What Spotify's Entry Into African Markets Means For the Continent's Music Ecosystem
Photo Illustration by Soumyabrata Roy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

What Spotify's Entry Into African Markets Means For the Continent's Music Ecosystem

We look into how Spotify's expansion to 38 more African countries affects audiences and artists.

On March 4 this year, Spotify officially kicked off its planned expansion into 38 African countries. There were exquisite campaign rollouts with artists from across the continent and brimming excitement on social media. Most importantly, there was the understanding that a new chapter had opened for Africa's music ecosystem.

Before Spotify announced its entry in February, the Swedish audio streaming app which houses over 70 million songs and 2.6 million podcasts, was previously only available in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia. Its expansion, however now includes 38 more countries in Africa, adding music hubs like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal and Sierra Leone. This development marks a new beginning for the streaming company, one which experts have predicted to have immense economic advantages, despite existing streaming platforms like Apple Music, Audiomack and Boomplay which pose competition.

Considering Spotify's existing popularity in many parts of Africa, even before it became widely available, these predictions are not so far-fetched. According to a Statista report, the revenue for music streaming in Africa is projected to reach $493 million come 2025.

Change for young consumers

Before Spotify became available in Nigeria, 23-year-old Bolu Akindele could only sign up for the streaming app with a VPN (Virtual Private Network). And even after signing up, the app might occasionally need a VPN to keep it running.The major appeal of Spotify for Akindele was its aesthetic. "At the heart of it, it's a thoughtful design. You know that these ones aren't just here to take your money. They want to take it, but they want to give you the best time while they do so, " he explains.

Spotify's African Heat cover featuring Focalistic.

Oyindamola Ajibike, another young Nigerian who used Spotify while it was still unavailable in the region, found that using a VPN to access Spotify wasn't much trouble as it is the only streaming app she found satisfactory. "It wasn't a struggle at all. Once I installed the app and set it up the first time, I was good to go, " she says. "I went through that stress because there was no music application I found satisfactory. Apple Music required me to pay upfront and didn't even make playlists the way Spotify does. Deezer doesn't have a wide database of music. And Spotify makes good recommendations. I was hooked, " the 23-year-old recalls.

The day Spotify's availability was announced, the excitement was hard to miss. For some, like Akindele, it meant no longer having to pay $9.99 to access the streaming app, on top of the cost of accessing VPNs which could cost up to $10. Now, he only pays $3. "The major problem, really, was not having access to a wide range of services that Spotify offers without using a third-party payment app (or a VPN). Their presence in Nigeria also meant that I could access the service for a lot cheaper than I did for two years, that I didn't have to worry about changing location on my App Store, and most importantly, I didn't need to use third-party apps to process my payments. That's definitely exciting," Akindele shares.

For others, it was simply about having seamless options, but most importantly, it meant uninstalling that VPN app and accessing one's favorite streaming app without restrictions. With this entry, it is also easier for listeners to have their tastes crafted to suit them better. "The more a listener listens to Spotify, the more the experience can be customized for him and that gives the editors the intel to craft better playlists for them, and that means that their representation is going to deepen and lengthen as people continue to listen," Phiona Okumu, Head Of Music, Sub-Saharan Africa explains.

What this means for African artists

If this is great for Spotify listeners, it is even more exciting for African artists whose songs are housed on the platform. South African artist Moonchild Sanelly believes that for African artists, this expansion will be a helpful way to improve streaming numbers. "I [am hoping for] more streaming and less pirate downloads. And for me personally it's meant I got to be the face of the Spotify 'African Heat' playlist on a Times Square billboard," she enthuses.

Nigeria's Olamide shared, via a publicist, that since Spotify's entry, his monthly average user count on the platform has seen significant growth. "He did reveal that his monthly average users on Spotify and streams overall went up significantly immediately after the expansion, from a previous peak of 834k/month to now 1.1 million," said the publicist.

African Heat to the

This also means that African artists now have factual and comprehensive data on how their music is doing. As Okumu explains, the real difference between Africans listening from the continent using a VPN and listening directly in Africa is that there is much more legitimate information and data for the artists whose music is being listened to.

"That's the information they need to base their marketing and touring decisions on. And if this intel suggests that they are popping in another country, say Brazil or Kenya, they are able to collaborate with artists there. This is the truest representation of that dynamic and it is the most important gain from this," Okumu adds.

Another interesting point raised by Okumu is the opportunities this expansion opens up for emerging artists. Through its various accelerator programs including EQUAL and RADAR, emerging artists from the continent are able to receive much more grounded support for their work. "Last year alone, our editorial team added 76 thousand artists to our playlists, imagine now that we are immersed in this amazing region, with this amazing pool of artists and creators imagine how much more is going to be drawn into this ecosystem and what it is going to generate and give back to the consumers and investors."

Challenges and the future ahead

But there are a few existing platforms that pose a challenge to Spotify's entry into more African markets. Audiomack and Nigeria-based Boomplay for instance, are streaming platforms whose off-line streaming options have endeared them to a large number of users in countries like Nigeria. The analytics website Apptopia identified Nigeria as one of the major contributors to Audiomack's rising number of users. There is also the case of subscription fees that, in economically disadvantaged countries on the continent, can still not convince African users to switch to Spotify. Audiomack for example only costs $1.16, alongside its offline listening feature. From the artist's side, we've still yet to see how smaller or independent African artists will react to the relatively low streaming revenue that comes from song plays on Spotify. According to Business Insider, Spotify "generally pays between $.003 and $.005 per stream, meaning you'll need about 250 streams to make a dollar."

The globalization of music from the African continent is a journey that continues to progress with impressive speed and enthusiasm from foreign investors/collaborators and the machines that power the global music industry. While some of this can be attributed in some way to how social media can seamlessly transmit and draw people into experiences that are different from theirs, yet hold immense appeal. Another part is also in the works that African artists are putting in to ensure that their sounds are at once truly African while performing at an incredible level of artistry.

It has only been a couple of months since the app made its entry and it would be interesting to see the ways it could continue to benefit artists and creators on the continent. As Sanelly says, "A global audience for African artists is definitely a good thing because a lot more people have the opportunity to experience sounds from so many different cultures, it's a chance to listen to the source of the music that has influenced so much for so long."