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Ditto Music is a leading music distribution service with more than 20 offices around the world. Now with a serious footprint in Africa and working closely with artists on the continent to improve their careers, the company distributes music to some 160 digital music stores including Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Vevo, Apple Music, Beatport, Deezer and Shazam.
Headquartered in Liverpool, UK, the company also offers record label services including PR, social media and playlist pitching, among others. Ditto is currently running its amapiano promotion where music makers get 50% off Beatport labels and release unlimited music free for three months.
We spoke to Ditto Music regional manager for Africa Wendy Verwey Bekker about the company’s operations on the continent, its participation at the ACCES music conference, its cutting-edge ‘MFT’ service Opulous and piracy challenges in the sub-Saharan region.
MUSIC IN AFRICA: What are the latest deals that Ditto Music has in store for African creators?
WENDY VERWEY BEKKER: For developing acts finding their fanbase online, the best deal to be had is our subscription service – for just $12 a year an independent African artist can release unlimited music everywhere and keep 100% of their royalties. Our dashboard is very easy to use, and there are prompts for the metadata fields to help artists who are learning. We offer collaborator splits, an automatic smartlink for every release, and in-house Spotify playlists that can be pitched to. For an additional fee, we offer chart registration, expediting release deliveries and publishing administration. For labels, plans can be upgraded to add more artists. Our full sales dashboard shows where streams are coming from, and royalties can be withdrawn at any time.
We are currently running a great Africa-specific promotion for amapiano creators. With the growing popularity of the genre worldwide, specialist electronic music stores like Beatport have taken notice and added the dance genre. To deliver to Beatport, a label needs to be created at an addition cost, so we’ve slashed that in half as well as given new users three months to try out Ditto for free. Once a label is set up on Beatport, it can be used for all applicable future dance music releases.
On our label services division Ditto Plus, we sign the best independent talent from across the continent and provide playlist pitching, release rollout planning and marketing funding in exchange for a small percentage of royalty income. We work with exceptional artists and labels including the African likes of Sarkodie, Blaq Jerzee, Priddy Ugly, Bryan The Mensah, Lungi Naidoo and many more, to reach fans in new markets and break out internationally. By working closely with their teams, we pitch for sync opportunities, offer video monetisation and optimise catalogue performance – all with the support of our staff in over 20 offices worldwide.
In 2021, Ditto Music launched a platform called Opulous. Tell us more about this opportunity for artists.
Opulous is building a web3 marketplace where individuals around the world can invest in songs’ royalties via ‘Music Fungible Tokens’ (MFTs). This allows artists the ability to sell shares in their songs for upfront cash to help fund their careers and grow a core community of investor superfans to help promote their music and their journey. Investors then earn from the music when it’s released and starts generating royalties. There is no other company in this space operating in the same way as Opulous, which is backed by huge artists such as Tyga, Lil Pump and Blaq Jerzee, who will be the first African artist to work with Opulous. Stay tuned for how to buy into his MFT sale.
How can artists can get involved in Opulous?
Artists can apply right now. However, DeFi [decentralised finance] loans are still not available to all artists. They are exclusive, as are all parts of the business. The first to roll-out in 2023 will be the MFT Launchpad, where artists will be able to sign up to Opulous to create MFT campaigns, raise funds and share their song royalties with investors and fans alike. MFT Launchpad is currently open to applications and a selection process.
Tell us about Ditto Music’s recent activities in Africa and globally.
It’s was a strong 2022, both across Ditto’s DIY subscription services as well as our label services division, Ditto Plus. We started it off with Kenyan artist Chris Kaiga’s phenomenal Adventures of Chris Kaiga (Kenya) album release, and followed that with South African musician Zoocci Coke Dope’s platinum record ANXIETY+. Our move into Ghana two years ago was early, and the growth in our customers, signings and DSP [digital service provider] playlisting from the region has been impressive.
