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MUSIC BUSINESS ANALYSIS: Why charts are not the best yardsticks for judging artistic quality

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The hip hop chart-topper, hits maker and business mogul, Jay Z, in his track “Tom Ford” off the album Magna Carter (Holy Grail) raps: “International bring back the Concorde/ Numbers don’t lie, check the scoreboard.” In another song titled, “Reminder,” from the Blueprint III album, Jay Z says; “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.
This is why we live in a world of numbers, a world where people are obsessed with the number of followers on social media, streaming numbers, rankings, and all sorts of calculations. This obsession has translated into attaching societal relevance to other people based on their followers – in other words, numbers of people they could influence. After all, endorsement deals are sometimes conscious of the artiste’s following on social media among other networks. Numbers make up charts and charts are the determinants of which album goes gold, platinum or diamond. Does this ring a bell to why some artistes and fans are obsessed with it?
The quest for relevance has pushed people into doing unimaginable things, especially on social media. Why numbers? Are they mandatory to the achievement of one’s predetermined goals?
While discussing with some music critics – arguments that led to the penning of this article, questions were asked: Is there a nexus between an artiste’s talent and his numbers on charts? Before we go into this argument or seek answers, let’s look at how music has transitioned over the years.
Before the advent of streaming platforms, there was vinyl, then cassette and the much-loved era of the compact disc (CDs) which saw unbelievable progress and profits in the music business. But with the arrival of file-sharing, compact discs among others were relegated, all thanks to the switch in technology.
This rise in technology and streaming platforms revolutionised how people perceive music, how music journalists and critics make comparisons, judge and make informed decisions concerning music in any genre.
Though a development in its own right, technological advancement birthed a new problem. A problem of who should be named the best in various music categories ensued.
In an article in the Economist titled “The Meaninglessness of Music Chart, the argument concerning top or popular song/ album is illustrated thus: “It used to be easy to know who the champions of Pop were: it was whoever was number one in the singles chart and number one in the albums chart. But Pop music, like boxing, has moved to a model of multiple champions’ belts. Older fans may still regard the list published by Official Chart in Britain, or by Billboard in America, as crowning the undisputed victor, but that is no longer the case.” This to a large extent has been shifted by the technological spirit of time. The barometer for judging popularity and significance is no longer the same, so also are the artists.

Why Numbers On Charts Are Good

No one in the know will dispute the importance of charts, especially in the music business. Music charts are important in the sense that they serve as indicators to know whose music is trending, the kind of reception it is getting and also serves as the benchmark of its success. By success, we mean the depth of monetary compensation on all sides. This success serves as an incentive for artists and record labels investing in music.
The information gathered on streaming sites play a pivotal role in the decision-making process of artists, record labels, show promoters, and even companies offering endorsements. A Nigerian music blogger, Nuel Ugbebor, among many factors that influence chart-topping hits, emphasised on listeners’ opinions, “people’s opinions influence listening, which boils down to charts. Increased listening of a song makes others want to listen too.” His perspective is valid because listeners’ behaviour serves as the DNA of streaming data and how the algorithm delivers music.
Other factors like a budget for promotion, trends, representation of music culture, and the reputation of the artist, also play a significant role on streaming sites.

