Publishing News

Africa: The next global music opportunity

Aug 15, 2017


For understandable, but not necessarily justifiable reasons, Sub-Saharan Africa has been the scourge of the international recorded music industry for decades.

Africa is a vast continent that has delivered comparatively little financially in return for investments.

Copyright protection, as agreed by treaties internationally, has been almost non-existent in practice. Fiscal infrastructures for securing revenues have been constantly unpredictable.

But in the 21st century, the era of digital tech, social media marketing, mobile apps and streaming distribution, opportunities are opening up for African and international rights music holders in the region.

Many are predicting the world’s next global music star or hit could come from Sub-Saharan Africa:

South African telecom behemoth MTN Group generated a reported $70m from its pan-African subscription-funded streaming music service in the first six months of 2016 alone?

And CNBC reports that Nigeria, Africa’s biggest territory by population, releases 500 plus albums annually. With the rampant piracy market, it is difficult to know how much income sales yielded. Accountancy giant PwC predicts Nigeria’s total music sector should generate $86m by 2020.

The French division of international digital distribution outfit believe digital started offering video distribution deals to local African indie labels in 2016. The company felt confident to make that move thanks to the grow thin local-music catalogues, the gradually increasing Internet and digital media penetration, and the strong billing infrastructures setup by telecom companies delivering music content as part of their services.

Africans are among the most prolific creators and consumers of popular music:

Music is being played everyday, round-the-clock, at home and at work, at birthday parties and graduation celebrations, at schools and churches, at weddings and funerals, on the street and at corporate events.

African music is already popular worldwide:

The global fame of veterans like South Africa’s Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Hugh Masekela, Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Angelique Kidjo from Benin and Zimbabwean Oliver Mtukudzi has raised international awareness of the region’s exceptional talent. Another generation of equally influential stars singing Hip Hop, R&B, Afrobeat and numerous indigenous sounds has since appeared. They include Davido, Efya, Cassper Nyovest, Sauti Sol and Lira.

Zimbabwean veteran Oliver Mtukudzi has sold 700,000 units in South Africa via the country’s biggest label Gallo Record Company and continues to do so from his catalogue.

There is nothing to say why more cannot be achieved in a region rich in natural resources, a youthful population, arising educated middle class, an accelerating adoption of digital media, and abundant potential for economic growth as opportunity knocks within Sub-Saharan Africa:

  • After more than 20 years’ absence, the major labels are returning to Africa.

  • Legally accessed streaming is gradually winning over young fans.

  • Social media networks are empowering African artists and labels to reach fans directly.

  • Big-name brand owners like MTN Group, Vodafone, Unilever and Coca-Cola to sponsor live music events and festivals.

  • International hit makers such as Chris Brown, Travis Scott, 50 Cent, Sir Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, Ciara and Rick Ross are collaborating with African acts and linked to African ventures.


Several African countries are signatories to international copyright treaties and conventions:

These include the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations, the Geneva Phonograms Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention(ParisTreaty), the TRIPs Agreement, the Rome Convention and the WIPO Copyright Treaties.

Enforcing them in the developing African markets has been almost impossible. However, anti-piracy policies have been yielding success in South Africa, where the battle against the illegal use and sale of music has been led by local collective trade association RiSA (the Recording Industry of South Africa).

Another pro-active copyright organization has been COSON(Copyright Society of Nigeria), which has been working with global trade body IFPI to pursue, collect and distribute sound-recording royalties in Nigeria.

CISAC, the Paris-based international umbrella organization for the world’s collecting societies, says it had 33 African members by May 2016.


Expert Opinion:

MIDEM had a chance to catch up with David Alexander, Sheer Music Publishing Managing Director, to find out more about the continents largest indie music publisher, opportunities within Africa and the challenges involved:

David Alexander, Managing Director, Sheer Publishing

David Alexander

What your company does:  Sheer Music Publishing has offices in Johannesburg, where all the strategy, copyright administration, creative licensing and royalties distributions are handled. It has joint ventures with partners in South Africa that act on Sheer Music’s behalf in the acquisition of writers and copyrights. There is one representative in Nairobi, who looks after East Africa, another in Cameroon for Central Africa, and another in Ghana for West Africa.

Opportunities in Africa: South Africa has about 60 million in habitants, has 11 official languages and English is widely spoken. For commercial music, there are radio stations programming English-language music, and the local-content quota on radio has recently gone up from 25% to 30%. So there is a gap for international music. But because there is not adversity of radio owners and broadcasters, there tends to be space for only songs that have been big in other territories such as the UK and US and Australia. So those are the ones earning income.

Challenges: Music publishing has struggled to gain traction outside South Africa and a couple of specific countries as local collective management organizations (CMO) battle with low incomes and high administration costs as a percentage of income.This has discouraged the economically active composers from becoming members as they receive the same income as songwriters with no broadcast activity in the past few years. Reciprocal agreements between CMOs have not been adhered to and the potential of the market in Africa has largely been ignored due to the low returns that active participants have received. Instead, African writers with global success have become direct members of CMOs in Europe or the USA. Furthermore, due to the historical inequity of colonialism, many of the multinational music companies are viewed as neocolonialists, so African writers and CMOs are wary of having their rights and money controlled by foreign companies.


Source – MIDEM