Business Music Music Industry Insights

5 financial management tips for independent musicians

Music is a powerful tool and most can support that notion. The creators of music seldom understand how powerful the role they play in society is and how much power they hold in shaping the world. Art drives culture and society and in the digital age that notion is quite clear. Music can be described as many things, but one of the most important descriptions of the art form is that it is a business. Understanding music as a business is crucial for a musician’s survival and the skill of financial management is necessary to keep musicians afloat as they progress.

In the case of independent musicians, financial management and being savvy with one’s finances can stand between success and failure. The first thing to note is that there is often little or no money at all to handle necessary components of the music business such as marketing, public relations and branding, just to name a few. The only way to get the most out of the money that an independent musician may have is to adequately plan for it and have systems and processes put in place to ensure longevity in .
In the midst of everything mention above, we have compiled 5 financial management tips that could be helpful for independent musicians.

In the midst of everything mentioned above, we have compiled 5 financial management tips that could be helpful for independent musicians.

  1. Organization and understanding that you’re a business. We understand, you’re excited, you’re doing what you love and you have dreams doing great things with your music but without organization that will not happen. Organization and understanding that you’re a business is where most independent acts get it wrong. Out of all things, being organized should be a priority and will allow you to see the value of the money that comes in and comes out. This also entails understanding the type of expenses you have as an independent artist and also recording them.
  2. Saving. With understanding that your musical endeavour is a business, you will know that saving will be an integral part of the managing your finances. For example, you may be planning to release a project in months to come and for the successful release of that project you need to financially plan for it. This will entail mapping out costs of recording, licensing, marketing and PR.
  3. Understand the supply chain. Every industry has a supply chain of how products and services come into being and ready for the use of customers and the entertainment industry is not exempted from having a supply chain. The supply chain of music starts from the ideation and conceptualizing of an album, which will flow into the project execution and eventually lead to the release of physical or digital project. It is important to understand the stakeholders and crucial role players in the supply chain. Break the process up into stages so it can be easy to manage.
  4. Every cent counts, so bootstrap if you can. Being an independent means that you have to wear many hats and having to take on a lot of responsibilities. You may even find yourself having to hold down a job while you pursue your dream of being a full-time musician, which means that you will have to bootstrap your way to success with minimal resources. Remember, every cent counts and understanding that is important to keep things running smoothly.
  5. Budget. Budgeting will help you map out and keep track of your finances. For successful budgeting, this will require a lot of discipline and being responsible. With a budget you will be able to make realistic projects of how much money you need to make an album or go on tour for example. A budget will help you stay within your means and with limits in resources, staying within your means is vital.

Being an independent artist is increasingly becoming a go-to option for a lot of musicians due the control that it affords artists and it is proven that going independent can prove to be fruitful if you do it the right way. Artists like Chance The Rapper have gone on to show us the benefits of independence and their successes are a result of a lot hard work and planning.

Business Music Industry Insights

Terrestrial radio vs internet radio: A guide for the African independent artist and tips on how to manoeuvre in the respective radio avenues.

In technical terms, radio is the transmission and reception of electromagnetic waves of radio frequency which carry audio messages — but too many radio is something that is beyond the technical description of the media platform. Radio has carved its way into the childhoods of many millennials as a platform where they got to hear the latest songs, discussions on topics that interested them and current affairs. As a traditional media platform, radio has been compartmentalized according to the different demographics that exist within the general population. The role of the radio DJ has always been important — in many cases people fall in love with the vast amount of personalities that exist in the radio space. Radio has, throughout history, formed and shaped cultures and created discussions that humanity needed to have to overcome its trials.

The way people think of radio in 2017 is drastically different from the way we people used to think about radio in the 1997. The year 1997 is possibly the most important in the digital age, as it was the web had seriously gained a lot of ground and more people had moved on from wrapping their heads around what the internet was to using it. It has been 20 years since then, but why is important that we include the web in the radio discussion. The answer to that question is simple — the internet was new and fresh and radio was a very flexible traditional media platform that could be integrated with the web. The concept of online radio existed in the heyday of the internet in the early 1990’s but successful implementation of online radio only came in 1997–1998.

Photo credit: Oliur Rahman

When internet radio stations started popping up in the late 1990’s, the radio space had to be segmented into terrestrial radio and internet radio — and these respective spaces were either complementing each other or going against each other. One thing is certain, the internet had opened up the flood gates for anyone to jump into the radio space and radio broadcasting was soon no longer a game which consisted of large corporate players.

