In the ever changing land scape of music, African artist have had to think outside the box to reinvent themselves in this age of “digital revolutions “. From social media to mobile platforms music is consumed and used in all different forms and mediums and the African market is no different in these worldwide consumer trends. From YouTube channels dedicated to an artist’s visual portfolio, Facebook and Twitter providing live interaction with fan bases to newer platforms like TikTok providing artist with the opportunity to have songs trend with users marking dances or role plays to a chosen track the social media boom has taken music into the homes and hearts of the consumers in inventive (and for the most part unmonitized) ways. 

Certain corporate organizations have noticed the amount of attention, interactions and shares and have thus take to endorsement deals aligning with artists brands in the hopes of  capitalizing on the fan base thus marketing their products, from phones to energy drinks, fast food outlets to niche items, artists can be seen utilizing their brand popularity to endorse/promote and sell a plethora of products resulting in multiple diverse revenue streams all from digital platforms.

Retail vs digital: the battle of the stores

Once seen as the back bone of music, the retail aspect of music has transformed and this has given birth to an explosion of independent artists within the African scene.

Prior to the digitalization of sales the process that was required for music to complete its entire cycle (I’m talking about creation ,manufacturing, distribution and finally sales) was and still is a costly process and a the risk associated with it (if the products didn’t sell) was previous something that only large Organisations undertook, with very few successful independent company’s it was definitely the era of “the record deal “ with every aspiring artist looking to record a demo so they could pursue their dreams .retail outlets dealt with organizations that could provide a catalogue of works from different artist and did not deal with Individuals . It was a time where the large corporations held the keys to the retail gateway and new artist where discovered at a slow rate.

With “the digital age” come the birth of independence as African artist who have found the technology used to record as begin more affordable, while ditching traditional means of distribution and point of sales in favour of digital platforms such as iTunes, Spotify. African artists have sought to extent their audience to a global market that has been starved of African content. With the world at your fingertips Africa artist have benefited from larger sales, bigger fan bases, exposure to markets that traditionally they would have had little to no access to and above all it has provided African artists whit the opportunity to own their own catalogues, though as the saying goes all that glitters is not gold and this is true in the digitization of music, with grey areas still existing in governance of the laws and regulations regarding royalty’s and the likes, to people in remote parts of Africa having little to no internet and not to mention the age old battle against music piracy the digital age has come with its fair share of teething problems some of which have yet to be solved.

Birth of the digital star

Along with the digital revolution came a change in the traditional route that artist had been known to follow in order to ‘break in’ the industry. 

Traditionally radio and television played a major role in introducing their viewership and listenership to new content. Live shows have been and still are solely dedicated to creating platforms to show case new talent and though popular as they were over time session after session they had begun to lose their shine, reality television had begun the trend of focusing on the artist life and emotions beyond just the music and this recipe for success is (in my option) the bases on which digital platform focus and excel beyond other forms of media.

Never before has there been such an all access pass into the life’s and minds of our artist and entertainers. From intermit thoughts on Twitter to exclusive content and behind the scenes on Instagram fans have a whole new world and way to view and interact with their favourite artists. Companies have also spotted the marketing potential created by the large number that are online and have taken to partnering with artist to create a brand new form of targeted marketing capitalization on the pulling power that artist possess. Add to this that the ease at which a prospective artist can launch their career (needing only a page as a platform and a few friends or follows as a base to start marketing towards) new stars and fan favourites are born every day, some are more popular for their online antic then they are for their actual music but regardless in an age where content is king he who creates gains more attention than those who do not.

Evolution of performances

It’s interesting to note that within the ever change sphere of music one dimension has remained relatively unchanged ,no matter the amount of technological strides gained within the field of Music/entertainment performances have followed a live audience based strategy that goes as follows : book the venue, book the stage, sound and lighting ,hire the staff (from security and bartenders to technical engineers the list is quiet extensive and for the most part staff can number relatively highly depending on the needs of the event)promotion and marketing ,book the artist/artists and get all legality’s in order, and that’s just the prep work.

