It’s odd how we speak of how Chance The Rapper cracked the free music formular, without mention of Drake’s 2011 ‘Free The Single’ campaign. In between crafting the Take Care album and steadily gaining traction as a performer, Drizzy suddenly decides to release a couple of completed songs off the album, for free. Were his moves to put out music with no pay come from a genuine appreciation for his fans or was it a part of a bigger scheme? His record label was against it, for one, they tried to stop him even. Fast forward 5 years later, Drake is reforming how we view albums. Coasting on the success of the chart topping Views, he brings up a playlist to tide fans over until his next project.
Chance the Rapper’s turn may have come later, but it is not to be disregarded. After releasing his Colouring Book mixtape, the third since his 2012 10-Days debut, Chance followed up the release by heading out on the road to tour the project. What began as an easy-reach tactic to increase fan accessibility to music by up and coming artists has become more or less a business model. While this threatens to usurp the album format, the rise of streaming already hinted at a possibility that digital music distribution would eventually topple traditional album sales. After all we all knew the day would come when artists of a digital era would to have to seek out new means of reaping profits off their art due to multiple means of public access. We just didn’t think it’d be so soon, since the first Mp3 player even came to be.
The Nigerian system of doing music, particularly distribution has always been simple. Everything you do is for free. Every single song put out is not with the intent of making bank but just to get visibility. At the end of the year, when listeners have played the song enough to get it on the radio, the artist might end up as a side performer at Olamide’s OLIC or on one of the many weddings, birthdays and end-of-the-year galas which turn up in December. Little is said about actual numbers in Nigerian music industry but a bulk of the industry’s revenue is generated at this time of the year. In 2016, reports indicated that over $50million was generated in end-of-the-year revenue from music events in Lagos alone. What is marketed in America as a Project-to-Tour system is reflected in a similar but less scaled Single-to-Christmas-Concert format. Only problem is, while this model influences other aspects of an artistry (album crafting, composition, marketing etc.) in American markets, in Nigeria, the reverse is the case.
The emphasis on touring in America goes beyond ticket and merchandise sales, artists also use it as a medium to give fans a live experience of whole projects. This goes a long way to solidify the meaning of an album as well as strengthen post-release relevance on the charts. The contrast is sharp when compared to Nigeria because emphasis is placed on singles, oftentimes dredging into mindless radio pop that can only keep artists on stage for no longer than a 20 or 30 minute set, let alone a tour that would put said artist on the road for many months.
This directly impacts the album culture, making it near impossible to consider touring because artists only have a handful of material to perform anyway. Other failings of a singles based music industry falls along the lines of the lack of dedication to stagecraft because artists have a 30-day period in December to play over a hundred shows (For an A-list act) all over the continent. The short time-frame between locations often leave artists fatigued and jaded and the result is crooked, half-bake outings that never give attending fans the value for their time and money.
The lack of tours shortchange African artists of a healthy ecosystem of corporations, record labels and distribution links willing to bankroll talent with value. Due to the proliferation of piracy and low sales in the local industry, many scholars over the past few years have emphasized sales and re-distribution as the best way for artists to get profits off their music. But as is evident from Chance The Rapper and Drake, that Nigerian musicians offer their music for free is anything but the problem.
Touring needs investors and investors need a product. Mr Eazi who is currently touring his Accra to Lagos mixtape and Davido who is on a 30 Billion World Tour for a vast catalog of material he has built over the years, are exceptions to their counterparts averseness to touring. But these are two artists who are already inherent in their own becoming as African music establishments, giving artists of their caliber, leverage to pitch to promoters and independent venture capitalists. Due to how a lax album culture impacts touring, singles are aggressively pushed on the radio, encouraging a Payola culture that further robs the industry of some actual brand ingenuity. Hence, it becomes very likely to have a superstar artist with ultra-successful singles who cannot be marketed as a product , because hype sells singles and nothing more.
Perhaps, consideration has to be given for how much Nigerian artists differ from their foreign counterparts. Circumstances on both sides of the Atlantic have shaped how Nigerians have benefited from a formula they perfected. Nonetheless, the conversation about touring must be opened to ensure a system that works for artists and encourages them to take more risk. To understand that well put together performances matter more a set of shows stacked into a two-week period. That African music has inherent problems that prevents album sales from being a profitable business model should in no way remove from the purpose of an album or the qualitative era for the culture it should inspire.
Additional Words By: Ehimenim Agweh
Featured Image Credit: Instagram/@champagnepapi