Cracking Digital Music in Nigeria: The COSON Summit

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are totally personal to me, in my personal capacity as someone who has had a keen professional interest in the development of the copyright administration system in Nigeria for over 10 years.

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The Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) just concluded the hosting of a summit on digital music distribution, licensing and consumption. The 2-day event was tagged “The Nigerian Digital Music Summit” and its theme was “Establishing the Basic Rules of Engagement in the Digital Environment”. It was attended by industry practitioners, lawyers and also had resource people from countries with more mature copyright systems, such as Norway, Finland and South Africa. At the end of the summit, a communiqué was published, outlining the various things the community wanted to see in place.

The summit was timely for a couple of reasons – this year, for the very first time, it was reported that revenues from digital exploitation surpassed sales from physical. Revenue from streaming is quickly bridging the gap with revenues from downloads, with some companies actually reporting higher income from streaming than downloads. Streaming is the future, as I have previously written, and the time to begin to lay the groundwork for the Nigerian music industry to fully partake of it, was at least 3 years ago.

THE TELCOS ARE EVIL CORP.

Moving quickly to the substance of the proceedings, the gathering very quickly turned on the telcos, accusing them of benefitting unfairly from the music they exploited, mostly via Caller Ring Back Tones (CRBTs – the songs you hear playing when you give someone a call). And it was understandable. For an industry that has risen from piracy-ridden ashes to becoming arguably the leading hub in Africa and a major contributor to GDP post-rebasing, CRBTs were the content producer’s goldmine for sometime. Network saturation, in terms of subscribers and availability of CRBTs now means there are lots more mouths contending for the same pot of beans and individual revenues are declining somewhat.

In the middle of all this however, is the [unsavoury] fact that the telcos retain anywhere between 60 and 80% of the income generated from CRBTs. The remaining 20-40% is then shared between the Value Added Service (“VAS”) Company and the artist/or record label, with of course an even smaller share for the artist if they are signed to a label. With the bulk of their earnings coming from either corporate endorsements (but we can’t all be Don Jazzy, Phyno, Wizkid or Olamide) and CRBTs, the industry is probably justified to demand a larger cut.

Tellingly, however, very little attention was paid to streaming in spite of the efforts of CAPASSO CEO, Nothando Migogo, to stress that the time to focus on it was now i.e. before bandwidth and data costs stop being issues.

The industry should be worried about streaming because each of the four telcos in Nigeria now operates a music streaming service – MTN Music+, Airtel Wynk, Etisalat Cloud9 and Globacom’s Music App. If these telcos have held on to the lion share of the revenue with CRBTs, what’s going to happen with streaming revenue from their services? For other music streaming services, the most efficient way to take payments from subscribers and purchasers is via their airtime. However, when the telcos convert airtime to cash to pay for a transaction, they typically retain about 70% of it, leaving only 30% to be shared between the stand-alone streaming service and the artist/label. Perhaps the even more pressing issue is that the aim of the telcos in starting these services, in my opinion, is to sell data, as voice revenues have peaked globally – data is the new frontier. It’s the same reason some of them are getting into video on demand, etc. In other words, data sales are the real target, the real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the telcos, and these guys don’t share data revenue (larger than music download or streaming subscription revenue) with anyone.

BUT EVERYONE LOVES THE FREE DOWNLOAD SITES

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Perhaps it’s even more striking that an industry that wants to earn serious digital revenues made no reference to the industry practices that cannibalise the larger portion of digital earnings, particularly the way nearly everyone offers vast amounts of music for free downloads. What will the incentive be for consumers to buy albums when 70% has previously been released for free. If one also considers the fact that the industry is globally now more singles-driven than albums (iTunes killed the album), this is effectively a limiter on potential earnings, if all singles are given away. The CRBT gravy-train won’t last forever and it isn’t even really working for those who need it to, who have neither the eye-watering performance fees or the juicy telco endorsement deals. Will those ones dare cross the picket line against their benefactors?

ENTERTAINMENT DEVICE LEVY?

Another interesting issue that came up was the Private Copy Levy. This is basically a surcharge on all mobile phones, tablets, PCs, storage devices, etc. to compensate musicians for the revenues they lose when we email or Bluetooth music to each other. I would be very interested to see how our analogue National Assembly would treat this sort of legislation.

F.U.B.U.

