How Chinese, Kenyan, and Swedish Music Streaming Apps Are All Battling Out in Africa

Have you heard of Boomplay?

originally posted on the China Africa Project

2021 has been a big year for music streaming in Africa. Global streaming giants are flocking to the African market with Swedish music streaming provider Spotify announcing a sweeping expansion to 40 new countries on the continent. As Spotify attempts to expand its reach in Africa, they may have to take a note from Transsion-owned Boomplay and shift their strategy. Though streaming services have increased in worldwide popularity during the COVID19 pandemic, it comes with literal costs to consumers and creatives alike.

Since the start of the pandemic, Boomplay, a music streaming app owned by Shenzhen-based mobile phone manufacturer Transsion Holdings, has given away an estimated $1,610,000 of free data to listeners to keep them engaged.

Sub-saharan Africa is home to the world’s most expensive data prices, with Equatorial Guinea closing in at an average $49.67 for 1GB of mobile data. Amid COVID-19, citizens around the world have lost jobs and are more cash-crunched than ever. Spending money on streaming is a low priority for many.

Reducing direct data costs to consumers may be the recipe for success in Africa’s music streaming market.

Kenya-born music streaming app Mdundo operates with a similar business model. Mudundo was launched in 2013 with the goal of providing music streaming services across Africa. Though the app does not directly subsidise data costs, it does allow users to download tracks for free offering the flexibility to connect to open Wifi networks in cafes and restaurants instead of using precious purchased data bundles. China-funded data compression app Opera Mini has recognized Mdundo’s potential, partnering with the app in 2019 and offering users the ability to share downloaded songs for free via Opera Mini’s file sharing feature at no additional data costs.

But as music streaming platforms expand across Africa, and attempt to reduce data costs as they go, they’ll have to contend with the continent’s creatives.

Music streaming platforms are being called out for underpaying artists. In October 2020, US-based Union of Musicians, launched “Justice at Spotify”calling for Spotify to pay artists a minimum $.01 per stream. Currently, artists are paid an average $.00038 a stream.  

“Making money from those streaming platforms comes hand in hand with the level of popularity an artist has. You have to have certain numbers on your socials to expect to make real money from the streaming sites. But it’s definitely great for exposure to have African music on international streaming sites” said Bananasoverdose, a popular female Somali rapper featured on Apple Music, Spotify and Boomplay, in an interview.

The thirst for music from Africa’s artists provides a new opportunity. Hopefully Africa’s independent music artists will leverage their rising global popularity to receive more compensation.

Bananasoverdose believes that the key is “talent, consistency in releasing well-crafted content, and authenticity”.

“That will take any artist as far as the stars. Staying original while using marketing tools wisely will help an artist get opportunities too and of course knowing the right people in the industry and having connections. Music streaming apps are a bonus for exposure but it’s not something I’d relay on if I wasn’t a good artist” she said.

In March, Boomplay struck a deal with Universal Music Group (UMG), extending the global music corporation’s music catalog from 7 to 47 countries in Africa. Interestingly enough, Chinese tech conglomerate, Tencent, owns a majority stake in UMG. Boomplay’s music catalogue now stands at a whopping 50 million tracks, including music from both African and non-African artists.

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