Terrestrial radio still fares quite impressively as one can gain easy access to it — on cars, buses, cellphones, stereos and other digital devices that have radio functionality. You cannot separate terrestrial radio from the commutes of millions of people that head to work in the mornings. Morning radio slots have become vital for brands as the listenership numbers for radio shows are mind-boggling, this has led to a lot of money being paid for radio ads to be played in breakfast shows. Breakfast shows and afternoon drive shows are slots in a radio station programmes that bring in the most revenue.

Photo credit: Drew Patrick Miller

Internet radio has to compete with streaming platforms which house podcasts — which also draw large numbers of online listeners. The burning question with respect to internet radio is to understand how people generally behave online, what compels them to tune into internet radio stations and how long they listen to online radio shows.

The one way that terrestrial radio is adapting to the digital space, a space which essentially the predominant home of internet radio, is act of filming the radio shows and posting them on youtube. This strategy ensures that terrestrial radio stations extend the conversations created in the terrestrial space and also allows them to get a different type of engagement in the internet space. Internet radio has an upper-hand in having a platform which is highly measurably and one that can take advantage of the vast of amounts of listener data which they can easily mine from their web-based platforms. Terrestrial radio is difficult to measure and in most cases listenership research is often done by the a third-party and then the respective radio stations can use that data to curate the shows and come up with better radio programmes.

But how should independent artists think of radio? Both avenues of radio, terrestrial and internet, are important for artists but in the digital age they are not the only options for artists to get heard. Independent artists should always have the following on request:
1) Press release
2) Bio
3) Social media links

A proper public relations strategy which will ensure that the right person hears your work. In the internet radio space, it is important to target smaller internet radio stations and see if they have shows which fit your brand and the type of music you make. The artist has to make sure that they understand the differences of terrestrial and internet radio and how they work, particularly the means of contacting the right people.

A strong social media presence is key for artists and social media pages that are properly set up can assist with making sure that the right people within the radio structures get a feel of what you’re about and if you’re worth their time. It is also important to do more research on how to get on radio and the many alternatives to radio. A solid digital presence can go a long way.

While TV is dying, terrestrial radio is proving to adapt quite well to digital disruption and as a marketing tool for artists, it still holds a lot of value for promotion. In Africa, internet access is still an issue which makes it difficult for people to listen to internet radio and this is why terrestrial still has a strong grip in the continent. As an artist, you can get international radio spins if you get the right internet radio station to play list you. The key is to do your research and be relentless in your pursuit of brand recognition.

Business Music Industry Insights

Digital music forecasts for Africa: 6 things that are likely to happen in 2017

For the digital music ecosystem to grow in Africa, the continent needs a faster smartphone penetration rate and possibly a drop in data prices. Alternatively, data-providing companies can come up with models that have data plans that could allow music-lovers to access digital music from African artists for free. The African music industry is still relatively small if compared to the music industries in the West.

We have compiled a list of six-forecasts of what is likely to happen in digital music in Africa.

  1. More artists are going to see the need for being digital savvy. The internet opens up a world of information and further confirms the fact that we’re in the information age. With that being said, we predict a rise in the number independent artists and smarter artists that know how to leverage the power of the internet.
  2. Social media is going to be a driving force for the push in digital music in Africa. Africa has about 146 million Facebook users. Facebook is the biggest social network in Africa and it will play a vital role in assisting artists and record labels in distributing their music.
  3. A slow but necessary shift from digital downloads to streaming. There has been a global drop in digital downloads as the world moves towards streaming where the algorithm rules and curates playlists for music lovers online. The paid streaming space is currently dominated by Spotify, but there are African alternatives like Simfy Africa and Spinlet, just to name a few.
  4. African record labels are going to forced to be more lean. Let’s face it, the internet moves faster than us. Moments are created and shared online every minute and with the massive amounts of content being published online, how does one know when to publish content? For record labels to ensure that they don’t lose money and they actually make some money in the tough digital climate, they have to be lean. More African record labels are going to start realise that they need to be more organised, have processes and systems.
  5. More African artists are going to start using Bandcamp and iTunes to monetize their music. The need to monetize the content that artists create is growingly rapidly. With drop in physical copy sales, independent artists and record labels are looking for new ways to distribute their music.
  6. More artist-led movements which don’t have a middleman. These days, all you need to make music is a laptop and a few other pieces of equipment and you’re good to go. Building a decent website that is going to act as your digital showroom is not that expensive and quite fairly affordable for artists. We’re going to see more artists that know how to build teams that can handle PR, physical and digital music distribution and digital marketing. 2017 is going to be the year of artist-led movements.

