Everything you need to know about the Recording Certification of Nigeria

We spoke to the body's co-founders to gain more clarity of its operations

There’s a popular saying that goes men lie, women lie, but the numbers don’t. Since music became a lucrative venture, there has been a clear focus on data, whether it’s how many physical CDs an artist sold or the number of an artists’ monthly listeners and views. Due to the emphasis on commercial profits, this data is often the primary indicator of how well a song, an album, and/or an artist is doing. Today in the streaming era, where an increasingly globalised world is fostering listening without the need for physical borders, these numbers now go beyond simply identifying volume, and provide way more context for the current climate.

Last week, the Recording Certification of Nigeria (RCN), a newly-minted body aimed at certifying “artistic achievements across several platforms in which music consumed in the country”, announced that Simi’s “Duduke” was the most viewed music video on YouTube by Nigerians in the country, over the last three years. To many, that was a shocking revelation, however, to Dolapo Amusat and Ayomide Oriowo, the co-founders of the RCN, it was par for the course.

Just days before, the RCN had announced itself as a pioneering certification body, they had launched a short-form video certification, verifying to the public the diverse list of music videos that have been the most popular on YouTube Nigeria in 2018.

“We started with short-form video certification because YouTube actually has a platform that provides this data, especially analytics that breakdown regional numbers,” Dolapo explains during a Google Meet call, along with the three other RCN co-founders present. “That means, with YouTube you can tell how many people have streamed a video from a particular country.” In the last decade, Nigerian pop music has played a foundational role in the increased global popularity of music emerging out of Africa, garnering a truly international audience that has only been amplified with on-demand music streaming.

At the same time, though, the reality of streaming in Nigeria is that it’s yet to be widely proliferated. Coupled with the fact that these numbers are collated globally across various streaming platforms, local streaming numbers have been largely obscured. Regardless, there’s still a lot of potential to get things right and begin accurately documenting our data, and this is how RCN hopes to fill the void. By contextualising the extent of local support in the same way better-established music industries around the world have been doing for years. (Think America’s RIAA, Australia’s ARIA, South Africa’s RiSA, and more.)

At the moment, the body is certifying music videos with the typical Gold and Platinum benchmarks, tuning the criteria to mirror current streaming habits in Nigeria. The short-form video format awards gold certifications for 2,500 units, platinum for 5,000 units, and multi-platinum starting from 10,000 units, where one unit is equivalent to 300 streams/views.

Also comprising of Fortune Osayawe and Similoluwa Adegoke, the currently 4-man operation now have their sights set on adding to Nigeria’s growing music ecosystem with a wholesome mode of operation in the near future. To this end, the NATIVE spoke to the RCN co-founders about the current music video roll-out, the reasoning and process behind the body’s formation, and their future plans for African music. Our conversation, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity.

NATIVE: When did you come up with the idea for RCN, and why did it start now?

Ayomide: We [TurnTable] had that idea to start this back in September last year. That was the first time we had that conversation, we’d been doing charts for a while, but we figured it would be weird to be a chart’s publication and also be part of the certification body—it was like being judge and jury. So we postponed it, thinking someone else would do it. But in January, we had this Clubhouse room where there were a few industry guys—including Bizzle and Foza—and Foza mentioned that TurnTable charts should be the one to start it. I mentioned our involvements with the charts already, and then they said there was no rules against it.

Tron (Fortune) had already mentioned something about doing certifications a week prior, and we just figured, we already have the same idea so let’s just get this done. So we just went off that energy from that room, and we started making plans, trying to figure out how to pull it off, and getting everything together.

NATIVE: That’s about two short months between conception and rolling out publicly.

Ayomide: Technically, it’s wasn’t that short because we (TTC) have been planning for it, we just didn’t want to start it as TurnTable certification. We’ve had the idea of how to start, the whole short-form video thing, but it was just January that we decided to work on and we knew that it’s WeTalkSound we wanted to work on it with.

NATIVE: What were the technical humps that you guys had to figure out in that set-up period?

Fortune: After discussing and agreeing that we were going to do this together, that’s the four of us from TTC and WTS, we knew we had the skills to set things up between ourselves. I got started with branding, creating the logo, social media, and things like that. Simi is our dev, he sort of built the website, and I created the UI/UX design for it. I got Vyne (multi-disciplinary artist and WTS affiliate) involved as well with the UI, sent that over to Simi and he built the site within about a week. For some reason, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get things going. I think we were set to announce on a Thursday, but we had some complications with the website and we ended up pushing things back to the next day.

