The largest of the current online platforms, both on mobile and PC, is iRoking — part of iRoko Partners, which also runs a Nollywood film platform in parallel. It received investment from US private equity fund Tiger Global and has been expanding its reach and recently opened a South African office.
The iRoking free music online platform has 35 000 tracks in its catalogue, dating from 1963 to the present day, and 75 000 registered users. It also manages more than 70 artists’ YouTube pages, with more than 100m views in the past 12 months. Its deal structure is 60/40 in favour of rights owners, the complete reverse of what the mobile companies offer.
Its CEO, Michael Ugwu, wants to grow that number to a million views by the end of this year and to reach 10m in five years. Of that number, 70% would be outside Africa. It already has around a million unique visitors for its free Nollywood service, iRokoTV.
It monetises and protects artists’ content for, among others, P-Square, 2face, Bracket, Flavour, Omawumi, Timaya, Duncan Mighty and Lynxxx. The company has reduced piracy of Nigerian music content to nearly zero. iRoking uses digitally fingerprinted sound recordings on YouTube to ensure rights are protected and also publishes Nigerian music content to the iTunes and Amazon stores for paid consumption by the diaspora.
iThe company has also launched mobile applications for iOS, Android, Windows and Symbian. The apps allow access to thousands of the latest Nigerian tracks. Users can stream songs over Wi-Fi or 3G.
Nigeria’s Spinlet, meanwhile, is a mobile music management and storage service launched in January 2012. It claims to have almost half a million subscribers and to be growing at 2-3% a day. Chief marketing officer Mark Redguard says the company has partnered with Tecno to pre-install the Spinlet application. “There has been a very good response from consumers who buy the affordable Tecno N3 smartphone and find they have access to Spinlet.”
The software is also pre-installed on Samsung’s Galaxy Pocket device.
Spinlet has also partnered with Etisalat in Nigeria to provide an Spinlet Music plan where consumers can purchase daily, weekly or monthly data plans to access the Spinlet library of music.
The company is anxious to get a broader presence in Africa and has opened an office in Cape Town and hired 15 developers.
Then there’s Africori, which offers business-to-business services to African music platforms. It has created its own “laboratory” service by running its own platform, Tavoom Music. Its approach is not about offering in-depth catalogues but seeking to curate “the best in African contemporary music … using the wisdom and knowledge of some of the most talented musicians, DJs and tastemakers in the industry”.
It is aimed at both Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, but says that it will appeal to anyone interested in African music. One of its innovations is a simple one: it has a free song of the day, which can be downloaded at no charge. Another innovation is that its Music Store is available on the feature-phone platform biNu which has 4,8m users globally, 1,5m of which are in Africa.
Another contender is Kenya’s Mdundo, which its CEO, Gustav Ericcson, describes as “iTunes for Africa”. It has hundreds of tracks, and one of the musicians closely involved in its founding (at mobile accelerator 88mph) is Frasha from P Unit. Sales are currently being driven by the popularity of Kenya’s Octopizzo.
It can be accessed by any phone that can get a mobile or Wi-Fi data connection and it is launching an app soon for one of the better known mobile platforms and has Android on its road map. Its innovation is to offer prepaid scratch cards to allow users to buy music. These can also be used by musicians who can put them together with concerts tickets or sell them and keep the revenue.
Last but not least is Waabeh.com which is run by Kenyan studio owner Tim Rimbui. Waabeh means “awesome” or “cool” in street slang. Launched at the beginning of this year, it has formed a partnership between Intel and Safaricom for the former’s Yolo phone. It garnered 2 000 streams in just two months. It aims to become more widely available on the Web and through an Android app.
For now, Waabeh has 70 artists with about a thousand tracks. Its innovation is that it offers not just music but audio content for things like books, education and lifestyle content.
- Russell Southwood is head of Balancing Act Africa