Africa is developing at an incredibly fast pace with countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and South Africa leading some of these developments. When speaking of digital music, you can look forward to seeing the 6 forecasts listed above as 2017 progresses.

Music Industry Insights

Monetizing your music using bandcamp.

nusoulhub radio bandcampFor many musicians, monetizing their creative efforts proves to be quite a challenge, but with the digital tools and technology that we have at our disposal we can we work our way around this. Signing up to sell your music on iTunes is a tedious process which requires aggregators or encoding houses and that can come with sizeable financial costs, which many independent musicians cannot fork out. But then what is an aggregator and an encoding house ?

In basic terms a music aggregator is someone who will act as a distributor of your music to stores and platforms that you deem relevant for your music. Since we’re in the digital age, we have digital music aggregators which would distribute the music to online stores and services like Google Play, iTunes, Amazon Music etc. In the case of iTunes, you would need to approach an Apple approved encoding house to encode your audio files to fit iTunes standards which then will allow you to sell your music on iTunes. Music aggregators and encoding houses offer their services at a cost.

Bandcamp cuts out of those tedious steps and it is good to note that as much the digital music distribution process is tedious but it is highly important. Bandcamp offers independent artists an opportunity no to only to house their music and sell it, but also to create a microsite which they can link to their social media accounts and they can also sell their merchandise if they also have merchandise. If you’re a statistics and data geek, then you can also use Bandcamp’s real-time statistics feature where you can see how people are finding your music and how people are engaging with the music that you put out. With such functionality, Bandcamp allows the artist to have a complete platform which can house the artists’ catalog and another important feature to note is that the microsite that you would be creating would be search engine optimized which means that whenever people search for your songs or albums, you are likely to rank first when using bandcamp. Learn more about Bandcamps features here.

Setting up an artist account Bandcamp is absolutely free, the costs only come in when you start selling your music on their platform. As the independent artist, you will be charged 15% which will be the revenue share for all digital sales and 10% will be the revenue share for all merch sales. You can access more information Bandcamp pricing here.

Digital marketing would have to take center stage when it comes to ensuring that people visit your microsite, stay on the site and eventually buy your music. Bandcamp microsites tend to be very static as their sole purpose is to house your digital music and be a access point for your merch. You would need to set up a paypal account which will enable you to process all transactions between yourself and Bandcamp.

Another great thing about Bandcamp is that you can embed your music into other online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and even Google plus. What sits at the core of convincing your fans to buy your music would then be your social media marketing strategies, for instance leveraging the number of people that use Facebook by using Facebook advertising which allows you to have advertising budgets that you can afford. Instagram advertising can be directly linked to your Facebook advertising campaigns and you can have a cross-platform strategy.

Bandcamp has been around for 9 years and many artist have benefited from its solutions and their easy-to-use platform. Monetizing your music has been made simple and you don’t have to have a big budget or even go through the lengths of approaching music aggregators and encoding houses. Bandcamp gives you all the power.

Music Industry Insights

Africa’s MP3 download era: Here’s why digital music downloads are still prominent in Africa.

Africa’s population is currently about 1.2 billion and the continent has about 362 million internet users, which is an internet penetration of 29%. The continent is witnessing a great amount of growth in the digital space and this has the world watching Africa as a potential technological hub to invest in. The burning questions are: how are the 362 million internet users accessing the internet, what are some of the reasons why they go online and how do they behave online? Well, for a starter, it is important to note that there are about 226 million smartphone users in Africa and about 150 million active mobile social media users. When accessing the web, African internet users open a world of information which leads to a need of smarter searching for what they want to see or learn.