The larger the event the more risk accumulated by all the party’s involved but as is the model with business that with risk comes reward and well planned and attended events can generate substantial income and media coverage marking it a lucrative endeavour for those involved. Of course along with the numerous success stories are stories of equally splendid failures with millions spent and little to nothing gained .Live music was a playground for the experienced, well-funded ,and equally well supported elite ,and for the most part it has remains that way destined to remain and unchanged well-guarded industry divided in tiers with the elite few holding a monopoly of sort on the large scale events and smaller less successful and less recognized company’s either fighting for the scraps or being forced to partner up with the larger more established companies, then along came COVID-19 and along with the wide sweeping laws that where put in place globally live music has been forced into a digital revolution of sorts swapping venues for performance rooms, crowds for digital avatars and camera men/woman.

Promotion and marketing are done at the click of mouse and viewers and drawn in from every corner of the globe at the commencement of a stream. Smaller organizations and artist and finding a foothold in digital environment that is based on not so much how funded you are but rather by growing your wealth through connecting with an ever demanding and readily available potential fan base to your performance .

Yes, there is a fair amount of investment need to create these performance rooms and your audience is only as good as your reach but even with that factored in the money put down is a fraction of what the older model required and what’s more is that it’s not for one event, meaning that performance rooms get used over and over thus potentially paying back the initial investment over a period of time meaning less risk of failure on your investment, it also mean that the opportunity’s for grow in terms of one’s fan base is endless and thus creating more opportunities for the artist /company in territory’s that traditionally would of been harder/impossible to reach. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum the digital revolution of stage has seen to the loss of income for many a technician as their skill have either become redundant or due to social distancing and other laws imposed on the industry have been unable to find work until such a time when the industry reopens but even then it is sure not be business as usual. . Promoters have been amongst those that have also change their models of business and have taken to selling digital ticket to view certain shows, while globe concerts are now a Trend with artist from different countries uniting on a live stream to give performer that can from a few minutes to hours and in certain instances can even be stretched out among multiple days and includes everything from links to merchandise, links to music sales, artist profiles and much more.

One thing should be noted though and it is a complaint that many artists have been quick to point out is the lack of connect that they would usually feel from a crowd, the energy that turns a good performance into a great one and a great one into stuff of legend is all but gone. And in its place stands a camera, motionless, soundless but all the more perceptive to their every move and the surroundings that frame them as many artist will attest, a crowd’s reaction is the fuel that propels them forward, creating an intermittent experience between the artist and the listener, but alas the show must go on and now feed back to the artist is done through comments and emoji’s which the artist can only view after the performance. Couple together data costs for consumers in regions where data and internet prices are still rather expensive and laws surrounding the protection and royalty collection of the artists cornered are either still in the process of begin past or none existent it’s fair to say that the changeover or digital revolution has had and will have its fair share of hiccups , it’s clear that we are facing a time where company’s and artist are testing and creating a new type of ‘live performance’ that has the potential to be as lucrative as it is entertaining with consumers spoilt for choice with regards to access to content.

However, you look at it music has been and will continue to be an ever evolving industry, one that takes advantage of all the technological advances made and forever creating new avenues for artist to generate income and new avenues for fans to consume their favourite artist’s offerings. Artist have evolved beyond just the performer / creative tag and have become masters of their own journey limited only by their own creativity, whether it be albums, new music videos, sponsor and other partner announcements, merchandising or live performances.

The digitalization of music is something that has become totally unavoidable and due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and amid global fears of social gathering the digital era will only quicken in pace and extend in its influence to more facets, opening opportunities for the dynamic creative to explore .as everything changes regarding sale ,consumption and performances one thing has always remains the same in Africa, this is the land where music is made from the heart and soul and where the drum is the driver of our rhythms .

Typically, the music industry is not a fast adopter of anything technological making monetization of live stream performances a nightmare. Social media platforms do not have a clear model for monetizing while one or two recently announced plans to introduce paid livestreams. Requesting donations for performances and this must be changed to retain the notion of the value of music. A model must be reached where the charge matches the stature of the artist, the size of the audience, the prominence of the event and other relevant variables once this model is reached we can celebrate our arrive in the digital world. 

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