It's a given that a healthy new music business will look very different from the old one. Not just in the transformation from physical to digital or from a sales model to a consumption model, but also the rise of new markets outside U.S. borders that have developed as the music biz retrenched and focused on its problems at home.
One sleeping giant very much on the rise is Nigeria, where I recently spoke at a music business-themed day during Social Media Week Lagos.
Already Africa's biggest consumer market with a population of some 160 million, Nigeria has produced world stars like Fela Kuti and Sunny Ade.
But after nearly three lost decades of national economic mismanagement and political upheaval, the formal music business crumbled and majors exited the market.
As the country has put its troubled years behind it, there has been a pop-culture renaissance. Dynamic entrepreneurs have built up local labels without international distribution and taken advantage of platforms like YouTube, Spotify and iTunes to break new stars. Two of the most notable are D'Banj (whose single "Oliver Twist" sold 200,000 copies last May in the United Kingdom to break the Official Charts Co. top 10) and Wiz Kid, who sold out New York's Irving Plaza. As Lyor Cohen put it when I spoke with him a few weeks ago: "Nigerian creativity, especially music, will do more for its influence in the region and the rest of the world than its oil."
The real opportunity for U.S. business might be in helping Nigerian executives retool the music industry plumbing that, for better or worse, helps keep the lights on and artists paid.
The new crop of young label and radio executives I spoke with had a global vision for their artists and industry impact. To this end they recognized the need for help with establishing credible independent airplay and sales data as well as world-class performance and publishing royalty systems to be put in place. Without recognized market data, financial and strategic investors will always have pause about taking a risk there.
It may sound daunting to build overnight what took 70 years to put together stateside, but modern digital technology and an industry without the legacy obligations of older markets means the Nigerian business could close the gap sooner than expected.
The benefit to the United States is threefold: Nigeria is a huge consumer of American R&B and hip-hop; the international live music business is just starting to take off and there's pent-up demand; and artists like D'Banj represent a new, truly global sound for both U.S. consumers and labels. Strategic investments now in infrastructure and talent could yield big payoffs in the years and decades ahead.