Obviously, Dolapo’s got some industry connections, so we knew we were covered with putting the word and interacting with managers, label executives, and industry people. Ayomide, too, with TurnTable Charts, they already had the data and all we had to do was interpret the data, get Simi to upload to the website, and Ayomide has written all the articles on the website so far. Dolapo and Ayomide also wrote a few e-mails we’ll be sending out to brands and just about anyone we feel needs to know about the establishment of this body.

Ayomide: I think, on my end and TTC’s, the major difficulty was figuring out the metric we were going to use because the idea when we started was to make it close to the UK, where its 50,000 units is to go gold. But when we used that benchmark and compiled the data together, we realised that no one was meeting it or even close to it. So, we figured that we need to bring this down to something that actually works, then we looked beyond the UK to other countries like Italy, France and South Africa just to find something we can use as a comparable market. Even then, that wasn’t enough, because if we set 10,000 units for gold, no one was still going to get it. We were just like, this is what the market is and we should just keep it at what is attainable, and it would still be a few artists at the end of the day. We wanted benchmarks that would be remarkable when it’s achieved, and not so unattainable that there’s just one gold-certified video in Nigeria.

NATIVE: Why is 300 streams equal to one sale unit?

Ayomide: Because there’s no existing benchmark in Nigeria, we had to use both data that TTC has collected so far, and then comparable markets like France and South Africa, places that were close to us to affect the way we would structure ours. We picked S.A. because that’s the closest thing we have to a certification in Africa, and theirs is currently 200 streams to one unit. We did more research and realised that they don’t factor in several platforms that we’ll be factoring into ours, so whatever we’re doing has to be higher than theirs because they’re factoring in lesser platforms. We also compared to other markets, and we realised that a number like 1000 streams for a unit is not attainable for the market, so we decided to go with something close to S.A, at least something bigger than theirs but also reflective of our reality.

NATIVE: I like the idea of setting the benchmark relative to our streaming reality. Will you guys consider reviewing if streaming evolves positively?

Ayomide: I mean, there are several markets that have changed, like Australia and the UK have changed over time, and there are places where it’s been fixed for long periods. It’s the market that will determine what we do, the change has to be enough that the shift is recognisable to review the benchmarks. I guess the fact that people are noticing that numbers aren’t exactly high might push things forward, but I still doubt that because most Nigerians spend their time watching videos on TV. I mean, why go to YouTube when Trace and Soundcity will put it on your screens. With time, maybe that will evolve and people will turn to YouTube ahead of TV. If there’s a need for review, it will definitely happen.

Fortune: On that note, though, I know Ayomide thinks it’s not gonna do much, but I feel [the certifications] is going to have some impact. For example, a video like Davido’s “FEM” is on the verge of going double platinum will probably make his fans go hard, because we’re making the numbers visible on the website, I feel like fans will definitely see those on the verge of certification as incentive to stream more. It really depends on how competitive and monumental this becomes.

NATIVE: Certifications are huge but the plaques are the bragging rights. How will you guys start handing them out?

Fortune: Obviously, this is one of the things we’re struggling with because we don’t have the funds and backing yet, no one’s sponsoring us. So, we have to live by our means, because if we decide to start producing plaques and giving them out, we’d literally go bankrupt. We’ve decided to create a letter, e-mail sort of notification to tell artists that they’ve reached a milestone and they can apply, and pay, to get their plaques. For the video certifications, we’ll just be sending out notifications to artists and labels. Obviously, the plaque design has to be nice and appealing, we’re still working on and we’ve got an idea of what it should look like at the moment. One of these days, we’ll post the template version of it, or maybe we’ll present it to one artist so others can decide if they want it or not.

NATIVE: Why did you guys choose to rollout with short-form videos?

Dolapo: This is something no one here has done, that’s fundamental to note. When you’re defining things like this for a market that hasn’t had any real structure, it’s basically who picks up the mantle that will contextualise what the reality is. When they started RIAA and all these other certification bodies, it was just a bunch of people that came together and kicked things off. One fundamental problem around this whole certification thing—around charts, anything around data analytics—is music data availability. The data is not being given to us on a platter of gold, where Spotify, Apple Music is giving us data, that’s a hurdle we’ll have to surmount because only some of these platforms have their numbers displayed publicly.

