Sunday Times

Audiomack and Spotify vie to win African ears

- By TOPE ALAKE and THOMAS PFEIFFER

● A company that’s barely known in the US and Europe is the most successful online music platform in Africa — making it target No 1 in Spotify’s campaign to dominate the continent’s streaming market.

Audiomack won the hearts of many Africans by allowing those without a premium subscripti­on to download songs and listen offline.

The feature lets customers use minimal wireless data, a big draw as mobile signals in Africa are often patchier, and costlier, than in Europe or the US.

It’s also done a lot to keep listeners engaged by cultivatin­g breakthrou­gh African musicians and helping users discover them. New artists get a path to visibility as they can upload songs even if they don’t have a deal with a music label or distributo­r.

Audiomack picks out emerging artists four times a year across all genres and provides them with specialise­d marketing, editorial programmes, social promotion and playlistin­g. It also showcases them at events.

Nigerian Stanley Omah Didia, who performs as Omah Lay, was the first African artist selected for Audiomack’s UpNow program to spotlight emerging talent in 2020.

His debut EP, Get Layd, was the first body of work by an African musician to surpass 100-million streams on Audiomack. Lay signed with Warner Music later that year.

“Our goal is to bridge the gap between emerging artists and fans looking to discover them,” David Ponte, co-founder and chief marketing officer, said in an interview from Audiomack’s New York headquarte­rs. The offer of downloads on the “freemium” service

“is a huge advantage to a lot of people in Africa”.

Ponte said these offers are “primary competitiv­e advantages” for Audiomack, which was establishe­d in New York nine years ago and has more active users than rivals in Africa’s biggest music markets.

Stockholm-based Spotify first launched in SA and a few North African countries in 2018, and has been trying to make up for lost time by expanding to a further 39 territorie­s since February.

After 15 years of existence, the company is still posting annual losses due to the costly royalties it pays to big music companies. It once had plans to let musicians bypass the big labels and self-publish, but abandoned the idea. Its free service, like Audiomack’s, is supported by ads, but doesn’t allow downloads — that’s only available to paying users.

Spotify said its prices reflect African consumers’ purchasing power. Rather than just targeting the customers of rival platforms, the company sees its biggest growth opportunit­y in convincing the millions of Africans who download songs illegally to switch to legal streaming. It’s betting that plenty of local musicians will use the service to access its enormous listener base.

“We are ramping up quickly, evolving our

content and adjusting our product as we learn about what makes the most sense on a hyper-local level,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said last week. Spokespers­ons for the company declined to comment for this article.

The market is getting more competitiv­e as local streaming services and internatio­nal players build their presence, leading to an intense fight for subscriber­s. It’s an enormous opportunit­y — Africa has a population of 1billion-plus and only 26% of those people had access to the internet at the end of 2019.

Audiomack’s rise has been fuelled partly by a surging user base in Nigeria, where it charges 475 naira (R16.50) a month for a premium package.

But key to its success is the ad-funded “freemium” model with downloadab­le songs, which is popular in a country where more than half the population earn less than $2 (R28) a day. To download on Spotify, a user in Nigeria would have to pay about 900 naira a month. Audiomack has also drawn users by offering live performanc­es of artists such as David Adedeji Adeleke, known as Davido, one of the nation’s biggest acts.

Spotify launched in Nigeria in February, and by the end of April it had about 87,000 monthly active users, compared with Audiomack’s 1.2-million.

 ?? Picture: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton ?? Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says the music platform is adjusting its product, looking for what ‘makes the most sense on a hyper-local level’.
Picture: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says the music platform is adjusting its product, looking for what ‘makes the most sense on a hyper-local level’.

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