How Streaming Platforms Work – Pitfalls

People’s listening choices and habits are subject to curators’ playlists, and these choices are sometimes, if not subconsciously, manipulated.
When asked about how streaming sites work, their loopholes, and how it affects the positions of artistes on charts, Emmanuel Ogala, a software developer and founder of JosPlay, a streaming platform, posits: “The foundation of most existing playlist and discovery engines are biased against upcoming and culturally distinct artists. These algorithms tend to rate tracks based on what’s currently hip. Therefore, if you don’t sound like that, you’re not. The result is that listeners are confined to what’s familiar to the algorithms, denying newcomers and distinct musicians exposure to the listeners. But it should not be like that. Just as our tastes in food are different, so is music. Algorithms need to treat all music equally and only apply weights as proportioned by the listener and not by some predetermined concepts of what’s good or god.”
That’s a very important point and it shows the shortcoming of a machine that has to be fed with current information for it to properly assess artists, but what if the artists are not having access to persons responsible for running these platforms?
According to Mario J. Lucero, Cofounder of Heaven Sent Gaming, “Algorithms that power our digital choices are only as comprehensive and effective as the humans behind them. Because music streaming companies generally do not have an established presence within the communities that produce subgenre musical genres, the people who create the algorithms and define music categories often don’t even see what they are missing.” The aforementioned lends weight to the question asked in the paragraph above.
Lucero argues as the headline of one of his articles that “Music streaming services mishandle our data—and our culture is paying for it.” We have seen songs with lackluster reviews topping charts while those with rave reviews completely ignored or absent. According to Travis M. Andrews,” records on charts are a function of the charts desperately trying to figure out how to rank music in the streaming age.” We can argue that it is a relatively new technology that is still developing though some of the loopholes are not helping talented artists to gain either popularity in terms of topping the charts or materializing their mass appeal into chart-topping records.

Why Chart Numbers Don’t Necessarily Represent the Talent of Artists

Though charts have their shortcomings, but having looked at how instrumental streaming numbers are to economic success in the music industry, it begs the question: is there a nexus between how good an artiste is and his position on the charts?
Various artists make it to the top positions for various reasons. Whether they’re there for organic or inorganic reasons, it will be fallacious to think that artists are on or off the charts because of their talents. Others might argue that some artists on charts have used payola – which is the practice of bribing someone in return for the unofficial promotion of a product in the media. It is usually argued that when a record company spends a lot of money on payola, it can make any record a hit. There are two sides to this coin. However, from the foreboding arguments, we know that talent is not enough, it’s similar to the arguments made about genius being 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. It depends and it is determined by a lot of factors both within the artists’ control and outside their control.
According to popular Nigerian blogger and A&R, Ayodeji Adedeji, “saying an artist should be judged majorly by his numbers on the charts is not a valid argument because the charts are doctored.” This is because we have seen cases where very good artists couldn’t make the charts, and average artists amassing huge numbers. To a large extent, some of the reasons could be gleaned from the observations made in the beginning of this article.
With these existing pitfalls, listeners are confined to what’s familiar to the algorithms, denying newcomers and distinct musicians exposure to the listeners.
However, it shouldn’t be misconstrued, some artists make it to the charts because they’re just good and music lovers are always waiting for them to churn out formidable contents. Some artists also seem to understand the mood of the industry or the zeitgeist – the spirit of the moment and have capitalized on it to make waves through reviews and charts. A perfect example in recent times is Mayorkun and his trending single titled “Geng.” Other artists have also gauged such moments and have been enjoying the appeal that comes with it.
Another factor that affects listeners’ choice is proper representation. Proper cataloging and data representation by streaming platforms, form a vital role because “as these talents continue to produce results, will the formal music industry catch up, follow suit, and lend coverage where appropriate, or will listeners, fans, and community members have to remain vigilant for the next blind spot?” (Lucero). One could call certain successes a fluke, other times its opportunity meeting luck.

Do Fans Even Care?

While the charts have created a platform for Music Journalists to make either informed or baseless comparisons over the years. Some charts results are better left untouched, a good example is the comparison between Fela and Wizkid. Most fans aren’t entirely bothered about the charts.
On another plain, while Naira Marley fans are crazy about his songs and not necessarily bothered about his numbers (even though he’s amassed them over a period), AQ fans are also enjoying his music even though his numbers aren’t as great or climbing up as expected. We are then prompted to ask; should AQ, be rated as an untalented or lesser talented artist because he has a lesser crowd? You should know the answer by now.
In conclusion, charts are important but they seemingly expose how temporal certain trends are. It also shows the economic aspect of the industry, because at the end of the day, chart-toppers are said to sell more records, gain popularity, endorsement deals by virtue of becoming household names and amassing wealth for their record labels. While on another plain, some artists shouldn’t be bullied because they have not in popular parlance “blown” as artists, or are not yet topping the charts as expected. However one looks at it, it’s a narrow gate, just as not every song on an album will become a hit, so also, not every artist will make it to the top of the charts. In fact, some unknown artists might have lasting records than some artists that are currently celebrated. It’s only a matter of time because every generation comes with its listening ears and it’s own modified, if not different set of drums as well as style of approaching their sound.

