A digital era of online stores and streaming is expected to usher in new transparency in music sales and distribution. The days when the full benefits would be reaped however are still soon to come, but even the changing times still have rough edges that need to be worked out.
Historically, middlemen between the artist and the final consumer of the music have always been the biggest take home winners of a lion share of the revenue the music industry generates. Record labels are presumably in existence to give worthy talents a platform to share their abilities with the world, but time and time again the reality has gleaned a contrast. This is reflected in how unfair deals, label boycotts and extensive legal disputes are shared experiences by artists all over the world.
In Nigeria, Alaba is popularly known as the centre for mass traditional distribution for music. Beyond jump CDs that compile some of the biggest songs on-air for sale, Alaba somewhat legitimately distributes released materials around the country. Publishers often approach artists with one-off payments for rights to replicate and distribute within the country and beyond as many times as they want. This is a far cry from America’s royalty system where artists are entitled to a (small) percentage of each unit sale. Though digital distribution has curbed the influence of Alaba marketers, the lack of alternative channels of distribution means artists still have to cover for fans without internet access with an unfair deal that gives marketers the freedom to do just about anything they want with someone else’s creative property.
Like I stated earlier, digital distribution is currently changing a lot about how we view music distribution. Now artists can self-publish on the internet and promote with low budget campaigns. But as is the place of the middleman to have nothing but more information than a novice, some still exist to game the digital era for undeserved earned wins. on Tuesday evening, rapper YCee went on an explosive twitter rant at Micheal Ugwu, the presumed head of Sony Music West Africa. Though the details of YCee’s bone is unrevealed in the rant, the rapper does reference a slavery relationship between artists and so-called representatives of American labels. Ugwu, who is at the brunt of YCee’s recourse is the founder of digital distribution platform FreeMe Digital and head of Sony Music West Africa.
For a bit of context, it is important to know what FreeMe Digital does. The distribution platform was founded as a means to covet the independent space untapped by record labels. FreeMe digital offers a digital distribution service to platforms like Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, Deezer, Vevo amongst others, allowing artists a wider audience reach. How FreeMe Digital pitched this to artists, however, remains unclear especially considering their middleman role could be easily circumvented by the artists themselves by uploading straight to streaming platforms without a third party.
While we wait for Micheal Ugwu’s official statements regarding YCee’s accusations it is important to highlight crucial details like this. It is no longer news that artists don’t make as much as they should from their music, but this is not to say there’s no money in music. Rather it gleans how the faulty lines of communication between the creators of the music and the final consumers leave room for middlemen who are enriched with information to exploit the system. Especially worse for a market like Nigeria’s where all the kinks of even traditional distribution was not worked out before a digital revolution began taking its place. This middleman gaming of the music industry has long been the modus operandi and sadly even in a digitised world, it seems like not much has changed.
This is a developing story.