‘The Industry Is Prepared’: How Tech is Turning Up the Volume in the Nigerian Music Biz
The country is currently experiencing a technological revolution that has helped Nigerian artists impact the global charts
Over the last few years, the Nigerian music industry has ventured into a new era and achieved commercial feats on an international scale that, at one time, were mere visions.
The evidence is on the charts: Ckay’s “Love Nwantiti (Ah, Ah, Ah)” reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Global 200 in October 2021 and was the first-ever No. 1 record on Billboard’s U.S. Afrobeats Songs Chart in March. Meanwhile, Tems’ unignorable impact on the global music market continued this year with a second Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit single (following 2021’s “Essence” with Wizkid) via her sampled feature on Future’s chart-topping smash “Wait for U,” alongside Drake. In July, Burna Boy’s Love, Damini debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard 200, far surpassing his previous high of No. 54 on the chart; last week, newcomer Asake’s first project Mr. Money With the Vibe made an impressive No. 66 debut on the chart.
Technology is the canon launching the Nigerian music industry into this era that was once considered unattainable. With a large youth population helping to grow mobile internet penetration (which doubled in 2014, growing to 32% by 2019), and 170 million mobile phone users with records of continuous increase, the advent of streaming in the country has unlocked its music industry’s potential.
Now, both seasoned and budding artists enjoy further reach and commercial viability for their work; consequently, the figures attached to Nigeria’s creator economy keep soaring. Digital music consumption contributed the largest portion of the industry’s revenue pool in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. According to IMF reports, the industry is projected to generate $10.8 billion in revenue by 2023, accounting for 1.4% of the country’s GDP. With an estimated annual growth rate of 13.4%, the music industry appears primed for a successful long haul.
“Technology is the way of life for artists now. It is the way to reach millions of people,” says FAVE, a 21-year-old rising Nigerian singer-songwriter. Since the start of her career, the young artist has employed the strategic utilization of available creator tools on streaming platforms in order to target listeners and grow her fan base within and outside of Nigeria. “We cannot overemphasize the impact of data in music right now, or generally in the world,” she says.
One of the crucial new tools for a creator like FAVE is Spotify for Artists, an application that provides artists with backend data on the performances of their music. “Ahead of every release, Spotify for Artists has helped my team,” she says, “and I understand places to push the music as well as the average age of our listener to harness what works best in terms of how to market.” The streaming giant has seen the growth of the Nigerian music industry and says it’s committed to amplifying artists’ voices in order to help them break through globally, says Phiona Okumu, head of music for Spotify Sub-Saharan Africa.
“At Spotify, we understand the importance of creators not only to our growth in Nigeria. We also see the growth of the creative economy as a whole,” says Okumu. “That is why we have made it as easy as possible for artists on the platform to market their work and grow new listenerships.”
Just as Nigerian artists are adopting new resources for amplification, other music industry players are adjusting their strategies accordingly. “A few years back, when putting together a marketing plan, streaming metrics might not have been a core factor, except when selling units on a global scale,” explains Emmanuella Nnadozie, head of marketing & corporate communications at Mavin Records. Now, it is the norm: Every Friday is met with a myriad of new releases, just as in other international territories, uploaded to streaming platforms and positioned systematically to score listenership that will influence rankings on the country’s premier charting system, Turntable Charts, as well as other global charts.
However, a few issues still hinder the deeper accessibility of music technology systems in Nigeria. Of the country’s 170 million mobile phone users, smartphone users amount to only about 10% to 20% of the population; the rest rely on traditional mobile phones. The high cost of mobile data subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is the most expensive in the world, is also a complication.
Then there is music piracy, an age-old beast that ravaged the Nigerian music industry around the same time that Napster upended North American models. While positioned as the largest electronics market in Nigeria at the turn of the century, Alaba International Market Lagos was famed as the hub for film and music pirates utilizing the availability of duplication technology for CDs and cassettes at the time. “Alaba was the music market,” Abiodun “Bizzle” Osikoya, an A&R and co-founder of The Plug, a music management and distribution company, says as he explains the creative industry’s history with piracy. “[Due to their popularity], artists ended up doing business with these pirates as distribution channels. But this eventually became an issue, as marketers would make more than the agreed copies to sell.”
From pirated CDs sold in makeshift stores to illegal e-distribution of music through blogs offering free downloads, piracy in all forms persists today. Last year, the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) announced the arrest of 17 suspected pirates and the seizure of infringed materials worth 140 Million Naira ($325,000) across Lagos State. Nnadozie refers to this phenomenon as “a leakage in the sales funnel” that diminishes the true earning power of artists.
Despite these challenges, the future of the Nigerian music industry is viewed through a hopeful lens. Further innovations in technology, such as the Web3 space, are providing new opportunities for the continued development of sustainable infrastructure. “There’s a lot of excitement at the prospect,” says Iyobosa Rehoboth, a music video director popularly known as Prodigeezy. “With the ability to authenticate and tokenize content through the blockchain technology, rights can extend into a whole new class of collectible assets, and this directly translates to more earnings.”
In February, Rehoboth, alongside Nigerian musician BNXN, launched an NFT project titled “HeadbyBnxn,” which offers a collection of over 10,000 unique NFTs of the artist’s face. The holders of the NFTs are entitled to merch items, access to virtual and physical shows, and a fraction of the revenue the musician makes from specific projects.
“One of the critical goals of the project is to onboard 10,000 people into the blockchain this year, and we’re well on our way,” says Rehoboth. “We’ve been able to mint about 50% of the existing NFT supply so far.” Rehoboth and BNXN are hardly the only creatives from the Nigerian music industry leveraging Web3 technology. Producer LeriQ recently launched African Valuables Collective (AVC), a platform intended to enable the integration of African creators into the metaverse.
The next frontier of technology might still be a question mark for the Nigerian music industry, but the recent progress made indicates more exciting moments sooner than later. “I think the industry is prepared,” says Nnadozie.