You might’ve heard of the streaming wars, the music label wars, the live concert wars, and more. Even if you haven’t, what it boils down to is that the music industry in North America and Europe is incredibly competitive. That’s because those markets are essentially saturated. There isn’t really anyone in those markets who wants music and doesn’t have access to it.
That’s not the case in many other markets around the world though. For some, like the Chinese market, local companies have aggressively moved to dominate the market before international giants can step in. For others, such as the African music market, those same international companies are looking to them as growth opportunities away from competitive Western markets.
One of the biggest challenges in any growth market is access. Places like Africa and the Indian subcontinent, despite having huge populations, didn’t always have great distribution networks or connectivity. That’s changing.
Take Africa for example. The continent is vast, but its infrastructure is relatively underfunded. However, it has long been a tempting market because out of all the major regions of the world, sub-Saharan Africa has the fastest growing population. For the music industry, there’s a lot of opportunity there. The market may be ripe as well because despite the fact that the continent still struggles with water and electricity access in places, 93% of its population has cell phone access.
Many services are building a mobile-first infrastructure to adapt to this reality, including communication (duh), banking services (direct phone-to-phone wire transfers), and music. A mobile service called Boomplay that is popular in western and southern Africa recently entered into a pact with Universal Music Group to license its catalogue for the service. Now over 36 million users in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia have access to UMG’s entire catalogue through the Boomplay streaming service right on their phones.
African music access is also being expanded on the supply side. There has long been a lot of untapped music potential in Africa, but with advancing technology and improving infrastructure, that talent is finding its way to wider audiences both in Africa and in Western markets. For example, both Universal Music and Sony Music have opened up offices in Nigeria specifically to seek out and recruit Nigerian talent. Many major labels are also acquiring stakes in existing local labels to gain access to their back catalogue of existing content to mine for hits.
Of course, most emerging markets have a long way to go before they’re quite on par with major Western markets as hit makers go. However, their growing influence could go a long way into influencing what our music will sound like in the future and who ends up listening to it.