The Challenges Faced by Contemporary African Music in Breaking into the US Market: CASE STUDY – MuMak Records

1- Introduction to the problem

When you listen to music, you seek to understand the purpose of the harmony in the lyrics put together by the composer, artist or producer through the combination of one or multiple instruments. Music is a form of communication, a means of expression that has been used by many cultures and people of specific geographical locations to identify and distinguish themselves from one another, other cultures or people.

Music is global and for a second could be considered transferable from one territory to another or one group of people to another. Music may be borrowed or similar in nature but accepted, that is another issue? People of a different culture or nationality find it difficult at times to accept music from a different culture or territory. Exporting music to the United States (US) was and is still a global trend that has been met by numerous challenges and obstacles ranging from cultural beliefs, language, lack of information and proper representation or mere high scale competitiveness in the US music market.

How has the continent of Africa faired in this field of music creation, innovation and export? This paper will focus on the challenges faced by contemporary African music in breaking into the US music market. For a more defined scope and understanding of this challenge, we will look at the case of the Cameroonian record label known as MuMak Records, with base and headquarters in Yaoundé, the political capital of the Republic of Cameroon.

Many and most of the music created in Africa and by records labels such as MuMak Records is easily exported to other parts of Africa and Europe. This could be argued from the angle of language and existing colonial ties that still exist between African states and European nations. With bilingual artists who sing both in English and mostly French, the grass seems to be greener in Europe than the US. The US is an untapped market for African and MuMak artists, which is one of the reason MuMak Records’ label is making every effort to break into the US music market.

Why the US market? Well according to the 2012 digital music report of the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), the United States of America is the world’s largest music market. (Danaher, Smith, Telang, & and Chen, 2012). The IFPI represents the recording industry worldwide and has 1400 members in 66 countries. The federation also has affiliated industry associations in 45 countries. With this significant position in the music industry, the US definitely provides a business opportunity worth the effort of the international music promoters, managers and record labels such as MuMak Records, to break their artists in the US market. The intention is there, the product is there and now the question is why it has been difficult for MuMak Records and its artists to break into the US Market.

Before we dive into the interview with Chapenda Jules Nya, the CEO of MuMak Records and its flagship artist and co-owner Ndukong Godlove Nfor, also known as JOVI, to discuss on the efforts made by MuMak records to export the music of its artists to the US, it’s important we understand the environment of the current Cameroonian music industry. This industry can best be described as transitional and difficult with significant expression of fearless piracy by the Cameroonian consumers (Fuller, 1996 – 1997). A state of impasse that only does harm to the artists, authors and their copyrights.

The sector for copyrights in Cameroon has gone through a lot of confusion, turmoil, changes and almost extinction. However, the creative products of the artists have continuously exceeded their expectations. The first performing and mechanical rights organization legally recognized to work with artists for their royalties, progress and promotion in Cameroon was the SOCINADA (Société Civile Nationale du Droit d’Auteur / National Civil and Copyright Corporation). It was created by Cameroon Law No. 90/010 of August 10th, 1990 with the main objective of promoting the material and moral interests of all producers of works of art (International Journal of Communication, 2004).

After its dissolution, SOCINADA was replaced in 2008 by multiple bodies to handle copyright issues. The first association was the Copyright Corporation for Literature and Dramatic Arts (SOCILADRA) which covered literature and software production. Secondly, the Copyright Corporation for Visual Arts (SOCADAP) covered paintings. Thirdly, the Copyright Corporation for Audio-Visual and Photographic Arts (SCAAP) covered audiovisual and photographic production. Finally, the Cameroon Music Corporation (CMC) was charged with registering musical works (US Department of State, 2011), and Manu Dibango became the first CMC president (Mark D. DeLancey, 2010).

In the midst of distrust, confusion and structural instability, Ama Tutu Muna, Cameroonian Minister of Culture, published in May 2008 a decision to withdraw the rights of the CMC to collect and manage royalties relating to authors’ and neighboring rights in Cameroon (Afrca News, 2008). This decision was followed by the creation of Cameroon Civil Society of Musical Art (SOCAM) in June of 2008 with the same functions as the CMC (Afrca News, 2008) and Odile Ngaska as current Board Chairperson re-elected June 11th, 2011 (Cameroon Today , 2011).

