Collaborator & Editor - Srishti Das
Whether it’s Amapiano, K-Pop, Reggaeton or Afrobeats, the success of a new generation in music is dependent on the artists and the fans but also on the industry and teams that develop around the scene. At the end of the day, the music is being commercialised, and therefore, a support system that understands and can speak to the history and the nuance of the original stories behind the sound makes a big difference in upholding the authenticity that will advance the genre and the overall culture for the better.
Behind every superstar artist is a strong team and a thriving scene
K-Pop truly exploded onto the world stage around the mid-2010s; a few years later, it was Reggaeton’s turn to captivate audiences, and shortly after, in 2023, it is now Afrobeats that has become the sound of today. Whether or not you are a fan of any of this music, you will likely still have at least heard of either BTS, Bad Bunny or Burna Boy – these three artists are generally considered to be the front-running stars of their respective genres.
Though they are now icons of their cultures, before BTS, there were numerous K-Pop boy bands and girl groups from Seo Taiji and Boys to BIGBANG, SHINee, Girls’ Generation, and more idols, including the global success of Gangnam Style by PSY that really put K-pop on an international platform. BTS was also formed and is managed by HYBE Corporation (formerly Big Hit Entertainment), which has now established itself as one of K-Pop's “Big Four” entertainment companies. In Bad Bunny’s case, he was preceded in particular by Daddy Yankee, often called the “King of Reggaeton” and frequently cited as a major influence by other Latin and Hispanic artists. Bad Bunny is also signed to the independent Puerto Rican label Rimas Entertainment, where co-founder Noah Assad has managed his entire career. For Burna Boy, Afrobeats has long had a number of stars who were constantly evolving the genre from MI Abaga and Sarkodie to P-Square and D’banj to Davido and Rema today. It is by its nature an amalgamation of sounds, though stylistically, Afrobeats can also be tied back to the near-eponymous genre of Afrobeat. Burna Boy is managed by his mother, Bose Ogulu, aka “Mama Burna”; in fact, her father once managed Fela Kuti, who is generally considered the “Father of Afrobeat”.
The sound that is topping charts and on repeat in clubs will change over time, but what remains consistent is the fact that it’s not just the artist that goes international; it’s the entire scene, from the creatives to the business. Building out one’s own ecosystem, where culturally rich and representative independent artists, companies, managers, and A&Rs are all key, plays a significant role in laying an authentic foundation for the culture. This also enables more effective communication of why the scene was born and how it has evolved over time, such as how Afrobeats showcases the movement of the African diaspora, providing authentic storytelling that audiences are more likely to connect with based on genuineness and empathy. Amapiano now has its pick of fast-rising stars from Musa Keys and Uncle Waffles to Major League DJz. By observing the history of other music scenes and collaborating with creative and driven business-savvy individuals in the local community, new-age genres like Amapiano have the prime opportunity to learn from existing music models and build an improved structure to take this booming sound to even greater heights.
The right business collaboration depends on branding and career stage | Major League DJz Case Study
For Major League DJz, the brother-duo decided on a more traditional path of industry collaboration. From officially releasing their first single in 2017 to dropping their first album in 2020, they quickly garnered a significant loyal fandom in South Africa and across the continent but also especially among the diaspora in the UK and increasingly across the world, soon finding themselves touring around Europe and over to the US and Canada. During the pandemic, the brothers also started their own online party, Balcony Mix, which helped them showcase Amapiano through YouTube at a time when live music was out of bounds. They eventually collaborated with other artists at off-beat rooftops once the lockdown restrictions began to loosen up. The Hybrid live stream model was one they eventually took with them throughout the world, from New York to London to Bali.
With Major League DJz’s astronomical rise to stardom, it’s no big surprise that they quickly attracted the notice of major record labels. In March 2022, Major League DJz announced on social media that they had signed with WMG’s Atlantic Records in a global deal covering the US and the UK. With this new level of industry muscle behind them, the path to working directly with large brands was now clear, and that’s exactly what they did in August 2022 with Nando’s via the inaugural “Mix It Up” EP project. This collaboration was so well-received and on point, as Nando’s is also a multinational South African establishment with its largest market actually in the UK, that they recently just popped up again with Nando’s this year. The brothers clearly determined that working with a major label was the next key business move in further elevating their career, and it’s great to see their decision paying off for them.
We have entered a new generation of ‘Artists in Control’ | Music Keys case study
For Musa Keys, who remains independent with his labels Keys Records and TAYO Projects, it’s all about “staying relevant forever.” As a triple-threat powerhouse who DJs, produces, and sings, he has the technical side of music down pat. What he wants to ensure he also masters is the business side of music. Musa Keys is very hands-on, both so that he has complete ownership over his career and so when big deals inevitably come knocking on his door, he fully understands what he is negotiating with and can securely stand toe to toe with them. New business models and clarity of vision have led to a new generation of Artists in Control, which has led to more effective ways of cutting through the noise around a music scene. Musa Keys also recognises that everyone needs a helping hand at some point, himself included, which is why he built out TAYO Projects, where he develops and establishes newer artists – creating a proper ecosystem where everyone can flourish.
“They’re more of management deals; we just do record label things because we tryna get the artists to enjoy themselves and make it worth it for them.”
– Musa Key’s January 2023 interview with Mixmag
Traditional labels, even major frontline ones, are constantly being founded, deactivated, and reactivated. Similar to what Olamide did with YBNL Nation and Don Jazzy with Mavin Records, investing in TAYO Projects and focusing more on this management-label hybrid in the long term could inadvertently become yet another way for Musa Keys to ensure he consistently remains within the industry and part of the current social conversation through the artists he supports.
