Is numbers obsession negatively impacting the Nigerian music industry?

While these data provide valuable insights into consumption habits, and growth, and can serve as success indicators, on the other side of the divide is the vanity metric it can be and its utility as an instrument of shaping narratives.

Today, online conversations on the success of artists or projects in the Nigerian music industry are coloured by data.

Even in the type of music that dominates the soundscape, artists are now heavily impacted by the numbers that reflect acceptance and success, increasing their desire to hop on bandwagons and trendy sounds to enjoy similar success.

For example, in the last 3 years, the Nigerian mainstream has leaned heavily towards Amapiano mostly because of his popularity heavily backed by data and the ascent of new stars deploying the South African import. Similarly, amidst the “Afrobeats to the World” drive, international collaborations are now data-driven rather than artistically inspired.

With numbers shaping the creative direction of artists and the perception and appreciation of music by consumers, perhaps, data now plays a more prominent role in Nigerian music than ever before.

With the Nigerian music industry still growing and internet penetration and economic factors restricting music streaming to a small percentage of the population, does data tell the full story of the Nigerian music industry? Should it shape the narrative in the way it currently does?

While it’s somewhat impossible to accurately determine music consumption in Nigeria across all forms of traditional and informal channels, streaming data provides insight into the performance of mainstream music, especially in urban areas and Nigeria’s streaming demographic.

According to the Vice President of Audiomack Brian Zisook, the music streaming company is set to hit 10 million monthly users in Nigeria thanks to its freemium tier access that allows consumers to stream music freely. This freemium service has made Boomplay among the biggest streaming platforms in Nigeria with a wider reach.

Spotify and Apple Music are more popular among urban and paying music listeners hence their data offer insights into the urban popularity of songs.

While there’s no way to fully capture consumption through radio and TV as several stations remain untrackable, airplay tracking company Radio Monitor has access to the airplay data and reach of over 40 mostly urban radio stations in Nigeria which they provide to TurnTable Charts who combines it with streaming data for their Nigeria Top 100 chart.

When the streaming and radio data are taken together with social media popularity, it provides some context into music consumption in Nigeria. However, with a huge portion of the audience consuming music through untrackable means like illegal download sites, DJ mixes, and even untracked radio stations, there are still a lot of grey areas in determining what is truly popular.

According to TurnTable Charts’ Head of Data and Charts, Kayode Babatope, data does tell the story of music consumption in Nigeria albeit not the full story.

“Nigeria’s small streaming power in comparison to its huge population makes streaming numbers insufficient to fully determine consumption and popularity. However, freemium streaming services like Audiomack and Boomplay, and the use of radio data where the consumer preference is slightly different from the streaming audience offers fairly reliable insights into music consumption in Nigeria even though there are a lot of consumers that are unaccounted for.”

One could argue that not only does data not tell the whole story in the context of the Nigerian music industry, but its entrance might have reduced the number of consumers in the ecosystem. Notably, streaming services replacing the old model of CD might have cut out music access from a large demographic that’s not technologically savvy and economically capable of engaging in music streaming.

Streaming numbers and charting positions is a prima facie proof of the success of a song hence why artists and even fans appear to have an unhealthy fixation with it.

The endemic issues of the use of streaming farms in manipulating streaming data can be tied to the vanity metric of data in Nigerian music and the desire of artists and labels to create a false sense of success.

Even on the part of consumers, social media conversations on the worth of songs and projects are now heavily shaped by the data rather than their intrinsic qualities. As long the song rakes in millions of streams and reaches the summit of the streaming charts, it’s largely deemed a success irrespective of its intrinsic quality and legitimacy of the streams.

According to Babatope, data has restricted the range of music consumed by mainstream listeners.

“The numbers obsession that started with the labels and artists and has affected the way consumers appreciate music because they only listen to popular and charting music.”

Even as Nigerian music is making waves globally through the “Afrobeats to the World” movement, the focus by labels, artists, and even consumers seems to be primarily on numbers.

For example, collaborations in recent times are driven by the artist whose fan base can deliver the biggest numbers rather than whose might be an artistic feat. In a data-based market, the dominant music will be determined by the sound that can pull the most numbers hence, data has come to play a major role in creative output which partly accounts for the Amapiano monotony that was being recently decried by Nigerian consumers.

It would appear that we are at a point in Nigerian music where artists, labels, and consumers care more about the performance of the music than the quality of the output. While it’s understandable that data are essential information that shapes the decision of artists and labels, it has not trickled down to consumers whose primary appreciation of music is viewed within the lenses of streaming numbers.

This obsession with data is also fanned by streaming platforms that create different vanity metrics such as charts, open source data, and listener numbers that make numbers the primary focus of the industry.

One would wonder if the industry can ever return to the days when artists made music that captured their talent and essence, shared their thoughts, showcased their culture, and entertained listeners.

Or perhaps, we have to learn to accept the reality that artists now look at streaming platforms to check the numbers before entering the recording booth.

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