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2021 memorable moments

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2021 like its predecessor (2020) was an eventful year through and through, from the advent of the streaming platform, Spotify, to the breath-taking world tours of two of Africa’s finest, Burna Boy and Wizkid, thanks to limiting the hardcore COVID-19 restrictions worldwide, to “Essence” and “Love Nwantiti” takeover and many more. This is a recap of some notable moments of 2021 in the Nigerian music industry. 

Spotify in Nigeria:

 Spotify, one of the most used digital streaming platforms (DSPs) since its invention in 2006 in Sweden, finally made its grand entry into the Nigerian space on 23 February 2021 but streaming commenced in early March. Apart from its appealing UI/UX design, it edges over its competitors like Apple Music and Audiomack in all or some of the below stated reasons: 
Spotify provides real-time information on the number of streams of songs and the average monthly listeners of the artists.
The built-in podcast feature also gives it an edge over its various competitions. Apart from the available podcasts which can be found on other podcast streaming platforms, Spotify also provides exclusives, available only in the app, financially supporting the hosts of these exclusively owned podcasts. 
The Spotify annual Wrappedgives a more detailed insight into what each listener has been up to year-round, not only his/her most listened songs, albums, artistes and hours spent listening to music, it goes further to dive into genre breakdown of each listener and provides a listener-to-the-world-listenership, a primetime comparison in percentage as to where the listener stands in streaming their favourite artiste(s) and song(s), etc.
In less than 3 months, Spotify was able to amass thousands of streams and subscribers in the country, even having those who used other services switching to theirs in the blink of an eye. What a nice investment, a profitable one at that.

Essence Global Acceptance:

Wizkid and Temshad a surreal year in 2021. Not that Wizkid’s stance on the music scene was not acclaimed pre-2021 but thanks to the commercial success of track 11 off of 2020 released “Made In Lagos” album, it helped elevate his status and introduced the already blooming talent, Tems, to the world’s music stage.
Yes, the foresight of Wizkid to have tweeted that he and Tems created magic months before the song’s release should have given fans a clue into what he had planned for the mid-tempo pop song but no one could have predicted it magically transforming into the wonderful track that it is today; fast forward to June 2021, Essence became the world’s favourite song, even being tipped as the ‘Song of the Summer’. 
Not only is the “You don’t need no other body” chorus well-known and publicly hollered at festivals, shows, concerts, parties, clubs, and so forth but we need no other body to tell us how grand the track is, breaking records almost every other day. The remix with Pop superstar, Justin Bieber, assisted it to become the first song by an African act to debut on the Billboard Hot 200 top 10, peaking at No. 9.
The certifications of Essence is mind-blowing: Gold in Canada and New Zealand, Silver in the United Kingdom, and Platinum in the USA (to name a few), in essence, becoming the Nigerian song African originated song to go Platinum in the States, selling 1 million copies; Essence nomination for the newly carved “Best Global Music Performance”for the 2022 Grammy Awards is a nice icing to the delectable hotcake the song is.

Fireboy DML’s Peru Record-breaking Year: 

When R&B star, Fireboy DML, said on the Afro-fusion track—Peru: “Wo ni won wa mi”, translated to “I’m being sought after” or “They are looking for me” in English, he was not lying. Immediately Peru dropped, it almost immediately became a fan favourite due to its easy-to-learn lyrics and enigmatic third verse which drew a lot of comparison to Wande Coal’s vocal texture.
Peru provided Fireboy DML with his first-ever No. 1 on the 
Nigerian Apple Music Top 100 and iTunes, it peaked at No. 1 on the UK Afrobeats Chart, eventually breaking the record as the song to have spent the most weeks at the summit of the chart, 4 weeks in total; the remix with global music icon, Ed Sheeran was released on Christmas Eve and immediately rose to the peak position on the UK Apple Music Top 100, becoming the first-ever Nigerian song to achieve such feat.
To think of the fact that Peru would have remained in the hard drive, never to be released until Fireboy’s label honcho, Olamide, took matters into his hands and leaked the song is still mind-boggling to date. A record-breaking year for Peru and Fireboy DML at large!

