .

When Oni ran Ejoya, many artists would often come for loans right after Ejoya paid them their monthly earnings. “Indie artists are mostly broke because there’s no record company bail money to fall back on,” he said. “Most of them live just off the money they make from their music, and that can be tough.”

To solve this problem, Melior offers artists on its platform access to credit. Artists can request funding for their projects or an advance. This way they can pay for a good studio, conduct decent marketing and PR efforts, and even shoot videos to help their music go viral.

How does Melior ensure that artists repay these advances? Oni said Melior only credits artists on its platform. Based on information gleaned from a Melior artist’s streaming and earnings data, the company decides how much credit to give the artist — a method Oni said helps them mitigate default rates. .

For Ultima Music Manager Oyawale, while DSP distribution and start-up money is a commendable offer, distributing songs on social media platforms like TikTok – must-have marketing for even major labels like Warner Music – can launch an artist’s career. Some platforms like American Distrokid already help artists list their songs on social media platforms like TikTok and Snapchat.

Although Melior does not currently distribute music on social media, Oni hinted that it was in sight, adding that Melior had many other offers in the works, such as opening its line of credit to artists outside. of its platform.

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