Ahead of Midem Africa, the first pan-African digital music event dedicated to the continent’s most vibrant music markets (June 28 – July 01, 2021), discover some exclusive content from Midem Music Industry Insights about independence and industry structures in the African music market.

Independence and Industry Structures in the African Music Market

Streaming-fuelled growth for the global music industry still has not reached its ceiling in the biggest established markets. However, the industry sees ‘high-potential’ markets in Latin America, Asia and especially Africa as an increasingly key element in its future growth.

The African music market is, of course, not one single market. South Africa is the biggest music market in Africa, but it is part of a continent of countries each with their own rich musical heritage, and varying levels and speeds of development of industry structures and digital music services.

One of the sessions at the upcoming Midem Africa conference – Fostering a Pan-African Music Industry – will track efforts to built continent-wide collaboration and structures. Meanwhile, global music body the IFPI opened its Nairobi office in 2020 to drive its efforts to gather data on the region, and power initiatives around policy, licensing and content protection.

Even so, the story of the African music market so far is one of innovation from independent artists and music companies, which in turn is leading to partnerships with the world’s biggest label groups and digital music services.

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Africa music distributors emerge

The idea of artists uploading music directly to streaming services has been controversial in the west, often seen as an attempt to squeeze labels out of the picture. In Africa it’s different: DIY artists in Africa have been their own distributors by necessity, in the absence of a distributors ecosystem as developed as that elsewhere in the world.

That has been changing. African entrepreneurs have launched distribution platforms to help artists get their music out both on the continent and abroad. Freeme is one example. Based in Lagos, its Freeme+ platform offers A&R, marketing, sync licensing and publishing services for independent artists in Africa.

“We’re in Lagos, working with Afrobeats. Our focus is squarely on music of African origin. Our African DNA and roots makes us different, and we educate and guide clients across the industry,” its founder Michael Ugwu said earlier this year as he outlined Freeme’s evolution from pure distributor to a broader label services offering for DIY artists in Africa.

His company has joined established African distributors like Africori, which built a roster of more than 6,500 artists and 700 labels by April 2020, when its scale attracted Warner Music Group to invest in the company. “This partnership will give us tangible tools and a truly global network to help accelerate their careers and promote their music to new international audiences,” said COO Adam Tiran at the time.

This is not an isolated example of partnerships. Another African distribution company (and publisher) Highvibes inked an agreement with US firm Songtrust in 2020 around publishing administration: another structural step to put in place a system for ensuring African songwriters are paid for usage of their works.

As platforms like YouTube have carried Afrobeats and other African music genres to the world, so global distributors have arrived in Africa looking to help the next wave of artists prosper both at home and abroad.


Global companies arrive in Africa

In February, global distributor TuneCore opened offices in South Africa and Nigeria, building on the growth in the number of African artists using its service including Kofi Mole, Small Doctor, Spoegwolf, Mpho Sebina and Fena Gitu. The same month, rival distributor CD Baby made its first hire in Africa, veteran management and publishing executive Sakhele Mzalazala, to focus on South Africa and surrounding countries.

“Independence is extremely important for the African music ecosystem, now more than ever. African artists have contributed enormously to world music, influence so much of the music we consume today, and fans worldwide have really embraced African artists over the past year,” says Faryal Khan-Thompson, vice president, international at TuneCore.

“Streaming revenues in the region increased nearly 40% last year versus the prior year, indicating that music consumption and listenership is steadily on the rise. It’s safe to say that African artists are on the rise, which is why it is paramount that their independence is protected & that they are supported at every stage of their career by people who understand their needs & their culture.”

“These are exciting times for independent music in Africa. The most striking evolution over the past couple years has been the progression of the streaming model in the different markets of the continent,” agrees Sylvain Morton, director of distribution at Idol. “Led by international players such as Apple Music and Spotify and their recent expansions within Africa, the rise of streaming is bringing a safe, friendly, legal and income generating space for Africa based independent artists.”

“This can only help strengthen the local music industries of the continent, making space for artists to grow locally and regionally which will increase their chances to develop their careers globally.”

Idol will be presenting a session at Midem Africa on its partnership with the project ‘ART by Serge Ibaka’, and the dynamics between a label services company and its partners.