Perhaps a final impression is on a comment made by the panellist on the need to develop homegrown solutions to our problems. Yes, benchmarks can be drawn against global best practice, but ultimately the mature systems matured because they developed relatively organically and catered to the needs of their locale, not necessarily pidgeon-holing themselves into systems others had developed. I think it’s important to take local peculiarities into account, to get the system that works best for us.

All said, COSON is doing very important work and deserves commendation for how far its come in the past few years. As long as it becomes clearer how it distributes revenues it collects, and as it increasingly delivers value to the industry, the benefits to will be immense.

The Age of Gambrach: Wahala Morghulis

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In the 9th month of the first year of King Gambrach, the prophecy of Wahala Morghulis pronounced by Shiwajun came to pass. Abushola ascended to the seat that the Apicurians had reserved for Lar-Wan, but in the first Centjoury of Gambrach the senatii adjourned for vacation more than to sit over the affairs of the kingdom.

And yea, in that time did a cry go out against Abushola that whilst he was King of the lesser kingdom of Kwarapotamia, did he on a dozen and one occasions declare falsely of his property before the Tribunal Conductivitis. And lo, did the Warden of Conductivitis bring charges against Abushola (whose name they sought to change to Ananias – his wife had almost been Saphiratised herself) which wouldst unseat him as Warden of the senatii.

“Shiwajun persecuteth me”, cried Abushola Ananias, “rise up ye people of the Kingdom against this impunity!” But the people were divided – those of Apicuria professing that this was age of Gambrach where none was sacred; those of Padipalia describing it as a barbaric trial by ordeal, the people of the Fence long since having dispersed.

And Gambrach unlooked it all.

But yet could Gambrach not fully unlook that which he sought to unlook, because for the first Centjoury of his rule, had he not yet appointed a Council. This troubleth the people and they cried, “Oh Gambrach, thou former man of Gunn, now beautiful hero of the Lovengers, whenst will thou appoint a Council to govern with thee in accordance with the laws of our land?” And Gambrach responded through his Chief Scribe, Fem Callamitus, “Like the sweetened taste of aged wine over the effluxion of days, thou wouldst know in the fullness of time.”

It was said that Gambrach was sore in anguish, for he longed for his Council to be filled with only upstanding men. And he had searched high and lo, far and near for Councillors and only found 3. But of his smaller wider council, had he made appointments but mostly men from the northern kingdoms. And when it was asked why he marginalised the rest of the kingdom so, he answered, “I wouldst be a fake guy, if I compensateth not my ride or die homies.” Pressed further, on separate occasion, Gambrach remarked that members of the Council were only as useful clanging cymbals at any rate.

And thus did it bewilder many that the palace of Gambrach wouldst contend with Abushola Ananias, for the approval of the senatii was required for the appointment of the council. But there was a measure of reprieve when Gambrach spake that which he had kept in his heart, that the fullness of time and the end of the 9th month were one and the same. So the people sat in anticipation.

And in that time also was there a King in Oshunlonica by the name of Ogbenysius. Ogbenysius was famed for being ascetic and frugal in his ways. Yea, was he famed for subduing the raging beast Coasterbussium and riding in triumphantly into the town square. But Oshunlonica became bankrupt under Ogbenysius and he was unable to pay state workers their wages.

In fact, many of the lesser kingdoms under Gambrach had depleted coffers and were unable to pay their workers’ wages. And lo, did they petition Gambrach for interventi bailoutfundi. And Gambrach was moved to answer them with compassion. But not all were satisfied.

Still in this time, the people of Gideria looked unto Ambsalom, successor to Fasholam, favoured of Shiwajun, to assuage the menace of falling oxcarts and carriages and cratered pathways. Lo, for 2 weeks in Gideria, was there a daily gridlock and passage to and from the gidiopolis was greatly enstrangled. But Ambsalom was neither seen nor heard.

And yea, was a word raised against Fasholam, alleging his fame was a mere façade and he was as ordinary a king as his peers had been. Fasholam responded with a proverb about wrestling with swine and being covered in mud. Who are the swine? Shiwajun and Ambsalom? Or others whom Fem Callamitus didst christen the wailers who wail about wailing?

All this had gone on and continued during the first Centjoury and the next few days, leading into the festival of Ram. The festival of Ram was holy time of prayer and thus didst Abushola Ananias return from his travails at Conductivitis to his kinsmen in Kwarapotamia to offer prayers. Lo, was there a stirring amongst his kin and twas written of them that they chanted “Thief, Thief” and threw transparent gourds of water at him and the kings guard had to whisk Abushola Ananias away. Abusholam, through his scribe BanksAMakeAmDance, ascribed the disruption to workers being disgruntled at Kwarapotamia being in the same condition as Ogbenysius’s Oshunlonica.