This struggle continued until September 7th, 2011when the Administrative Bench of the Cameroon Supreme Court overturned the minister’s decision in favor of the CMC. The CMC was legally recognized as the sole organization to collect and manage royalties for authors and neighboring rights in Cameroon (Teke, 2011). This decision however is still to be implemented which places the copyright registration for music in a foggy state.

 

2 – Background on MuMak Records

MuMak stands for ‘Music Makers’. “MuMak is a Cameroon based urban music record label committed to rebranding, selling and exporting the African urban music brand to the rest of the whole” says Jules Nya, MuMak’s current CEO and Co-Founder of the Label in an interview (Nya, 2012). Currently as CEO of the label, Jules Nya is in charge of managing and ensuring the smooth functioning of the day to day activities of the label so as to meet up with the label’s set goals and objectives.

Just like any startup or entrepreneurial venture, amidst the chaos in the copyright registration for music saga going on in Cameroon, the idea of the label came about in 2002 when MuMak’s two co-founders and childhood friends Jules Nya and Ndukong Godlove Nfor, popularly known by his artist name JOVI; also signed as a major act to the MuMak label, decided to set up a structure known as Music Makers. In 2008, the concept went operation with the foundation of MuMak Records crowned by the production of its first artists, Cameroon R&B singer Crisley in an album entitled The Cooler (Nya, 2012).

Why MuMak Records for Case Study?

At this point, the reasons for choosing MuMak Records as a case study, to understand the challenges faced by contemporary African music in breaking into the US music market, is evident. Despite the young stature of the record label, it has a roster of performing artists with local demand and global potential. “MuMak is one Cameroon’s foremost record labels because it uses various forms of social media and other innovative ways to reach out to its various target groups, and as such have heavily influenced the Cameroonian urban music scenario home and abroad with a series of breath taking consistent world class releases” says Jules Nya, MuMak CEO.

In our phone interview, Jules Nya, MuMak CEO also reiterated the impact of MuMak products and releases from JOVI’s smashing street anthem Don 4 Kwat, to Africa Star winner Sine’s comeback hit single Koh Koh, to their female gospel RnB protégé Renise in Fire and newly signed RnB Hip Hop sensation Magasco aka Bamenda Boi in Line Loba, (Nya, 2012).

Another reason to validate the choice of MuMak for this case study is its recent endorsement by Konvict Music Senior Vice President of A&R, Fotemah Mbah while in Cameroon in April 2012. (Nya, 2012). “All these go a long way to show how strong, consistent and reliable the MuMak brand has become,” says MuMak CEO, Jules Nya. In his own words, “MuMak has clearly shown that they are a force to reckon with and indeed they are a label that has come to stay” (Nya, 2012).

The most popular genres of music in Cameroon include Makossa, Soukous, Bikutsi, Gospel, traditional music from over 300 tribes in the nation, Rap and very recently, Pop and Hip-Hop. World renowned musicians such  Manu Dibango, Richard Bona, Les Nubiens, Petit Pays, Tala Andre Marie, Pit Bacardi, etc are known all over Africa, Europe and Asia but in the US, their popularity is limited to the most exclusive and private locations. With the arrival of contemporary music such as Rap, Pop and Hip-Hop, MuMak Records was created with a goal to export and place Cameroonian contemporary music on a worldwide map (Nya, 2012).

                                           Source: (Nya, 2012)

JOVI, MuMak’s flagship artist, whose album H.I.V (Humanity Is Vanishing) is due for release August 30th, 2012 is destined to be an exception to the rule. His strategic collaborations with other rising artists in Cameroon, recent endorsements from established record label Konvict Records owned by platinum artist Akon in the US, and soaring popularity amongst the youth in Cameroon, Africa and the African diaspora in the US and worldwide, seems to be the right moves in the right direction (Nya, 2012).

Will the songs of MuMak’s artists face the piracy issue? Definitely yes. Will its new roster of artists JOVI, Renise, Magasco, Elad, American pop singer Rachel Applewhite, DeeCey and Wilkan break into the US music market? Possibly, if they fit into the American culture, relate their music to the American lifestyle and do the necessary musical collaborations.

