Music streaming services like Beats, Deezer, Pandora, Rdio and Spotify have become a major form of music listening in recent years. People can use computers, phones and certain other devices to listen music of their selection, while a fast enough internet connection is needed. Streaming services often have a freemium business model, so that there is a limited service free of cost and a premium an account offering unlimited listening and other benefits. Subscription fees for premium services are usually around 10€ a month depending on service and regional location. This article concentrates on Spotify and Deezer as both are well known and have wide catalogues of over 30 million songs. The amount of African music available on both services is surprisingly good. Likes of Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, Miriam Makeba, Franco, Angelique Kidjo, Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure and Mahmoud Ahmed all have much of their discography on the catalogue. Similarly most recent hits by African artists are there. You may find them on Youtube too, which has wider and more global audience, but if you are interested in full albums and older music, counting on music streaming services is a better bet.
Given complicated and unclear music licensing issues, it would be interesting to know who has provided streaming services all the African music. I doubt all of these artists themselves are aware their music is available there, or if they have even ever heard of Spotify or Deezer. Do these artists get any royalties from streaming of their music? Spotify has been criticised for paying only pennies to artists or labels – highlighted by much publicised removal of Taylor Swift’s discography from the service. Most African artists on the service get only minimal amount of listening, meaning they are unlikely to earn any significant money through music streaming.
A major pitfall with Spotify, and many other streaming services is that they are only available in certain countries. As seen in the map below, Spotify is available in most of Europe and Americas, but poorly in Asia and not in a single African country. Last year Spotify was said to be in talks with Vodacom to launch the service in South Africa, but nothing has been heard of it since then. Spotify can be listened in any county using a VPN service located in a “Spotify country”, providing you can get the client (easy with desktop, less so with mobile devices). Subscribing for the premium account would be problematic if they do not accept foreign credit cards.
Deezer has a very different approach, they are available in almost every country expect the United States! That means Deezer is also available throughout Africa. They probably lack resources to market themselves in the region, subsequently having no much market penetration, but at least music lovers all over Africa have a choice.
Sure, entering the African market has challenges, like expensive, slow and unreliable internet access, copyright issues and widespread piracy among others. Many notable record labels entered the African market in the 70s and 80’s but then mostly left due to the surge of piracy after cassettes were introduced. Recent decade or so has shown a major resurgence of African music industry. The growing middle class in many African countries means the customer base is already there and opportunities are huge especially with the digital music sector. That’s where first movers have the advantage and those entering the market late may lose out.