Meanwhile, Apple’s artist development subsidiary Platoon has been active in Africa for a long time now. In 2020 its CEO Denzyl Feigelson told Billboard that the company had offered advances, distribution and support to 88 African musicians, and that some months those artists’ work accounted for 40% of Platoon’s business.

The major labels have also been building their footprints in Africa in recent years. Universal Music opened its Nigeria office in 2018, and a separate division focusing on French-speaking African countries the same year. It struck a strategic partnership with Nigerian label and publisher The Aristokrat Group in 2020, and also launched its Def Jam Africa subsidiary that year, with offices in South Africa and Nigeria, and a remit to sign artists from across the continent.

Warner Music Group, meanwhile, partnered with Chocolate City, one of Africa’s groundbreaking independent labels, in 2019. The model saw WMG providing financial support for the label’s signings and artist development, as well as distribution services, creating what Chocolate City group CEO Audi Maikori called “curated and bespoke services by a highly experienced team across Africa and a dedicated global team to further push their music and their brands”.

More recently, WMG signed a partnership in May 2021 with Tanzanian artist Diamond Platnumz which included his label WCB-Wasafi. This was a 360 deal that will see his label working with the major on releases, catalogue, brand partnerships, live and sync deals, as well as global distribution for its artists. WMG will be presenting a keynote at Midem Africa outlining its views on the future of the African music industry.

“We’ve been very careful and strategic in our approach when entering regions in Africa. We don’t want to come in as a big global company and try to open new affiliates and pretend we know the culture and the scene completely,” says Alfonso Perez-Soto, president, emerging markets at Warner Recorded Music.

“It’s so important that we partner with local experts who are ingrained in the culture and can help us understand these incredibly diverse and unique regions. In turn we can use our expertise to help them grow and help put their artists on a global stage. When you combine Warner’s global network with these amazing independent labels we see the opportunity to take authentic local icons and turn them into international stars.”

Artists’ mentorship and entrepreneurialism in Africa

Diamond Platnumz is just the latest example of an artist-entrepreneur helping to build the structure of the African music industries. Mr Eazi, who will be keynoting at Midem Africa, is another artist who has been looking to bring through the next generation of artists and executives with a strong sense of music independence in Africa.

His emPawa Africa incubator is well established as a scheme to support artists in recording music, making videos and developing their digital skills. In 2019, he enlisted YouTube as a partner for the project. The following year, Mr Eazi launched a $20m Africa Music Fund that included a distribution platform, Cinch Distro, launched in partnership with US firm Vydia.

“The artists basically use the platform to distribute their music and we monitor their progress. That way we can make data-backed decisions about who to invest in,” he said at the time. It was another example of an African artist building the structure to support others emerging behind them.

Black Coffee is another African artist who has been building industry structures. At Midem 2018 he talked in his keynote session about his plans for a music service and distribution platform called Gongbox, while his FlightMode Digital investment company has taken stakes in a number of promising African startups. In 2020 he also invested in South African independent label Gallo Music Investments (GMI).

“This is the first of many moves we are working on to change the landscape of both the South African and African music industry,” said Black Coffee at the time, hailing the deal as “the beginning of an industry revolution where African artists are part of structures that are fair and encourage new ways to monetise content”.

This is what is exciting about the African music markets: the status of independent artists as the driving force, to an extent that they become partners for the global music companies rather than just signings. It is one of the most encouraging African music industry trends.

Programs like emPawa Africa and the recently-launched Music Business Academy for Africa are trying to foster this entrepreneurial mindset in the next generation of musicians too. Midem Africa’s Business Accelerator sessions are also part of this trend, with sessions on how to monetise music, promote it, leverage business opportunities, and make the most of key DSPs like Spotify.

“As the digital music landscape continues to evolve and technology continues to democratize the industry, African Artists should be afforded the tools and support they need to grow and to maintain control and ownership of their careers,” says Khan-Thompson.

Independence and industry structures will play a key role in the future of the African music industry, creating an ecosystem that will help local artists create their own destinies, while also tapping into the partnership opportunities offered by the biggest global music companies, bringing Africa’s local music to the world.


Discover more during Midem Africa, from 28 June to 1 July, 2021, accessible to all free of charge.

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