How A Global Pandemic Energized African Artists to Get Serious About Music Publishing

Music publishing can be a key revenue generator for authors and rightsholders in the music industry. However, in order to maximize those opportunities, it’s crucial to verify what the copyright law says in one’s territory - while noting how complex publishing can be even for the most educated individuals in the space.

On the continent of Africa, publishing is largely an untapped resource in the music industry because of the knowledge gap about copyright, its value, and the business side of the music industry. While the Berne Convention remains the international agreement governing copyright in all African countries, strict enforcement is another issue.  

Considering the global reach and widespread popularity of music by African artists in the past few years, it is safe to assume a lot of money has and, continues to be, left on the table. 

David Israelite, the Chief Executive officer of the National Music Publishers’ Association disclosed during the organization’s annual meeting held in June 2020 that US music publishing revenue grew by over 11% in 2019. In fact, revenue grew from $2.957 Billion to $3.7 Billion in 2019 - marking the fifth consecutive year of growth

Let’s take a deeper look at the state of the music industry in Africa, highlight a few major accomplishments, and answer the question - what should African music creatives consider when getting their music publishing in order?

The State of the African Music Industry

Mark Mulligan, an analyst with MIDiA Research, estimates that many artists are losing between 50 and 70 percent of their income because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the effect of the pandemic, and the subsequent decline in the revenue of artists, unintentionally led to a shift in mindset. Conversations, inquiries, and a determined interest in exploring diverse sources of income were generally embraced.

A new-found interest by music creators in considering untapped revenue streams led to Nigerian artist and songwriter Larry Gaaga signing an exclusive global music publishing deal with Peermusic UK, Grammy nominated Nigerian artist Burna Boy starring in, and having his song licensed for, a global Beats by Dre campaign, and Wizkid partnering with PUMA on branded ‘Made In Lagos’ merchandise. 

Holding The Industry Accountable

Although some local African collective management organizations (CMOs) don’t yet have the infrastructure to offer music publishing royalty administration, which makes it more difficult for local music creators to access their revenue, creators are now holding brands and organizations more accountable.

In May 2020, a number of Ghanaian artists formed the "Alliance For Change in Ghana Music" movement “calling on all music industry stakeholders to come together to fight for a final and lasting solution to our failing music industry.” The group as well bemoaned the “lack of proper education and/or awareness about the business aspect of (the) music industry across board.”

The group’s demands included the need for the government to enact laws to ensure musicians and rightsholders have a steady and reliable income source through songwriter royalties. They also suggested building modern systems for proper royalty collection to ensure an equitable industry. 

Whether because their songs were regularly used without going through the right process (including obtaining authorization and making payment) or because of increased awareness  about copyright and publishing, accountability amongst the community shot up to a new high. Some examples include:

  • Ghanaian artist Worlasi publicly called out the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the biggest opposition party in the country, for using his song at the party’s manifesto launch without his authorization or compensation. 
  • South African rapper Kwesta, demanded via Twitter that BMW South Africa “DO THE RIGHT THING” after the company used his composition in an advertisement without his permission
  • A Ghanaian court awarded damages of 231,000 Cedis (about $40,000) against a beverage company for using a song by Rex Omar in an advertisement without his consent. 

The occasional war of words between local CMOs, on the one hand, and African artists, on the other, also escalated in 2020. In December 2020, the Kenya Copyright Board revoked the license of the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) to collect royalties after it failed to provide answers about the list of members and their works. 

Prior to the decision, an audit uncovered “diversion of royalties, poor corporate governance structures, suspected fraudulent transactions, poor record-keeping and the existence of ghost or duplicate members,” according to Kenyan publication The Nation

The audit was necessitated by years of complaints by Kenyan artists about the "peanuts" they were paid as royalties by the Kenyan copyright body. 

To add fuel to the fire, the absence of lucrative live shows also led to music creators holding CMOs more accountable for ensuring music creators are properly paid for their work. The inability of the organizations to resolve gaps such as poor accounting, lack of proper systems and structures, and often irregular and small amounts of money being paid out came under greater scrutiny

Hope Wasn’t All Lost in 2020

Despite the overall music industry uncertainty, major players have been making investments across Africa in the music space. 

For example, in April 2020, Platoon, the creative services company owned by Apple Music, expanded its operation in the African music ecosystem after its initial entry in South Africa in mid-2018. The company has since signed licensing and service deals with artists including Kwesi Arthur (Ghana), Simi (Nigeria), Amaarae (Ghana), Teni (Nigeria), Msaki (South Africa) and Cuppy (Nigeria) offering them advances on royalties, distribution, and health insurance - "a first-of-its-kind initiative," per a Billboard report. The report adds that the continent accounts for 40 percent of the company’s business in certain months.

