Decoded is launching an all new version of their lyrics website, an iteration that finally brings them out of beta, according to the founders, Chika Uwazie and Julius Sea Ezeani.

Asides the new snazzy paint job, there is an an obvious renewed sense of purpose and direction to the startup. I pinged Chika and Julius to tease out some of the other subtle details going on behind the scenes that have influenced the product from where it was when it first launched in May 2013 to where it is now.

Before you get into it, you might also want to check out TechCabal’s exclusive look at the new Decoded interface.


decoded logo 2

So what is this new version of Decoded, and you are finally out of beta?

Last February when we launched Decoded it was simply a website that was inspired by Rap Genius. We wanted to test our theory that Africans are looking for a similar website for African music and we found that theory to be correct. The new Decoded was created as a result of our analysis of the analytics as well as observations of user activity on the site to make the experience better. Yes, once the new Decoded is launched we will be out of beta.

What’s new about the latest iteration of Decoded, how is it different and better than the former?

As you will soon see, we completely redesigned and rearchitected Decoded from the ground up. Nothing was spared, everything was turned on its head including the logo. We created a logo that represents our brand which we believe is bold, fun, and innovative. We have a question for you. When you look at the new logo, what do you see?

Decoded Logo Concept C

decoded logo concept

Decoded Logo Concept B

Er…a mask-o-phone?

LOL, yep the “maskophone” or it can be viewed as a mask with earphones on listening to tunes.

decoded screen

We wanted Decoded 2.0, to emphasize discovery. With that in mind and staying true to the core of what Decoded 1.0 was about, which is the lyrics, Decoded 2.0 makes it much easier for the user to discover new music and connect with the artists. More specifically, we will carefully review, then curate, and present content we receive on various lists throughout the site which will give users the opportunity to be exposed to songs that typically they would not have found on their own.

We also made sure the new release of Decoded will be feature phone friendly, since we saw a major part of our audience use these devices to access our site. Additionally the new website is a lot more social and makes it easier to share content with friends.

decoded discover

What have you learnt about the product and the business since you’ve been working on this, and how have they come to inform your current product and business direction?

We have learned that the music industry in Africa is still fragmented and there is still room to add significant value. It may not be within our purview but it became clear to us as well that the industry as a whole is in dire need of a solid infrastructure that handles all aspects of the industry ranging from distribution to publishing.

It was also a big surprise to us when we learned that most artists do not write down their lyrics. Like Jay-Z they just go into the studio and lay down the music, which on one hand is pretty amazing if you think about it, but on the other hand, makes life a bit difficult for us when we want to obtain new content to add to the platform. As you know, depending on who is listening, music affects us in so many different ways. And the lyrics to the a song is a huge part of that. Whether you just broke up with your boyfriend or need motivation to continue building your company, there is a song out there that has lyrics that speak to you. Our end goal is to be part of the new music renaissance, which we may have to pioneer by getting the artists to realize the importance of their lyrics and the effect on their fans.

Has Decoded finally latched on to a business model(s)? One can extrapolate based on the various value chains that exist in the music space that your platform can leverage on, but it would help to be specific?

Yes, Decoded has multiple revenue generating streams. Some of which we are currently exploring and will be revealed at the appropriate time. But in the interest of specificity most of our revenue is generated through advertising and sponsorship.

Have you attracted funding or investment interest to date? Are you raising?

Decoded is currently being bootstrapped. We are not actively seeking outside investment at this time. There has been and continues to be investment interest in Decoded. However, we have decided to remain heads down and focus on releasing 2.0 to the world.

Nigerian startups are pathologically “coded” when it comes to sharing numbers and data, but it’d be cool if we could see some.

Here is what we will share. Upwards of 120K unique visitors have been to the site. While this number is not something to sniff about, it was more than enough for us to validate our idea about the way people want to interact with the music. Keep in mind, the current version of Decoded was just hacked together and is extremely buggy but folks kept returning to the site, 30 percent of them to be exact.

At the moment we have 300 plus artist profiles on the site and 1000 lyrics. The goal is to grow the number of artists and lyrics 10x within the 1st 6 months of 2014.

From the data we learned that mobile is the device of choice, most traffic came via search, and most of our visitors currently reside in the United States, the United Kingdom, Nigeria and Japan.

What is it like, running a supposedly Nigerian startup from the U.S? Are the two founders been in the same timezone? How is the decoded team composed?

Decoded is a pan-African startup, with the lofty goal of being a recognizable brand within the music industry throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Team Decoded currently consists of Julius Sea, Chika Uwazie and anyone else who they can successfully coerce into lending a hand from time to time.

The two founders currently reside in the United States and are both in the East Coast which is good for us because it is not difficult to have meetings or communicate which we do quite often. We are currently in talks to bring another person to join the core team which we are really excited about. Not only does he share our passion for African music but also has the experience and background that we believe will elevate us to the next level.