Internationally, we’ve had huge success with mike., who’s had more than had 250 million global streams since his 2021 release the highs, where we secured flagship playlisting across all DSPs and a Spotify New Music Friday Times Square billboard. And mike. went on to have a sold out North American tour. Also in the US, our flagship pop artist ELIO has more than 100 millions streams across her catalogue and was named as one of Six Amazon Artists to Watch in 2023. Our breakout success has been the sensational Denise Julia via our Philippines office. Her smash hit ‘NVMD’ recently crossed 65 million streams on Spotify, and she has intelligently built upon her viral success with big brand endorsements from Adidas, MAC and Lazada as well as huge festival performances like at 88Rising’s Head in the Clouds: Manila leg. With the release of her latest single ‘superficial energy’ we secured heavy DSP support, and Denise Julia is earning praise and respect from the international R&B community.
Ditto Music participated at the 2022 ACCES music conference is Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Why are music trade shows like ACCES important in Africa and how do they benefit companies such as Ditto?
For our African office, this is a very important conference. ACCES is the only pan-African music conference, and the fact that it moves around the continent has a massive impact on moving education forward. Unlike established music markets where independent distribution is part of the music business ecosystem, Africa’s musicians have a culture of independence and preference for owning their intellectual property, but previously only had access to music markets via an established record label, or major label.
What most independent artists have lacked in the past decade has been access to distribute worldwide, digital connectivity to these platforms, and computer literacy. In many ways, we are still catching up to international markets with artists learning that they are running their own businesses, rather than wanting someone else to help them. There is still much work to be done in Africa, and successful independent intellectual property owners need to learn about the business of music, rather than being a participant in an industry they don’t fully understand. ACCES therefore plays a pivotal role in bridging the knowledge gap for talent across the continent – a role for the organisation that is honourable and relevant to African development.
Do you have more insights about the African music industry that you can share with our readers?
Africa is a rapidly developing continent, and with 60% of its population aged below 25, it’s clearly the future. The path to get there might be rocky, and Africa’s strong music culture has a role to play here – about 11 million young people enter the African labour market every year, but the continent only generates 3.7 million jobs annually. In sub-Saharan Africa, the informal sector is the default rather than the exception, and gender inequalities persist for young girls. We’ve seen the rise in popularity of Latin American and Asian music worldwide, and the creativity of Africa’s young artists can play a key role in the continent’s economic transformation. African markets need a lot of resources from the international music industry, without necessarily showing return on investment immediately.
By 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of the global youth, so with Apple, Spotify and other DSPs’ expansion here, our aim is to educate and prepare young musicians for future success on a global stage. For our priority acts already signed to Ditto Plus, our goal is to extend their fanbase to new territories and create international opportunities.
What are the main obstacles to digitisation in Africa and how does this impact the music industry?
The cost of internet connectivity remains the biggest challenge, despite the growing broadband internet coverage. This is changing, but perhaps not fast enough, because over half-a-billion people in regions with mobile broadband networks remain unconnected due to the high cost of data. This impacts the music industry directly, as the global transition to digital music consumption has been a forerunner of the change in consumer habits worldwide. Without reliable and affordable internet, artists can’t upload their music for distribution, and their fans aren’t able to easily listen to their music. While there is innovative download, offline and data-optimised initiatives offered by streaming services, ultimately it is infrastructure investment, inexpensive internet and rising smartphone adoption that will lead to growth in streaming revenues for artists across the continent.
A lesser factor is the cost of streaming services for Africans. In economically disadvantaged countries, higher subscription fees of premium services still don’t convince African users to switch from cheaper premium or ad-funded models.
How does piracy affect Ditto Music and how is the company combating this problem in Africa?
There are several factors contributing to piracy, such as high data costs, lack of connectivity, the costs of accessing streaming services, culture and education. Hype is often prioritised over monetising music: in an effort to find new fans, artists will send MP3s on messenger services, and more popular artists will turn a blind eye towards blogs or illegal download sites hosting their releases.
