Universal Music Group’s African roster includes Tiwa Savage (Nigeria), Rapper Nasty C (South Africa), Diamond Platnumz (Tanzania), and Sauti Sol (Kenya). Spotify, a global music streaming service entered the continent’s market in a big way by launching its service in 39 more African nations, earlier in the year. They stepped into a market that already hosted home-grown brands such as Boomplay, Mdundo, and MusicTime among others.
According to the Global Music Report (2021) revenue from recorded music in Africa and the Middle East increased by 8.4% in 2020 from 2019. Streaming revenues in the region went up 36.4% from the previous year and were the main revenue source for the music industry as a whole for the region.
While music has the ability to heal the soul and to relax your mind and many upcoming artists have struggled to make ends meet it is a driving factor to economic success. Beyond garnering views on Youtube, likes on social media & topping radio station charts, music holds great potential in alleviating poverty.
It not only gives a platform for Artists to be cultural magnets, and trendsetters but also entrepreneurs. The business opportunity is presented beyond earning royalties in the areas of brand deals and sponsorships with corporates to promote their music, themselves, their brand, and other businesses.
How the music industry works, is a whole other discussion to have on another day. However, the key areas that can be mentioned are Artist Management, Publishing, Legal such as IP, Live Shows & touring among many others. In the suburb of Spring Valley in Nairobi, Kenya sits a pan-African based Covibes Technologies – brainchild of Stephen Nderitu (Kenya), Victor Yunusa (Nigeria ) & Kayode Daniels ( Nigeria )- that is looking into the task of decentralising record label services on the continent.
Covibes was born in the last quarter of 2019 after both men sat over a casual conversation on music and life. After the company was formed, the young partners got on board an investor who pumped in USD$100,000 which led to Stephen’s move to Lagos, Nigeria. Stephen’s move to a foreign country without a stable source of income for him was an uphill task but he was willing to build the business from the ground up. A couple of years later Covibes has more than 2,000 artists in their program, and around 430 producers.
Stephen is one of the lucky people who get to turn their passion into profit, and earn a living from it, he desires to build structure in the music industry. In order for one to build passion and purpose the main focus should be on growing skills. His passion for music was harnessed while he was young as a child of a songwriter and member of the choir. One of his favourite moments in school was the drama and music lessons that he effortlessly excelled in. “My grandmother was one of the best dancers that I have ever seen,” Stephen shares.
Right after High School, he secured a Studio Manager job where he was introduced to recording music and DJing by one of the producers there. Stephen decided to pursue his music passion through learning music production and he became a renowned DJ. He worked as a DJ for 5 years while he was on campus and was flourishing and building a name in the music industry. His escapades enabled him to form connections with many artists, producers and DJ’s in the music industry in Kenya which helped him to identify a niche for his first business idea.
Stephen created Legit Music – a marketplace that linked DJ’s in Nairobi with suppliers of quality music equipment from abroad. It helped DJs focus more on their craft and to get rid of the headache of trying to figure out the whole shopping and shipping process.
At the height of Legit Music, Stephen experienced burnout and frustration. He got access to a Meltwater Entrepreneurial School Of Technology (MEST) seed fund that was looking for young creative minds that would create the next big technology companies in Africa. Among 6,000 applicants, only 12 from Kenya were selected and Stephen was one of them.
While at MEST, Stephen was hungry for all the skills he could get that would propel him to the next level of his business. He wanted to understand entrepreneurship on a global scale. During his stay there he was focused on growing his music passion into a full-time career.
He enrolled for short courses from Berklee College of Music to learn how to manage an artist, how to create an event, budgeting and all matters of the music business. It is during this time, he met Victor Yunusa who owned a recording studio in Nigeria at the time.
The music industry is cut-throat with a lot of trust issues thanks to artists getting duped. Stephen is focused on decentralising opportunities in the music space so as to enable every musician to get an equal chance to excel. Having been to Lagos, Ghana and Kenya he learned that there is so much talent that people have to offer but most rarely get the opportunity to showcase it. This is why they aim to decentralise opportunities for all artists.
Stephen believes that in order to succeed in the already saturated music industry, one needs to “put their skin in the game” by understanding what the customer needs and then provide a solution. They have been able to build the customers’ complaints/concerns into a solution that solves the different pain points. Covibes acts as the go-between and ensures that both parties are satisfied and secure before any payment is disbursed to the producer.
They match-make artists to a quality studio that is within their music production budget. Helping them book top recording producers, and quality studio time with the customers’ needs as the focus and giving them a competitive edge. The company then earns a 20% commission on every booking that is processed through its platform.
Unfortunately, the global pandemic hit right before they launched their product into the market. By virtue of their business model, it proved to be difficult to run during the pandemic as it required people to meet and create music which was highly discouraged due to social distancing. The travel restrictions proved to be a headache as some of the artists need to travel through different cities to the studios.
The temporary closure of events proved to be a challenge for the musicians. In order to survive, they created innovative products like the ‘Beat Drive’ where producers were asked to create certain beats that Covibes would market to the artists in their platform.
The other product was inclined to a legal angle where artists would book a session with a legal specialist and they would get advice about all the information they need to protect their skill at a discounted fee. Despite their revenue reducing by around 80%, they managed to sail through the storm by working with a strong team that was dedicated to working towards the vision and building strong relationships with the whole community.
“Coming from the traumatic experience of COVID-19 the first thing I was looking for was a safe space to work with people who are going through a sort of similar issue. My startup is primarily based in Lagos & Ghana, I am the only one working from Kenya. For me to connect more with them, I need to be in this community full of young entrepreneurs in tech that we can grow together,” shares Stephen.
He concludes by saying, “Nairobi Garage has provided the community that every entrepreneur is looking for, it is a safe space that enables me to create and the opportunities presented are endless. It is not just a coworking space, it is a community within a tribe.”