 

What is MuMak’s positioning in the Cameroon music market?

             As part of the case study to understand the problems faced by MuMak in breaking its artists into the US music market, it’s equally important to look at the label’s positioning in the Cameroon music market. In this section, we will consider the strength, opportunities, weaknesses and threats faced by MuMak Records in the music industry in general

 

Strengths:

MuMak Records, unlike most other record labels, is filled with skilled professionals. As mentioned by CEO Jules Nya, the label is properly organised with skilled professionals such as producers, a manager, songwriters, a publicist and an A&R. the label might be looked upon as a starter in the Cameroonian market but with such a creative and skilled professional group, the label stands apart from other local labels in the same space.

The global music industry has gladly embraced the evolution of technology and the use of social media. MuMak Records was quick to embrace the usage of social media with a growing and consistent presence on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The label understands the importance of these outlets in exporting music hence its continuous efforts to engage with its audience on these platforms. “Hence that is where it majorly garnered its popularity with cumulative YouTube hits amounting to over 80,000 (Jovi-Don 4 Kwat, Jovi-Pitie, Jovi-Man Pass Man, Magasco-Lineloba etc.) (Nya, 2012).

With goals and objectives to export Cameroon music, MuMak label clearly realises the importance of branding. “The label has a good understanding of branding. Our artists are very consistent with world class audio and video productions, photo shoots and a good management.” (Nya, 2012). This consistency in production quality, photo shoot and good management can be seen on the label’s Facebook pages.

The label also prides itself of originality in its product. “We have successfully fused classical American hip hop/pop with our local rhythms coupled with the contextual usage of some local languages such as Mankon,Wimbum,Mbo’oh and Pidgin English giving our songs both a global and local(Glocal) crossover appeal.” (Nya, 2012). As a record label mindful of the importance of appealing its primary audience while aiming at a global outreach, the label has successfully made music that meets up to the needs and aspirations of its core audience.

 

Weaknesses:

            The weaknesses of MuMak records are similar to those of any independent record label. The record label is affected by insufficient funds to carry out projects just the way they would have loved to. With an increasing roster of highly sought after artists, MuMak

Secondly, there is understaffing. Though the label seems pretty young, projects have to be executed and this requires human resources. “As the label grows bigger, there comes the need to recruit more hands.” says Jules Nya, MuMak CEO.

Thirdly, is the “Lack of properly established distribution networks/stores for CDs and DVDs,” says Jules Nya in our interview. Distribution is a key function for the success of a record label especially if the label plans to export its product to other music markets. Without a properly established distribution channel, it will be impossible for the record label to get revenue from its sales especially as the music environment in Cameroon currently does not favour recording artists.

The fourth weakness causing the record label not to be able to break into the US market is the lack of logistics. “We lack some of the high-end audio-visual equipment that can make our productions more competitive.” (Nya, 2012). Although the production and video quality of MuMak songs and videos are of high quality, the record label could use some even better quality equipment to compete with similar productions in the US and world markets.

Finally but not the least, “We need more representation and presence on international broadcast media like MTV Base Africa, Trace Urban TV (France), and Channel O(South Africa). These help export our music externally.” (Nya, 2012). With the right representation and partnerships, it is evident that MuMak records will have a better chance at exposing its products and artists to other major music markets.

Opportunities:

In terms of existing opportunity, MuMak CEO did not hesitate to mention the misconceptions in the industry. “The Cameroon entertainment scenario is considered by many as a “barren land” because of the fallacious assumption by many that Cameroonians prefer foreign music coming from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and the USA more than local brands.” This in a sense brings to light the appreciation that Cameroonians have for external music as compared to theirs. At some point in Cameroonian music timeline, it could be coined that Cameroon was where neighboring musicians from the Congo, Ivory Coast would come to heighten their careers. It could be said that if an artists had not toured through Cameroon, then they had not yet made it.

