Mobile music platforms keeping African artists on song

By Gabriella Mulligan
Cape Town

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionThe music industry in Africa contributes just 1% to the global creative economy

Musicians across Africa are managing to make a living from their art thanks to the internet and the widespread adoption of mobile phones.

A number of home-grown online music platforms have sprung up to champion local talent and take on the might of YouTube, iTunes and SoundCloud. And they're proving very popular.

South Africa's Bozza is one such platform spearheading the idea of a DIY music industry on the continent.

A digital marketplace for the entertainment and media industry in Africa, it enables artists to upload their videos, music and poetry. Music fans access the content via their phones.

"The internet has made the world so much smaller," says Zimbabwean hip hop artist Blayze. "As an artist, social media and online is a huge part of what you do, and you need to have platforms like Bozza to make that easier as well.

image copyrightScarlet
image captionScarlet MwanaOKondwela (right), a Zambian singer/songwriter, uploads her material to Bozza

"It's a nice initiative, especially for upcoming artists," he adds.

'Growing appetite'

According to Emma Kaye, Bozza's founder and chief executive, the platform is all about artists taking ownership of their work and engaging directly with fans, cutting out the industry's traditional middlemen - the management companies and record labels.

"Africa is a market of both producers of music and consumers with a growing appetite for entertainment," she says.

"Bozza has therefore created a mobile-first platform that enables the myriad of micro-producers to self publish their work to communities who are wanting locally relevant content."

Ms Kaye says the artists get to keep about 70% of the revenues their music generates and crucially, retain ownership of their intellectual property (IP) rights.

image copyrightBOZZA
image captionBozza founder Emma Kaye believes communities want "locally relevant content"

Over 7,000 African artists have already listed on the platform, and the content receives more than 500,000 views, mostly via mobile devices, says Ms Kaye.

Africa is a "mobile first" market, she says, with mobile phone subscriptions expected to top one billion by the end of 2015.

"By embracing mobility as a content delivery platform, emerging countries or continents can leapfrog developed economies, establishing a unique societal brand in a vibrant new industry," she concludes.

Simon Dyson, practice leader for digital music at media consultancy Ovum, believes the home-grown nature of such platforms gives them an edge over existing western competitors.

"International services won't be able to have offices and music curators in all of the countries they operate in and so won't be able to boast detailed local music knowledge," he says.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMusic is integral to the culture of many African countries

"But if a service is set up by local folk with detailed knowledge of music then they stand a better chance and will appeal to local consumers."

End of piracy?

East African Mdundo, another music marketplace, also empowers artists, who upload their own content to the platform. Fans can listen to it or download it for free.

"The popularity of local content in Kenya has exploded over the past years, and as an artist myself, I'm excited about Mdundo's growth so that more fans can get music straight on their phones," says hip hop artist Frasha of Kenya's P-Unit.

One crucial role of online music services is their potential to crush piracy, says Mdundo boss Martin Nielsen.

Providing consumers with official, free methods to access content online is key to protecting the music industry in Africa, he believes, and has the potential to compete with the illegal market.

image copyrightMdundo
image captionThe Mdundo team thinks legitimate online music platforms can help combat piracy

"Most Africans download music from illegal websites, not because they are 'pirates' as such, but because they can't access the music anywhere else," he says.

"The customer rarely knows that it is an illegal site and that legal sites exist. Mdundo is currently playing a big part in changing this."

To beat piracy, Mr Nielsen says it is important to get the technology of a music platform right.

It should not use too much data - to keep mobile data costs down - and the consumer experience must be streamlined - avoiding sign-up processes that "scare away" consumers, for example.

Mr Dyson agrees that the potential for music platforms to combat piracy is huge in Africa, "a continent that has for a long time been beset by piracy".

But he warns that the tech behind a platform is what will make-or-break it.

Rescuing radio

Radio streaming service Recast thinks radio can also play a central role in helping local artists reach a global audience.

Recast enables consumers to tune in to playlists of radio stations from all over the world, without the usual interruptions that are part and parcel of conventional radio. Users can connect their Rdio or Spotify accounts to the service.

"In the perfect world, everything that radio plays would be something you love, and you'd happen to be listening when they do. But that's simply not the case," says Recast founder and chief executive, Richard Oakley.

image copyrightRECAST
image captionRecast says digital radio helps local artists reach a global audience

"This is why radio listeners, especially younger ones, are spending more time listening to music via digital services."

By combining radio and digital services Mr Oakley believes the best overall music listening experience can be created.

Recast can also help artists achieve global reach, he says, as consumers anywhere in the world can listen to radio content from any other country.

"I think that local radio already does a great job of promoting home grown music. The problem has always been that that audience is limited by geographic area - where the FM transmitter broadcasts to - so expanding that through technology platforms like Recast can help spread that promotion further," he says.

Digital technology has given music the freedom to roam beyond borders - within Africa and beyond.

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