Fans must claim a digital space for artists in today’s music industry

If you’ve ever partied with Nigerians, you might have noticed something: they don’t mind asking the host or DJ to play whatever music they want to hear.

They will travel to other countries and ask for Afrobeats. Call it cultural pride if you will, but there’s something to be said here about how it paid off in the exuberant export of music, art, literature, film and other Nigerian cultural influences.

You’ll see proof of that in Spotify’s charts. In Nigeria, you’ll find local artists taking up most of the top spots (Asake practically lives there at the moment), with a few more from further afield popping up. In South Africa, you’ll see good numbers for local artists, but it can skew towards international hits.

In Kenya, international artists tend to have more streams than local artists.

But we know there will be Nigerian names on the charts pretty much everywhere. And the charts, in turn, influence pop culture.

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The charts have always dominated, and in the age of streaming, they demonstrate the weight this has given to African artists and African culture in general. Music has become infinitely accessible.

On the continent, this means that beyond the rise of Afrobeats, musical conversations have grown around powerful emerging genres like Amapiano, Gengetone and the Ghanaian interpretation of Drill known locally as Asakaa.

Streaming has changed the way we experience music. When the MP3 was created, piracy raged through the music industry and quickly took the power away from record companies and artists.

When Spotify launched in 2006, it stabilized things. Streaming has proven to be an easier, safer and more enjoyable option than illegally downloading and storing content yourself.

Plus, streaming data has shown us new ways to understand how people play music.

Of course, such changes couldn’t happen without criticism, including arguments about how music streaming has changed listening, as well as rumors about how record labels are struggling to break new artists.

New experiences

Well yes. New technologies lead to new experiences. When the power changes and the world changes, you can’t necessarily do things the way you always have.

Such calls to tradition have spelled the death knell for many companies that are quickly being overtaken by innovators and disruptors.

Spotify was born in response to a major shift in the music industry, and we continually work to strike the right tone by bringing attention to the talent, stories and narratives this beautiful continent has to share.

But what if the numbers don’t reflect the levels of discovery the app is trying to promote?

You could say, for example, that Spotify should playlist more Kenyan artists in response to the huge audience that Nigerian music has in Kenya.

However, this misses an important point about how the platform differs from old institutional molds.

Think about how a dictionary works.

The dictionary is not prescriptive, it is descriptive. So if people use a word enough times, it becomes a language – even if it’s different from how the word is “meant” to be used. Similarly, Spotify responds to what people play. In a way, the algorithm looks for the love people show through listening and selects music accordingly. This is how he builds a world.

Spotify strives to be the home of audio culture. He designed the space and the artists make it beautiful, inspiring and exciting.

But, ultimately, culture is defined by the people who experience it.

This means that listeners must claim this space and make it their own. Nigerians do this when they choose their music first and when they visit other countries and boldly ask a DJ to change the playlist to Afrobeats.

Streaming has given us all more freedom when it comes to music – it’s more accessible and convenient. You don’t spend money hoarding piles of CDs or tapes, you can’t lose your music, and you won’t miss any music because of where you live.

But with that freedom comes responsibility, as mundane as that may sound. If you want to see your local artists on the charts, if you want to support artists’ careers, then listen to their work.

If you think new artists should be able to break into the industry, go get their music.

In today’s world, we cannot rely solely on record labels and platforms. It is the public who hold the power to create new artists and make their favorites thrive. Play their music, talk about it and share it, wherever you can.

Spotify has plenty of tools to do this, but it’s still just the architect of the space. If you love music, you must live here. Claim space and push the game.

The writer is the Head of Music (Sub-Saharan Africa) at Spotify

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