africa's download era
Photo credit: Info Afrique

Now with all those numbers, we need to focus on their significance and what they mean for our area of focus, which is the digital music space. The one issue that is affecting the growth of certain digital advancements is the problem of affordability of data which allows African internet users to access the web. Due to high data prices, the time Africans spend online is shorter than the rest of the world. South Africa and Nigeria are the two top countries that have highest data usage in Africa and those countries have a mobile share of 78% and 81% respectively. South African internet users that access the internet using mobile spend about 3 hours and 3 minutes on the internet daily and about 4 hours and 27 minutes online using desktops. With that amount of time spent online, one can deduce that video and audio streaming has not penetrated the African digital space as of yet. Digital downloads are still triumphing over streaming and there are a number of reasons for that and we will focus on one of the reasons — which is high data prices. The expensive price of data in Africa makes the internet users in the region spend less time online and it is always cheaper for African internet users to download rather than stream.


africa's download era
Photo credit: Untold Africa

On a music front, downloads are still leading — whether legal or illegal. This prompts record labels and artists to use the download route for their releases because most of the consumers of music in Africa access music in that manner because it is cheaper. Africa still has a lot feature phone users which have basic internet accessibility features and allow the users to download. Most of the big African artists still see paid-downloading sites like iTunes a viable option, despite Africa having its own streaming platforms. Africa has ten strong streaming platforms which they can consider, namely: Simfy Africa(South Africa), Spinlet(Nigeria), Tigo(Tanzania/Ghana), Mdundo(Kenya), iRocking(Nigeria), Vuga(Nigeria), Mziiki(Tanzania), Mkito(Tanzania), Orin(Nigeria) and Las Gidi Tunes(Nigeria). As different avenues of digital music grow in the number of users, it is still too early to give up on MP3 downloads in Africa even though digital downloads have decreased globally due to the rise of streaming.

The key that will see artists and record labels churn out innovative ways in making their releases available for download is the need for re-thinking for how download release have been done. More can be done than simply having different forms of creative rolled out online and then supplying a download link. The MP3 download era is still in full swing in Africa and the space the continent is currently needs to get rid of mediocrity. Yes, cool campaigns still work but the industry needs to think differently keeping in mind the limitations that continent currently has. If you’re a record label or an artist that plans on only release a single only on a particular streaming site — have you considered the average internet speed in your region, how people behave online in your region, how much time people spend time in your region. Digital music downloads in Africa are still important. Re-think your strategies and innovate.

The gates of innovation in the digital music space are open. The question is, how are you going to think differently as an African record label or artist?

Featured Music Industry Insights

Music Industry Talk: 3 game changing advancements poised to take music to the next level

music industry talkLet’s face it, the music industry has completely changed and the way we consume music has significantly changed too. Digital music sits at the forefront in the culture and creative economic environments and with that being said, new metrics and standards of measuring success have been invented. We live in a data-driven world and music is not exempt from the impact and changes brought forth by big data. However, in some parts of the industry, these changes have not been welcomed by some big industry players.

Despite all the forces against the digital disruption, the music industry has lightened up and adapted to the digital environment — this was necessary for its survival. The fact that the music industry execs have adopted an approach that doesn’t include stubbornness, a lovely turn of events has occurred — revenue increases. After 20 years of consecutive losses in revenue, towards the end of 2015 and well into 2016, the music industry started seeing revenue increases. The increases are a result of the industry’s willingness, some may choose to use the word ‘pressure-influenced’ instead of willingness, to accept digital innovation. We now have situations where labels and artists have access to listener data that can prove useful in the development of better marketing strategies and campaigns.

The last few years have brought about innovation that completely flipped the music industry on its head. We have compiled a list of three game-changing advancements in music that are soon going to change how we are going music is made and consumed:

  1. Streaming platform exclusive album releases are not going to be common as more streaming platforms are moving away from the approach. Exclusive album releases leave consumers with only a few options and somewhat promote file-sharing and illegal downloading.
  2. AI is increasingly getting better at making music and in a few years, AI will in some ways beat out humans in making music. This could particularly be useful in the areas of the industry such as synching, creating elevator music, video game soundtracks and background music for stores. The rise in the use of AI does not in any way assert that machines will takeover the creation process, but will serve as a worthy alternative for certain sectors of the industry.
  3. The use of virtual reality and other forms of immersive content for better concert experiences is currently in the developmental stages and being tested in some parts of the world. The use of virtual reality can help curb file-sharing by allowing artists to draw revenue from creating VR-experiences. On the note of creating experiences which are beyond physical spaces, Boiler room has innovated in this regard with the live-streaming of their events which put underground music in front of many eyes and ears on the internet.