Love Nwantiti Resurgence: 

2021 was undoubtedly one of the best years for Nigerian music traversing to an international audience. The mysterious humming buzzing “Ahh, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” sound by CKay proves that distinctly. Allow me to explain.
Never in the history of the African music industry, probably the world’s, have a song released 2 years prior (2019), and its remix a year after (2020) trended as Love Nwantiti did, having the whole world at a chokehold. Thanks to TikTokand human’s inquisitive nature which transcended to the song being looked on Shazam, Love Nwantitiresurgence became a global phenom in the global music mainstream.
The streaming numbers are ridiculous! On Spotify alone, Love Nwantiti is the most streamed Afrobeat song, occupying the Top 2 spots via its original and DJ Yo! &AX’EL (remix) versions. The certifications CKayaccumulate because of Love Nwantiti’sgrandeur is too many to count but to state a few: 2X Platinum in Canada, Platinum in Portugal, Gold in the UK, Austria, Australia, and Spain. Not forgetting that each official music video shoot for the original and its many remixes crossed the 50M views mark on YouTube. 
What a comeback Love Nwantitihad in 2021, a beautiful sight to behold. A win for the “Afrobeat to the world” mantra and African music as a collective. 

Burna Boy’s World Tour

Arrogant, proud, egotistical, boastful, and many more qualifiers are available to describe the personality of Ogulu Damini—popularly known as Burna Boy. But one can’t deny that he makes great music. And in 2021, the African Giant went as far as expressing himself, his art, and his music on International stages. 
Burna Boy came packed. Each show came with its tale, its own definition. From stepping out of a spaceship to his irresistible performances on stage, his flow with the melodies and harmonies of the live band, to the transitioning from one hit song to another, Burna Boy brought it all. From the sold-out show in the O2 Arena in London to selling out a 20,000 capacity in Bercy, France, having the people of Stockholm sing word for word his song, Burna Boy made sure the world heard him, see him and know him. 

Amaarae x Moliy

Known for her otherworldly voice and her calm likewise soothing type of songs she makes, Amaarae has fast become one of the most promising female acts on the African continent. In 2021, The Ghanaian act went as far as breaking into the Billboard Hot 100 alongside countrywoman Moliy and Kali Uchis with the remix of her amazing song ‘Sad Gurlz Luv Money’. The song peaked at no.80 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first female Afrobeats act to debut a solo single on the chart. 

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Wizkid is Africa’s Apple Music Artist of the Year award recipient for 2021

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Wizkid (sobriquet Big Wiz or StarBoy) receives the honour as Apple Music Artist of the Year (Africa) for 2021. The annual award held by the premier streaming platform praises individual artites for having a stellar year on its music platform both through streams and culturally.

On Wizkid winning, an excerpt from Apple Music reads: ” In October 2020, he released “Made in Lagos,” his critically acclaimed and most commercially successful album, which included his hit song “Essence,” a track that gained 125 million plays on Apple Music and over 2.8 million Shazams. This past year, he’s been the most streamed African artist on the continent on Apple Music and ranked on the Daily Top 100 charts in 60 countries, in addition to his monthly plays on Apple Music growing by more than 250 percent outside of Africa.”

“Thank you to Apple Music for this award”, Wizkid said, continuing, “It’s a blessing to get to do what I do, and I’m proud to be representing for Africa.”, Ayodeji “Wizkid” Balogun says in thank you speech. The Apple Music Award, the third annual series will air on Apple Music and Apple TV starting Tuesday, December 7, 2021.

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