“But at MuMak we think otherwise. Instead, we see lots of untapped opportunities and feel if we make music that reflects our society’s needs padded with a hip hop/pop touch, we will satisfy a huge local demand before going international.” (Nya, 2012). This in a sense is the ability to satisfy a core audience before venturing internationally. “A model that has greatly favored super entertainment nations such as Nigeria, South Africa and the USA.” (Nya, 2012).

With a new form of music consisting of a combination of classical American hip hop/pop with local Cameroonian rhythms coupled with the contextual usage of some local languages, MuMak potentially has a product that could be of interest to the US market consumers. Just music in the US evolved from R&B to Rap to Hip-Hop, MuMak is leading the evolution of music in Cameroon.

Threats:

During the interview, MuMak’s CEO identified five major threats that could increase the challenges faced to break into the US music market. “We face stiff competition most especially from fellow Nigerian, Ivorian, French and American music brands. This is partly due to the influence of international TV stations like MTV Base, Trace TV and Channel O.” (Nya, 2012). These are television channels that provide a steady stream of external content from external music markets. With such stiff competition and lack of internal appreciation of local music by the Cameroonian consumers, MuMak will risk losing its position in the music industry right from its comfort zone, Cameroon.

Secondly, the CEO does not believe the local media is exercising its powers to its full potential. “Our local media easily succumb to pressure from the above named international media; reason why many tend to play more of foreign music at the detriment of our local brand.” (Nya, 2012). With little or no regulation on external media content, the local product is bound to experience heightened competition. Although this plays favourably for the consumer, competition brings variety and increased quality, the local music labels like MuMak will need to work extra hard to produce better music to keep their audience.

On another note, the lack of government assistance to the arts and culture poses a threat to labels such as MuMak records. “Our government does not do much to assist up and coming record labels like us via subsidies or even favourable policies that can facilitate our growth.” (Nya, 2012). Obtainable funds from the government to promote the arts and culture would go a long way to help up and coming brands like MuMak records to compete with the continuous influx of external music content. With an average exchange rate of $1 USD being equivalent to $500 FCFA Cameroon currency, “It costs averagely 1 million FCFA to shoot a standard HD video” said MuMak CEO, Jules Nya. “Producing an album involves many processes and services. You will definitely need a studio, producers, songwriter, engineering and A&R services for the process to be completed. This costs an average of 400,000 FCFA per track with studio fees inclusive.” (Nya, 2012). Without any subsidies from the government or ability to get loans, the label will need to spend up to 4.8 million FCFA ($9,600) to produce an album of 12 tracks without a music video.

Also threatening the viability of the music product is the piracy within the country. It has been noted that the Cameroon government needs to be more involved in the fight against piracy. “The Cameroon government does little or nothing to fight piracy.” (Nya, 2012). This is a worldwide threat to copyrights and author royalties. However, in Cameroon, the seemingly relaxed attitude of the government and the unresolved statute of copyright royalty collection does not make things any better for up and coming record labels like MuMak Records.

The fifth threat and challenge for MuMak to break into the US music market is the inability for its core audience to financially support the record label through song or album sales. “The purchasing power of the average Cameroonian is pretty low nowadays. Reason why Cameroon is currently experiencing one of its worst entertainment recession ever.” (Nya, 2012). With the high level of corruption and high unemployment rates, it is difficult for the Cameroonian audience to pay full price for CDs and tapes. This results to copyright infringement through mix tapes and pirated CDs from street corner vendors. If MuMak record label can’t make enough revenue from product sales, it will be difficult for the label to promote its artists or sponsor domestic and international tours.

 

3 – Challenges to Exporting music at MUMAK Records

Why is it difficult for MUMAK Records to export music as compared to other competitors in the industry?

At a deeper level, it can be resolved that MuMak definitely faces challenges to export African music into the US music market. “In order for our music to be exported, we need exposure and reviews from international media bodies and Djs. We are still on our way to getting a favourable media coverage like our fellow Nigerians and Ivoirians are benefiting,” commented Jules Nya, MuMak’s CEO.

The reason for this edge experienced by the Nigerian and Ivoirian music markets is due to their longevity and hard work in the music industry. Exposure today comes with promotion through traditional media and social media. MuMak records has been gathering views and raving reviews across social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and FatalCut Entertainment. The next step will be TV and print media such as magazines and newspapers.