With major industry players lightening up and how digital adoption is being prioritised in the music industry, we can expect to see more innovation in how we consume music, how music is delivered to us and how artists and labels are going to make money.

Culture Featured Op-ed

Crate Digging Culture: Will generation Z keep the culture alive?

crate digging and generation zThe medium with which music is consumed differs from generation to generation. One medium used to record and play music has given birth to a culture and a lifestyle and that is none other than vinyl. A culture has spawned out of playing music using vinyl — which leads one to ponder what makes vinyl so attractive to music lovers of a particular generation. Is it the fact that vinyl records are more tangible or durable than other physical mediums such as cassettes and CDs? One can also further stretch such questions to ask even more interesting questions like: What is more important, the music or the medium the music is played in?

Vinyl records as we know them today, were first introduced commercially in 1948 by Columbia records and these records allowed between 20–30 minutes of sound to be played on either side of the record. This was a great move into the medium setting the standard of how music was played. The commercial release of vinyl records as we know them today came at a time where the Baby Boomer generation (1946–1964) was emerging, so this generation grew up in a time where playing records was the standard and main medium of playing music. The same can be said about generation X (1965–1979) but with a slight twist which came in the form of a cultural and technological shift when the cassette came into prominence in the mid 70’s to the early 80’s. The shift resulted in a slight knock in vinyl sales but vinyls as medium of choice were still preferred by many. When cars started coming with pre-installed tape decks, the push into the cassette era became even more clear and stronger.

The push into digital music started with the invention and release of the compact disc in 1982 and this was also around the time that a generation was emerging — the millennials (1980–1994). The emergence of millennials came at a time when vinyl records where slowly being taken over by the compact disc and cassettes. The world was changing and people started opting for convenience and were becoming more space-conscious. Around the same time compact discs were becoming popular, Hip Hop was also emerging as a culture and a music genre. Hip Hop, as music genre, is characterised by sampling and using old sounds/music to create new music. With such a characterisation, the inherent need to sample the old to create the new gave rise to crate digging — well at least from a Hip Hop perspective. Cassettes and compact discs were more prominent in the late 80’s and early 90’s and vinyl records were becoming less popular. More record labels started opting to release music in mediums that made more sense at the time.

Millennials are rather an interesting generation as they were born in a time where one medium of playing music was increasingly losing popularity and two other mediums were gaining popularity. It would more sense to assert why Baby boomers and generation X would still be fascinated with vinyl records because it was the main, or rather popular, medium of playing music. Millennials on the other hand were born were three mediums of playing music existed in the world.

Now let’s look at Generation Z (1995–2010), a generation that is being called the digital generation. A generation that is characterised as being digital savvy, social and individualistic. When generation Z emerged, the internet was increasingly becoming a powerhouse and a newfound source of information. With the rise in internet usage, the compact disc and cassette started losing more ground to a different medium of digital music. Generation Z grew up in a era where MP3 downloads and streaming where prominent and physical copies of music were slowly becoming obsolete in the market.
For one to comment on crate digging culture and its survival, one has to look at who is currently buying vinyl records in 2017 and also look at how the generation that is taking prominence is consuming music. Baby Boomers and generation X are the biggest buyers of vinyl records, but with 2016’s vinyl boom, millennials played a part in vinyl sales beating out digital downloads. In the case of millennials, one can deduce that millennials are experiencing a sense of nostalgia having grown up seeing vinyl records but not fully using them as a medium of playing music as previous generations.

Streaming and MP3’s are the main mediums of playing music in the times we live in today and generation Z is the most literate and competent when dealing with all things digital. So to answer the main question asked in this article, generation Z will probably not keep the crate digging culture alive. To them, going to a record store and digging through crates is not appealing, when they can find all the music they need online on iTunes, Bandcamp, Soundcloud or Spotify. With generation Z, we’re dealing with a generation that spends about 15.4 hours per week on their phones.

The crate digging culture will not survive into the next generation if there is no passing of knowledge. Hip Hop, for instance, has change drastically and since the term ‘crate digging’ was coined in Hip Hop circles, one is compelled to assess the evolution that has happened in Hip Hop as a culture. As a music lover, you’re going to have to ask yourself one question: What is more important, the music or the medium the music is played in?

Each generation will have its own interpretations of the world and how it choose to identify itself and move about. Each generation defines itself and sets its own benchmarks of excellence and holds all the power of identifying itself.