When scenes grow rapidly, new and innovative business models thrive
When a music scene develops faster than anticipated, the rapidly increasing level of competition can seem daunting to cut through at first. The silver lining is that there is often plenty of flexibility and opportunity to add to the conversation constructively. This is where new companies, such as labels or even new business structures, can be formed by learning from older or existing models and adding modern cultural understanding to help the subsequent development of talent cut through.
One way of doing this is by advancing the role of A&R. Traditionally, A&Rs held more of a gatekeeping role by deciding what was or should become popular. Currently, many (though not all!) A&Rs hold even more of a research role, spending much of their time combing through large databases and tracking down viral social media trends. The way forward could be by balancing the two. Having fans in the driving seat is like getting great customer feedback: it’s very helpful to understand what audiences are genuinely interested in, and moderating this with industry resources and knowledge (i.e. product expertise and business understanding) to further identify and develop talent can allow for a more collectively sustainable model for artists, fans, and the business alike.
A&R acts not only as the link between the label and the artists but can also act as more of a link between the artists and their communities. Empowering individuals who understand the scene ensures authentic representation, which in turn fosters greater trust on all sides. This is crucial because many of the fastest-growing audiences are from traditionally underrepresented markets, yet they also tend to be the main developers and consumers of tomorrow’s new sounds. A&Rs therefore, serve as curators that open the door to new generations while keeping the genre's authenticity intact. A good example is Coke Studio Pakistan Season 14. Coke Studio in India and Pakistan has usually worked around Folk Fusion. However, for the latest season, they brought in rappers and pop artists, having noticed the difference in consumption patterns amongst the country's youth. Not only did many songs go viral, but the project also led to initiatives like Boiler Room in Pakistan for the first time. By empowering the youth to interact with live music at a scale rarely seen before and giving rise to new stars that resonate by genuinely representing youth culture in Pakistan, Coke Studio attracted the attention of more significant commercial partners like Spotify, leading to greater global reach and increased potential for commercial success.
It’s not them vs us: Majors and Indies both thrive in a sustainable global scene
The emergence of Hip-Hop in India ushered in a transformative era in the nation's musical landscape, mainly through Desi Hip-Hop (DHH), which swiftly penetrated mainstream pop culture from rural centres to urban hubs like Mumbai and Delhi. In the 1990s, the genre gained access to Indian audiences via MTV, VH1, and streaming platforms, resonating strongly with the country's youth due to its themes of self-expression and empowerment. As more young creators started to create Hip-Hop music in their languages and styles, independent labels like Kalamkar and Gully Gang played a pivotal role in nurturing this movement, fostering an ecosystem that facilitated both the production and distribution of DHH while nurturing a collaborative and artistically nurturing community. This effort boosted local talents like Divine, Naezy, and Emiway, elevating them to the forefront of the Indian Hip-Hop scene, thanks partly to grassroots initiatives like cyphers and support from platforms like JioSaavn and Gaana. Eventually, the local and international Majors played a crucial role in activities such as the making of the Bollywood hit Gully Boy, which also brought in labels such as Mass Appeal and Def Jam that eventually led to a burgeoning Hip-Hop scene with artists across various career stages and companies that cater to them in different ways.
While local independent labels and other players created a strong foothold in the Indian market, major labels played an important role in taking DHH to a global platform. Artists such as the late Siddhu Moosewala, a trailblazing figure in Punjabi music, elevated DHH to international prominence through groundbreaking collaborations and a fusion of Punjabi folk rhythms and contemporary Hip-Hop, bridging cultural divides and inspiring cross-cultural appreciation through his collaborations with Afrobeats star Burna Boy and prominent British rapper Tion Wayne. His legacy exemplifies the genre's capacity to transcend boundaries.
With global fandom comes greater expectation
The digitalisation of music has allowed for much improvement and innovation in the last twenty years, not the least of which is the democratisation and, thereby, internationalisation of access to music. Rather than initially being limited to their geographic neighbourhood or immediate circle of family and friends, an artist’s journey now starts globally the moment they upload their music to be played and shared on streaming platforms. This widespread reach provides more opportunity than ever for forming real artist-fan connections, but with this potential comes the need for proper preparation to develop sustainable career-changing success.
The popularity of Amapiano or any emerging music scene will, therefore, thrive best against the weight of global fandom if a solid ecosystem is developed around and along with the sound and its creatives. This is not to say that the artists, genre, or business are beholden to the audience, but that everyone can benefit when new music scenes grow. It is in everyone’s interests to continue authentically developing the community, and the most sustainable way to do that would be by collaborating to lay the foundation for a knowledgeable and representative support structure. Just as Afrobeats shines by absorbing different sounds and fusing them into an undeniable rhythm that resonates across diasporas and cultures, thoughtful collaboration can encourage improved business models that ensure the longevity of an artist and the scene.
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>>> Water & Music Water Cooler
Next week, Hivewire will be a part of Water & Music's next members-only Water Cooler interview. We will dive into how to approach music strategy for emerging markets more thoughtfully and holistically.
We'll cover points including:
- The rise of the "glocalisation" buzzword, and what it really means for artist strategy
- Nuances in social media behaviours for music fans across different markets
- Key differences in marketing strategy for niche subcultures vs. big brands in an international context
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Srishti Das is a music industry professional focused on bringing more light from new music markets and cultures. You can reach me at email@example.com to discuss collaborations, projects or to have a chat!