Decoded Chika

What has the reception been like in the music industry? Any interesting reactions (love, apathy, resistance)?

The reception has been wonderful in regards to Decoded. We have not come across any artists who have shown signs of resistance. For example, Bez sent us his whole lyric catalogue, and Banky W along side many other artists have publicly shouted us out numerous times. Decoded has even received love from Kenya via Camp Mula, as well as in Ghana via C-Real.

Lyric Card - JaiyeJaiye

Validation like this provided the fuel needed for us to take the necessary steps to move from MVP (a not so great one at that) to a completely overhauled platform which you will finally get to see in the coming weeks. This is just the beginning to becoming a the trusted partner to African entertainers.

Have you got any examples/case studies/anecdotes of how Decoded adds value to the music industry?

Majority of our traffic comes from search. This indicates that on a daily basis people are looking for lyrics to African music without being prompted. This is good and bad. It’s good in the sense that we now know for sure that our artists no matter how big or small they may be, are being looked for on the web. But it’s also bad because currently there is really no OFFICIAL or should I say industry approved resource available on the web for many of the same African artists being actively searched for.

How many times have you seen an artist release a hit song, which prompts you to go on the web to find out more about the said artist? Now tell me how many times you found the information you are looking for? Besides a Facebook account and a Twitter account? As an artist, you are only as good as the music you put out and the brand you build for yourself. We have artists who are putting out great music, but from a branding point of view they still have room to grow and social media alone is not enough. Without a strong brand, artists become easily forgettable. We are building a platform that will give the users an opportunity to connect with artists in a manner in which they have not done before.

Since there are so many languages on the African continent, we have also started the arduous task of translating songs to English. We are doing this because we constantly get requests from users asking us for the translation of certain songs, and we are doing our best to make it happen. To sum it up, if an artist so pleases, he/she can actually use their Decoded profile as their own personal site. Gone are the days, they will need to spend money to build a website. We will take care of making sure the site is kept up to date. Custom artist URL’s just came to mind. Time to talk to the dev team.

You see Banks, you are already inspiring us. Welcome to Team Decoded!

LOL! Glad I could inspire. So for Decoded, what is the big idea? Where is this going? Why is this not just another lyrics site, albeit for Africa?

Those are pretty loaded questions you have there buddy!

The big idea? Let’s just say that’s still being defined.

As you will soon see in Decoded 2.0 we are betting the house on “Discovery”. We believe the world should know that there are other African artists out there besides the usual suspects (D’Banj, P-Square, Wizkid, etc).

decoded interface

The lyrics serves as the foundation in which a beautiful edifice can be built, with that in mind we are going in a direction few have gone before. Rather than talk about it, we will prefer you see for yourself. Just make sure you keep us honest and provide us with candid feedback! We are here for the long haul.

How do you view your product in relation to advanced lyrics annotation and explanation platforms like RapGenius?

The folks at RapGenius have done an amazing job with their product. They also have this lofty goal of annotating the web. Comparing the current Decoded product to that of RapGenius is like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Kia. Levels dey. We have no shame in saying that.

Even though Decoded was inspired by Rap Genius, we knew from the onset that Decoded was not going to be just another clone of an already successful site. We put out an MVP, looked at the data and met with industry veterans, which we learned a lot from. As stated earlier, this helped shape Decoded 2.0. We had to consider how to make a product that will work for those living in one of the 54 countries in the continent, since a majority of our users come from the mobile web.

What are the challenges Decoded had encounter thus far? What are the biggest wins?

One of the biggest challenges as I stated before is simply acquiring lyrics from artists. When we first started to reach out to artists, a lot of them were clueless to why we would want their lyrics. Quite frankly some just didn’t understand the value. It was a learning curve for us on how to get the lyrics that we need from the artists. Luckily we haven’t had an issues going forward with this process.

Lyric Card - Better-Soup-Na-Money

Also building the new website was a major challenge. This new website was a 6 month process that took many iterations to create, from design to functionality. It took us some time to figure out where we are going and how that vision comes across with our website. There was a lot of going back and forth from the smallest things like “does our new logo make sense?” to redesigning our new homepage. We put a lot of time and thought into our new website, and we believe that users will love the final product.

Our biggest win is just continuing to get validation from the music industry and from the fans as well. The value of what we are building isn’t immediately apparent, but that will soon change.

Chika was able to attend social media week last February and she was blown away by how many people love Decoded. We had artists like Lynxx who thought it was “dope”, to EME executives, Tunde and Segun Demuren who really loved what we are doing and have expressed their unwavering support. It was also humbling and quite cool to see artists like M.I, Praiz, Eldee, and X.O Senvoa to name a few follow our social media accounts. It says that we are doing something right. If you haven’t noticed already, we celebrate the minutest of wins. They will eventually add up!


Decoded is hosting the relaunch of their lyrics platform at the 2014 edition of Social Media Weekend, come February.

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