Piracy is a development process, and since the easiest way to predict the future is to look at the past, we know that easier access to music decreases piracy. It evolved from being an illegal file-sharing nightmare for major labels, to being a platform for promotion. Once the gates of free content opened, it was very hard to turn that around – but Spotify has succeeded in developed markets by making it easier to find and stream music than to steal it. For sure, piracy still exists in developed markets, but it has been significantly reduced. What we’re seeing now is the development of a streaming market across Africa, and I believe real African fans are just like those all over the world; they want to support the musicians they love and will spend money on streaming services, concerts and merchandise.
Our efforts against piracy involve education and tools for our artists – we encourage the use of a smartlink and provide this free of charge on our dashboard for every release. After all, if an artist’s music is easily available digitally, why not send a link out and earn from it? Once music is released on streaming platforms, it is protected to a certain extent, with some services applying Content ID and audio fingerprint analysis.
Considering the highly competitive industry in which Ditto Music operates, what sustainability challenges does your organisation face and how do you measure progress?
Ditto Music remains one of the few distributors that is still independently owned. Not having to answer to shareholders or VCs allows Ditto to remain flexible while moving fast in the market and reacting to trends. In the past few years, we’ve expanded to over 20 offices worldwide, launched an in-house artist management division as well as Ditto Publishing. This has all taken place while founders Matt and Lee Parsons and Ditto staff continue to listen to the needs of our customers, supporting more than 200 000 independent artists and labels across the globe.
We measure progress by looking at our financial performance, growth in our customer base, and most importantly the success of our artists. We are always making improvements to our services and exploring the boundaries of growth in this industry, such as our work with Opulous. Ditto Music runs its own race in the music industry, with good people, a great work ethic and inclusive remote working culture. Ditto doesn’t aim to be the biggest distributor worldwide, but rather continually strives to genuinely help artists grow their careers and remain independent.
Does Ditto Music offer educational programmes that help African artists understand how its services work?
Absolutely. At various offices around the world, we host Ditto X events, bringing together music industry influencers and thought leaders to speak with artists and help them learn about the music business. We’ve hosted two of these events in Ghana – one in Accra in 2020 and one in Kumasi in 2021. We’ve recently started running an education programme on Twitter Spaces once a week, covering various topics from metadata and artwork requirements to account creation and using our dashboard. Some of the great collaborative educational work we’ve done recently has been with the Class of 40 Bootcamp in Ghana and with Stimorol FLOW.LAB in South Africa.
I’m often speaking at conferences on the continent such as ACCES, and will make time to speak with any artist at these events while trying to impart as much knowledge as possible on stage. Last year, South Africa was my focus with speaking engagements at KUMISA and The Music Imbizo, and the FLOW.LAB events took place across three South African cities. Although there are many educational and development resources available online, looking ahead, it’s time to bring a Ditto X event to South Africa.
The best way to find out about these events is to keep in touch with us on Twitter and Instagram. Artists who can’t attend these events can still connect with us on socials. Our blog contains a wealth of information, but my favourite educational resource is our Ditto Basics Guide and the Unsigned Advice vlog series.
Tell us about the challenges of running a company like Ditto Music in a competitive market such as Africa.
It’s important to have feet on the ground here, because as much as data can tell us about trends and opportunities, it takes having relationships and an understanding of the continent to get business done. There are similarities between markets and the content tends to be very local or regional. Our job is to export those sounds to a wider audience.
At Ditto Africa we keep our heads down and do good work for our artists and labels; we’d rather have our work and our artist’s success stories speak for us. I see some interesting deals being done and encourage artists to seek independent counsel when reviewing contracts, as well as finding their champion within the organisation they’re contracting with. With so much room to grow, there’s more than enough talent to develop on the youngest continent in the world. The more distributors and label services companies that operate here, the faster our producers, artists and labels will grow. Africa has a varied and rich musical culture, and we need different perspectives and approaches to bring African music to as many people as possible.
Connect with Ditto Music and Ditto Music Africa for more information and updates. Read more about Ditto’s amapiano promotion here.