The internet has reshaped the way music stars are discovered and made. Gone are the days of A&R divisions of big labels holding showcases for new talent. Artistes are taking the reins and introducing themselves to an audience directly. “Beliebe” it or not, Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube.
Today, artistes are increasingly using the internet to not just help get them discovered by big music labels, but to get in front of their fans. Some of these online fan bases can grow to millions via YouTube channel subscriptions, Twitter follows, and Facebook likes. The internet cuts the red tape and makes direct market access a possibility. And because the internet is wide open, anyone can pick up the music and run with it.
For African stars, the internet presents its own opportunity. The old business model of selling albums has never quite succeeded. In the Nigerian music market, for instance, where piracy is rife, the unbundling of albums benefits many artistes because instead of looking for sizeable funds and considerable time to spend on producing whole albums, they release easily assembled singles and promote them themselves. And they are not necessarily counting on their fans paying for the singles. Music stars have since found a way to leverage the free publicity available on the internet into generating a buzz for their records – Don Jazzy is the best example of this. His ‘Surulere’ meme competition was a runaway success and he followed that with similar exercises for other Mavin singles.
These days, African artiste singles are usually given away, and albums sold for as little as $2. They increasingly need the internet to succeed. Whilst the clutter of record labels and market budgets can be collapsed, gateways that allow their music to be available on demand will assume more importance. With cheaper internet becoming a fast approaching reality, African music streaming sites with catalogues that won’t be readily available elsewhere will see an improving market share. The ideal situation would be for an artist to diversify streams of income, ensure the music is available to stream and buy online locally on the same day.
One thing is clear. The internet has not been explored to its full capabilities. The hordes on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Twitter are creating subcultures that might not have inherent monetisation opportunities, but are nonetheless able to confer stardom on new acts that otherwise may not have been discovered, because they did not have the backing of big labels or could not afford the “payola” necessary to get airplay on radio and television.
We’ll take a look at some artistes from Africa and other parts of the world who have used the interwebs to break out of obscurity and create loyal audiences.
A three-man band that met each other on the streets doing poetry, H_art The Band was a small time act that might have stayed obscure. But when a fan animated video for their hit song, Uliza Kiatu, found its way to YouTube, their fortune was officially made. The song went viral on the internet long before it hit terrestrial television and radio airwaves, and rocketed the band’s popularity to heights unanticipated by even the band members themselves. H_art has since released 3 official music videos on YouTube. One of them, Nikikutazama that has been viewed close to 400,000 times even has product placements from popular internet companies operating in Kenya.
A huge star on Instagram, Falz had minor hits before he married his Instagram persona with his music. Now, each new release is accompanied with a video skit in which fans are encouraged to participate by sending in their own versions. #ElloBae was such a successful campaign that it propelled into inking ambassadorship deals with Nigerian brands, as well as leading to the launch of Falz’s very own online store, featuring merchandise with the ‘Ello Bae’ insignia. Becoming such a huge popular culture icon of course don’t hurt album and single sales.
Other Nigerian acts have tried to copy this to varying degrees of success. The key is to be believable. As an act, the campaign on the internet must be seamless, i.e. the song in question must need no further explanation. The fans have to get it, and it has to be instantly catchy.
Forget the name. This hot music group from Kenya is not just a band. They are digital nerds whose creative range extends beyond music into video, animation and graphic design.
Just a Band shot onto the global music radar in 2010, when they created what has been described as Kenya’s first viral hit. The video, Makmende Amerudi (Makmende Returns) caused such a sensation that the band got profiled on CNN, the Wall Street Journal and Fast Company. Makmende is a Kenyan corruption of the Clint Eastwood line ‘…make my day’ from the film Dirty Harry.
Another stroke of digital genius was the making of the video for another hit song, Probably For Lovers, which was stitched together from “mostly” phone videos submitted by fans from all over the world.
Gangnam Style was a joke in many ways, a tongue-in-cheek look at a pretentious South Korean upper-class district of Gangnam. Psy didn’t foresee that it’d be such an overwhelming success, but the audience was generous enough to be in on the joke. The video went on to become the most viewed on YouTube ever; over two billion views and counting. Psy has earned over $10 million from this YouTube video alone!
Granted, these guys were already on their way to stardom when they won the The Sing Off competition in 2011, but the Pentatonix band are adept users of the internet – specifically, YouTube – to create a rabidly loyal following. They do all kinds of mashups and covers that draw large amounts of views, and are predictably used to plugging their itunes library as well as live shows. According to Wikipedia, the PTXofficial YouTube page is currently the 12th most subscribed-to music channel and the 39th most subscribed channel overall.
Another internet sensation. You might not know him now, but give it six months or so, this guy will be the next Drake. His self-titled 2013 R&B was initially released as a free download, it quickly became obvious what a folly that was as the album broke R&B download records on Dat Piff (a freemium site where up and coming artist post mixtapes for general download)
For an indie artist who becomes popular through word of mouth, the public would be willing to pay a slightly lower than average price to get the record. If persuaded by peers and a ‘not so in your face’ marketing effort, indie records will sell once again. Party has managed to score himself R&B hits without depending on the radio to break to break out. Check him out on a couple of features on Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late album.
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