Far away, from whence he also observed the festival of Ram, Shiwajun chuckled again to himself. Wahala Magnum Morghulis, he said.

New York Diary

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I finally got to see the great, great city of New York. Five previous visits to the USA but no time at all spent in the Big Apple. It was a very short stay, which was just as well, given how expensive everything was, and this is a recollection of some of my impressions, before the memories become too hazy.

Coming to America

Because I can be cheesy like that, and musical like that, planning for the trip meant that I remembered all the signature New York City songs – Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”, Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”. All great songs, which unfortunately don’t prepare you for the ugliness that is the JFK airport. Sheeeeesh! Heathrow Terminal 5, take a big bow!

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Of course, it didn’t help that the immigration queue was over 2 hours long (after a 7 hour flight!) but the murals/relief sculptures we had to stare at the whole time got uglier and uglier with each passing minute.

This won’t be a whiny article however, fear not. The airport was the low-point of the trip. Everything else was exceptional. Oh, and like Akeem, I was in Queens, but only briefly.

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Concrete Jungle

In Nigeria, we have the running gag about first timers in Lagos counting bridges. In New York, they probably have one about first-timers spraining their necks , craning, looking at all the sky scrapers. And these aren’t hideous monstrosities, no. They all manage to be unique yet complement each other in the most, well, complementary way. Taking random walks, I’d inevitably come across something iconic or historic every few blocks. Transportation was however a little awkward.

NYC Skyscrapers

Taxis are expensive. I don’t have Uber (which I saw really work for users in NYC). So I had to do the subway. In London, each subway line has a different colour and fairly distinct name – circle line (yellow), district line (green), central (red) line, etc. In New York, their lines have numbers and letters, many of which share colours. The 2 and 3 (both red), the 4 and 5 (both green), the P, Q and R (all yellow), very confusing especially when one has to switch lines. Native New Yorkers tell you how it’s all cool though.

NYC Subway

Striking though, was how these buildings, the various iconic bridges across the Hudson and the subway system all started in the early 1900s. The technology isn’t new or esoteric. Yet back home in Naija…

Brotherhood of Man

One evening, my wanderings took me into Washington Square Park, at about 10 pm. This isn’t about me getting mugged, sorry to disappoint. I heard a guitar and some singing and, being a guitar boy, followed the sound. I found 2 guys playing, one with an acoustic bass, the other with a regular 6-string, with a cluster of about 5 or 6 people sitting or standing around them. They were singing “Jumping Jack Flash”, a song I only know because of the eponymous Whoopi Goldberg movie from way back. Suddenly, somebody joined the band, with a tambourine and another person brought out shakers. Now we had percussions.

Then we started doing Beatles songs and that was when things really got going. In the middle of “Love Me Do”, we had 5 people come up and join in with the vocals, harmonising like they’d all been in rehearsals all week. Next thing, somebody shows up with a harmonica and for me, it was simply the coolest thing ever. Random strangers, mostly, getting together under the clear night sky making fantastic music.

The next day, having lunch with Siddhartha Mitter and my cousin Seyi, I got a little history lesson about how Washington Square Park used to be the hub for artsy types and how if it was 40/50 years ago, I could have run into Bob Dylan or Buddy Holly before they became famous. With NYU buying up most of the neighbouring property and Manhattan becoming more expensive than the average struggling artist can afford, the park is no longer the talent incubator it used to be.

DSLR Congress

If Canon, Sony or Nikkon are being publicly traded, you should buy shares in those companies. The sheer magnitude of people carrying expensive photography equipment about was staggering. (*strokes own Sony DSLR lovingly*)

Homeward Bound

I won’t dwell too much on the airport security queues heading out but given that other countries do these same checks with the same amount of rigour and seriousness, the TSA could probably do a bit better. Yes, NYC bears the scars of 9/11 (I stumbled onto ground zero too, by the way) but the airport experience was very subpar.

On the flip side, I have never had a more expeditious exit from the Muritala Mohammed International Airport than I did on this trip. Nigerian Immigrations still employ 2 different officers to put the one stamp on it (*rolls eyes*) but baggage was out pronto and Customs were courteously on point. Change, eh?