Sub-Saharan African artists are using messaging apps to upend traditional music distribution. Messaging apps’ ability to send end-to-end encrypted files provides both privacy and opportunity to distribute media.
Messaging apps, particularly WhatsApp, are often painted as a hurdle in monetising music streaming in growing music markets. WhatsApp is the established instant messaging giant of Sub-Saharan Africa. The application’s increasing popularity and widespread use in the region has become a tool for personal and business communication. It has also proved an essential tool for organising movements that have and can influence mass shifts in society.
In many African countries, messaging apps like WhatsApp tend to make music accessible, free and easily shareable for artists and listeners. Their safety features and policies make messaging apps difficult to track as distributors of music. The rise of the South African music movement Amapiano is an illustration of how messaging apps have been tools for distribution to and expansion of artists’ listenerships.
This upending has disrupted traditional music distribution methods. The established companies representing artists and distributing their music for profit are struggling to adapt to this shift. Spiro Damaskinos, Sony Music’s Director of A&R in Sub-Saharan Africa said that the biggest challenge for the label is ensuring that artists break away from the rapid and radical sharing of Amapiano songs for free on messaging apps and on social media platforms.
He also observed that this and the vital combination of various digital streaming and social media platforms recognising Amapiano have granted the movement international accessibility.
Difficulty in tracking and attributing cost to plays from WhatsApp does not mean that it cannot be done at all. A potential method for bringing messaging apps like WhatsApp into the fold of monetised music distribution is through mobile service providers. The success of African musicians charging for the use of their songs as ringer tones shows potential.
For artists making Amapiano, WhatsApp, other messaging apps, social media and digital streaming platforms all form part of a single machinery that they use to distribute, market and get some revenue from their music. Instead of fixating on a single entity within this bouquet, it is important to consider how single tools fit into a larger whole.
From the distribution and marketing done digitally, artists are able to secure performances, appearances, features and other opportunities with varying success. So far, messaging apps, DSPs and social media platforms have not offered enough reimbursement to musicians who create original content for these platforms, engage viewers and listeners and enable for more original content to be created for on these apps and platforms.
Messaging apps are growing in reach and engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa. More than just tools for personal and business communication, in the right hands they can transcend to useful tools of influencing society either culturally or socio-politically. It remains for businesses in the digital and telecommunications sector to harness their power and find ways to create profitable digital economies from creators to consumers. Until then, the region’s growing digital economy might never reach its true potential.
Article by Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi