To continue growing a global music culture from emerging markets, investment must also happen at home.
By Srishti Das
Contributed by Michelle Yuen // Edited by Mayuyuka
As emerging markets develop, many breakout artists drive new scenes into the global music industry. For instance, Afrobeats has emerged as a powerful force, captivating audiences far beyond its Nigerian roots. Last month, Burna Boy became the first African artist to sell out a stadium in the US. He sold out New York City’s 41,800-seat Citi Field on his Love, Damini tour, performing hit after hit from his last four records right after he sold out the 60,000-seater London Stadium in June.
In the last month, however, reports have shown how the Nigerian music industry suffers as talent looks abroad, with many top artists from emerging markets often focused on gathering global audiences through international collaboration, recording, and working with companies outside their home countries. It’s easy to point fingers and say a successful artist must give back to the community, but must that be the main objective for successful artists? I disagree. The fate of a growing market should never be in the hands of one artist or a small group of people. It must lie in the hands of the larger local industry itself. Instead, an influx of investment and initiatives is more likely to drive the artists at the top to give back and participate in growing their home markets.
Last week, in our newsletter titled ‘The sustainability of a rising music scene depends on the ecosystem created around it’, we discussed the importance of developing a music ecosystem around a growing music scene. Today, we will dive into the importance of creating a thriving scene with an appropriate balance between local and global partnerships for artists.
For emerging artists, international collaborations are as crucial as local ones.
Burna Boy's international collaborations have played a pivotal role in catapulting his personal success and the global popularity of Afrobeats as a music culture. Through collaborations with renowned artists, including Ed Sheeran, Stormzy, Dave, Popcaan and many more, Burna has expanded his global reach and grown his fan base. This exposure contributed significantly to the mainstream recognition of Afrobeats and enhanced its ability to transcend cultural boundaries. Similarly, another Burna collaborator - the late artist Siddhu Moosewala - crossed over through international collaborators like Tion Wayne, but also connected with local artists such as DIVINE, Raja Kumari and Bohemia and diaspora artists like AP Dhillon.
As Burna Boy continues to shine, focusing on fostering a sustainable ecosystem for Nigeria's music industry could enable multi-fold popularity for rising local talents and a more robust community of West African artists embodying the Afrobeats genre. Collaborating with and platforming local artists could emerge as a crucial strategy. By spotlighting and collaborating with emerging Nigerian talents, Burna Boy and other established artists such as Wizkid, Davido and Asake have the opportunity to nurture and elevate the homegrown music scene. This, in turn, could lead to a more self-reliant and resilient industry, allowing local artists to thrive both nationally and internationally. The dual approach of leveraging international collaborations for exposure while actively supporting local talents is critical to sustaining Nigeria's position as a global music powerhouse. Because collaborations with new or foreign artists are also exciting for fans of a particular genre, intentional features can lead to the easy discovery of new acts they can invest their fandom into.
If going abroad is the only way to become a successful artist, emerging talent will suffer
Many exceptional African artists responsible for propelling Afrobeats to its unprecedented worldwide prominence have chosen to launch their careers abroad. While their global success has undeniably contributed to the genre's global recognition, it has inadvertently led to fragmentation in the local market. This phenomenon has cast a shadow over the emergence of new talent in the region.
The allure of international recognition, Grammy wins, increased earnings and broader horizons has enticed prominent artists to seek fame in foreign lands. Keeping in mind winning a Grammy, more frequently than not, requires investment and strategic alliances that take a lot of work to come by for rising artists. The success of global stars does eventually return to the home market thanks to their recognition on the international stage. The concern is, therefore, in how that opportunity is handled - is there support locally, whether from the government or other businesses, to capitalise on and take the best advantage of these new opportunities? Is proper infrastructure being put in place to grow the local industry?
Established award ceremonies like AFRIMA, Headies, and KORA have struggled to match the significance of international accolades, exacerbating artists' propensity to seek recognition beyond their homeland. Since fewer talented artists choose to operate within Africa, this leaves a gaping hole for the mid and long-tail artists who may need help finding a suitable platform that enables them to reach new audiences within their home region. This is an excellent opportunity for local streaming services such as Boomplay to play a crucial role in platforming rising artists, like how JioSaavn in India and NetEase in China can play an essential role in supporting rising talent. For the sustainability of Afrobeats, newer artists must have a solid platform to showcase their music and talent to both the local and global fans of the scene they come from.
A great example of this can be seen in K-Pop. BTS sold out their first US stadium show in 2018. Since then, not only has the band continued to nurture a massive fanbase, but the entire genre of K-Pop has consistently showcased new artists from Black Pink to the latest stars FIFTY FIFTY, all of which have captured significant audiences in markets worldwide. While K-Pop existed before BTS, its success also helped drive that of many other artists in the genre, ultimately catering to the wider community and culture overall. There is enough K-Pop music worldwide for both mainstream and niche fans to indulge in, and more artists surface regularly, strengthening the whole body of K-Pop.
They can first showcase their artists to the local audiences that drive the culture and the Korean way of life to international audiences that go beyond just music - Korean food, fashion and even K-beauty have become a massive part of K-Pop fans worldwide. Other countries in Asia have also continued developing their own local Pop scenes inspired by K-Pop, further increasing the genre's longevity. J-Pop, C-Pop, and T-Pop are all examples of scenes from Japan, China, and Thailand that are bubbling up locally and even globally. Even while BTS carries out their mandatory military service in South Korea, K-Pop continues to grow, platforming new artists that feed into the K-Pop fandom. Would that be the case if Burna Boy, Wizkid, Asake, and Davido took a break for a similar period? It’s something to think about.
The rise of stars in a music scene should impact the maturing of local infrastructure
When a scene grows fast, a higher number and quality of venues, studios and other platforms and spaces are needed to enable the creation that nurtures that community. If superstars continue to primarily work abroad, the development of more recording studios, suitable concert venues and supportive streaming platforms slows down, further hampering the growth of local talent. In addition, the limited global reach of local media restricts the promotional scope for artists, pushing them to engage with foreign media. If the next Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido or Asake doesn’t have the tools to create and share their talent, where will the next superstar come from? Reggaeton, on the other hand, has boomed and been adopted by new creators from different parts of the world, very similar to how Hip-Hop has a local scene in almost every country. Mexico became the largest streaming market for Spotify, while offline music festivals, large-scale shows and tours constantly feed audiences there. Tulum has emerged as the Ibiza of Latin America, with venues such as Zamna Tulum starting to organise tours in the US. A thriving local scene with innovative opportunities attracts eyes from other markets, fostering more significant opportunities and even re-creating the improved format in new markets.
Emerging markets are seeing a constant influx of big labels, enabling a tremendous top-down approach, and strong communities are frequently created oppositely. A cult-like following usually originates at a niche and grassroots level. In streaming-first markets driven by the youth, fans are always looking for new music from their favourite music scenes to engage with, and they often take pride in being the first to discover new artists and share them with their friends and communities. New and unique business models allow artists to have more control and thrive during infrastructure development in a new emerging market. Development must, therefore, simultaneously occur at a niche and mainstream level.
Success on a global scale depends on the strength of a local market
One of my favourite examples showcasing the importance of home audiences is one not from music but sports instead. The European Super League (ESL) initiative in April 2021 was an attempt to monetise global fandom that primarily originated from emerging markets, set to be the start of a new journey in creating new football fandom cultures worldwide. However, within moments of the announcement, its prompt withdrawal amid widespread domestic fan protests and national government warnings quickly turned ESL into one of the sport’s biggest failures in identifying the importance of context in local vs. international fandom. Instead of showcasing new reach and access to emerging global club fandom, the league ended up being perceived as a monetisation grab to the detriment of domestic fans and established leagues that were designed to showcase local and international stars simultaneously. For most international football fans, imitating the home fans was a way to evolve their fandom. Taking football away from them broke the authenticity of the sport itself. Even popular shows like Ted Lasso showcased the value and essence of the sport being taken away by being too focused on revenue and international success.
For a market to remain authentic, local players must be strong. Local policies and support from the government are the best way to strengthen the music industry and the communities around it. However, if that support isn’t always available, artists who have become stars can invest in themselves and others, like Yahoo Boy No Laptop (YBNL) by popular Nigerian rapper-cum-singer Olamide or Mavin Records by renowned producer and recording executive Don Jazzy. Brands such as Coca-Cola have begun to open studios, and Jägermeister, Bacardi, and other alcohol brands have consistently supported music in different ways to increase the depth of their brand to find an essential space in the culture. Even Nando's has continued to support Amapiano giants Major League DJz in various ways. This is an exciting time for rising music economies to find new, creative and innovative methods in which these markets can be inventive and grow their ecosystems in a way that caters to their markets more authentically. Traditional business models will be disrupted, and new models will form in emerging markets that will enable the rise of new artists in ways never seen before, focused on local communities that drive global entertainment. Once again, this continues to be one of the most exciting times for the business, with emerging markets at the front and centre of a new era in music.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss collaborations, projects or to have a chat!