We started with short-form video certification because YouTube actually has a platform that provides this data, especially analytics that breakdown regional numbers. That means, with YouTube you can tell how many people have streamed a video from a particular country. Videos is just one data point, we have two other certifications, this is the short-form video, we have the freemium streaming, and we’ll have a paid services one. The latter one will be based on request, where we’ll certify based on the numbers provided by the labels, but freemium streaming will be based on the platforms where we can see the numbers for ourselves. For short-form video, we’re only using YouTube which is one data point, as opposed to freemium streaming where we’ll be combining Audiomack, Boomplay, Gbedu, and YouTube NG again.

This is the easiest way to start because it’s just one data point, the numbers are transparent, it’s easy to iterate and change things as we move on, if we need to change anything, as opposed to the complex ones where to even start is more complex than this one. So it’s like building a tech product where you start with the easiest version first, you let the market react, you answer questions, get feedback, go back and make it better. That’s really the approach we’ve taken, to start with the most straightforward and the one with the easiest available data that has less controversy. The idea was just to start and see what people would say and if the reactions had been, “fuck this thing, we don’t want it, screw you guys”, maybe we would have gone back to our houses because people don’t want it. It was just about starting with the easiest to explain, easiest to execute, the validation, and start working on the others. It’s not that we don’t have the other certification forms figured out already, but it’s just best to start with reason.

NATIVE: What stuck out to you guys when you started collating data for these short-form video certifications?

Fortune: The percentage of streams coming from Nigeria surprised me. I remember when we landed on the metrics and it was 750,000 views to go gold, and I was like, “that’s too low”, which is exactly what the reaction was initially on Twitter. Then when Ayomide sent in the analytics that only one artist in Nigeria had gone beyond 3million views from Nigeria, I was shocked because I had seen videos over the years gaining millions of views, and I’m thinking, “wow, Nigerians are actually riding for these artists”, just to find out that only five to ten percent of those views are only from Nigerians. Like, in the last three years, only Simi has crossed 3million views, and not Wizkid, Davido or Burna Boy.

Simi: My input around data collation was comparatively minimal, but I think it was Naira Marley getting so many certifications. I probably expected more generally, but that shocked me.

Dolapo: I wouldn’t say anything has shocked me, it just validated things I already thought. Naira Marley for instance, if you have been following you would know that when YouTube Music launched last year, they actually used him as the face of the launch. Google announced search performance on YouTube then, and Naira Marley was the most viewed artist in Nigeria in 2019, a lot of people maybe didn’t see that. I wasn’t surprised by all those certifications, because he has a huge following locally. Maybe because I’m generally observant around analytics generally, it didn’t catch me by surprise.

Ayomide: For me, it’s more like Dolapo, mostly because we’ve seen most of the data at TurnTable anyways. We already had an idea of what would happen, because last year also, Naira Marley was top 5 on YouTube. It’s things that we expect, but as we make more announcements, people will see a lot more surprising stuff around Gospel, Hausa music, and Indian music—Zeeworld soundtracks.

YouTube is one of the more inclusive data points in Nigeria, like, the third-highest video in terms of so far is by an arewa artist—Hamisu Breaker’s “Jaruma Mata”—literally only behind Simi’s “Duduke” and Davido’s “FEM”. There are several gospel artists, Igbo artists, non-Nigerian stuff that was probably popular from a satellite TV channel and people just went on YouTube to check their videos. We represent as many different types of music videos popular in Nigeria. So far, we’ve tracked over five thousand videos from the last three years, and it’s only going to get bigger. You’ll see all types of artists getting certifications as long as they are able to meet the criteria, artists that you typically wouldn’t see on, say, Apple Music and Audiomack charts will get certified for their YouTube milestones. We’re at 92 certifications right now, and we’ll keep moving from there.

NATIVE: As regards Nigerian pop music, those percentages of local views speak to how well our music is travelling. Do you plan on representing that with the charts?

Dolapo: The thing with certifications is that they’re local, and that’s really what we can concern ourselves with. These guys are already getting certifications around the world, Burna has plaques from Canada, the UK, and France, Davido has two golds in the U.S. and he has several from South Africa. That’s the irony of the situation now, these guys are already getting plaques from around the world but none in their own home country, that’s the problem we’re solving. They’re already celebrated abroad, we’re the ones that are not tracking anything here.

Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Let me know your favourite the Cavemen songs @dennisadepeter