The “significant investments” by Apple Music “into African artists and music business paid off “in tangible ways,” as stated in Billboard. 

The likes of Tems (Nigeria), Omah Lay (Nigeria), Elaine (South Africa) and Rema (Nigeria) gained global appeal, and also signed major label deals because of the support given their careers through initiatives powered by the streaming service, added the report.  

On April 20, 2020, it was announced that Warner Music had invested an undisclosed amount into Africori, the pan-African digital music distribution, music rights management and artist development company. The deal will help Africori “distribute and promote its artists internationally through Warner Music’s global network.” 

Africori also signed a global sub-publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music France. It will see “Africori and Warner Chappell Music offer new opportunities to African artists to collaborate with creative songwriting talent from around the world,” according to the report about the deal on December 14, 2020. 

On May 18, 2020, Downtown Music Holdings (parent company of Songtrust) announced that it had acquired South Africa-based Sheer Music Publishing - a member of Africa-based royalty collection bodies, and a company with well-established relationships with collection societies around the world, according to a Music Business Worldwide report. The acquisition, amongst other benefits, allows Sheer to gain new market access for its African clients, positioning them for film, television and advertising placements, adds the report. 

To quote Avril Joffe, the head of the Cultural Policy and Management Department at the Wits School of Arts, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, COVID-19 inadvertently bolstered the “reimagining and invigorating” of “the African cultural economy.”

As Music Publishing Interest Grows, So Does the List of Accomplishments

According to a 2017 whitepaper published by Midem, the emergence of a “new generation of digitally savvy, and ambitious African artists, songwriters and producers” has led to an uptick of interest in music publishing. 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the loss of the foremost revenue source for music creators -- live performances -- has also increased the number of conversations about musicians protecting their intellectual property, how to get publishing right, and how to make it a viable form of revenue. 

In October 2020, Highvibes Distribution, a music distribution and music rights management platform with offices in Ghana and Nigeria, announced a partnership with Songtrust, with the goal to “empower one million African songwriters, producers and creators by 2030.” 

A survey conducted by Highvibes in November 2019 found that 95 percent of music creators in Africa have been unpublished since 2018. 

The release adds that the partnership will ensure “all songwriters, producers and creators in Africa who distribute music through Highvibes will be able to collect their publishing royalties not only in Africa, but from Songtrust’s entire global royalty collection network which exceeds more than 215 [now 245] countries and territories.”

The year 2020 also witnessed a number of African artists collaborating with both local and international companies, as well as having their songs featured in TV series, movies, games, and advertising campaigns. For example, songs by Nigerian artists Burna Boy, Fireboy DML and Rema were licensed and listed among the official soundtracks for FIFA 21. Music by Ghanaian producer and DJ Gafacci was featured in the latest installment of Grand Theft Auto

South African rapper Nasty C produced music for popular South African Netflix Television series Blood & Water, and a new song by Ghanaian artist Bisa Kdei was featured as an original soundtrack in the Netflix 2020 Christmas movie "Jingle Jangle". In addition, the likes of Mr. Eazi, Ghanaian producer Kilbeatz, and Ghanaian artist, D-Black signed high-profile publishing deals. 

“[This newfound deal flexibility] allows copyright owners the option to make sure they’re getting the best deal and service,” explains Munyaradzi Chanetsa, A&R Manager: Africa at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, about how these agreements will help artists’ long term careers.

What should African music creators look out for when considering signing publishing deals?

“Basic knowledge and education about composition and publishing: a creative needs to know what they own as a songwriter or composer on a particular body of work, choosing a model from options including a publishing company (to fully or co-publish) or self-publish as an artist taking into consideration the pros and cons, properly license out one’s work after careful consideration or engage professionals with know-how when necessary,” shares Olajumoke Adebiyi, an entertainment lawyer and music executive based in Lagos, Nigeria.

She adds: “to know what price tag to place on one’s content, it is important to accurately value the work taking into account factors including numbers across major digital platforms, steady conversion rates from traditional media, brand value and social media value, and also get familiar with legalese and industry regulations per territory.” 

In short, do your research with trusted sources, ask your fellow music creators about their experiences, and always read the fine print. If you have any questions about music publishing, publishing deal specifics, or Songtrust, we’re here to help.

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