 

What are the sources of problems and Cameroonian Government Policies impacting music export?

In the eyes of MuMak CEO, “We have many problems plaguing our industry”. The two main ones include lack of government support and piracy. It is from these two main problems that the country is without a stable copyright institution enforcing author rights and increased piracy.

As earlier mentioned in the background of the case study, “The music industry in Cameroon is currently witnessing one of its worst recession ever. The high cost of living over the years has no doubt made many Cameroonians to be apathetic towards music since they have their basic problems to worry about; rather think of buying music, they would rather get a decent plate of meal or even beer. lol!” MuMak CEO, Jules Nya remarked. There is definitely a need for an appreciation of homemade music from consumers before externally imported music.

With the lack of support from the Cameroon Government “There is also the problem of an adequate copyright body. Currently there two bodies battling for legitimacy; SOCAM and Cameroon Music Corporation. The government has done nothing to solve that problem. That’s a serious situation that keeps many Cameroonian artists in a dilemma.” (Nya, 2012).

 

What are proposed solutions by MuMak?

For a better chance at breaking into the US market, MuMak believes in innovation in music. They believe in making contextual music. “We make music from a global and local (Glocal) perspective. Our ability to fuse hip hop/pop with local rhythms and languages such as Pidgin English enables us to easily reach out to our audiences.” (Nya, 2012). This local audience could easily be equated to the US audience if the tune and melody of the “Glocal” music perspective is catchy.

In order to enter the same US market, MuMak Records label could expand its brand image to the US by establishing meaning collaborations with US based artists. “Proper branding of our products make them compete with other international products well.” (Nya, 2012). This has been the case with British, Australian and other Latin artists that have broken into the US market. Branding is tightly related to proper promotion and marketing through representation and strategic collaborations in Cameroon and US.

Product pricing could significantly increase the chances for MuMak to export its product into the US. There is the need for “adequate pricing of CDs to fight down piracy and also to respond to our people’s needs.” (Nya, 2012). Without properly established distribution channels for CDs, MuMak can sell its products all over the world digitally without incurring exorbitant costs. Maintaining an adequate pricing strategy in the local market would help reduce piracy. This way the income level of the consumers can support the reduced CD prices while receiving revenue from external digital distribution channels.

Marketing and promotion is key in the success of a product especially in high competitive markets. MuMak does not take chances when it comes to promotion of MuMak artists and products. “We make sure our releases are everywhere from local radio, clubs and TV stations to international stations like Trace TV, MTV Base, and Channel O. We are one of the only few labels in Cameroon by virtue of quality that have presence on these international channels,” said MuMak CEO, Jules Nya. Increase presence on these channels, despite difficulty in consistent presence, goes a long way to establish relevance in those music markets where the TV stations are aired. “Added to those is our massive usage of the social networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” (Nya, 2012). Viewership and engagement keeps going up by the minute especially with the anticipated release of JOVI’s album, H.I.V. (Humanity Is Vanishing)

 

Where is MUMAK music advertised or sold?

To break into the US music market, MuMak Records is making the right moves to make its music available and accessible. “We use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to advertise,” (Nya, 2012). This is one of the most affordable and inexpensive ways for MuMak to advertise its content to the US audience.  “We also use essentially local radio and TV media to advertise,” (Nya, 2012).

Making the revenue from the product is what will keep MuMak alive in this period of deep recession in Cameroon. “Our music is sold online on iTunes, Amazon mp3 and many other online stores and physical CDs are sold in stores and in the streets by hawkers at very affordable prices(1,000frs CFA=slightly above 2 USD),” said MuMak CEO, Jules Nya during the interview. With such a ridiculously low price for a CD or album on a digital platform in the US, all the record label needs is ample publicity and promotion to make a decent amount of revenue. However, the price of the album will need to be increased for the label to make a profit after service and administrative fees have been paid to the digital distribution outlets such as ITunes and Amazon.

 

Are there any significant partnerships that could help the label break into the American market?

In order to break into an external market, effort needs to be done to have product available in that market. “We have a deal with Museke.com which is one of Africa’s biggest entertainment websites that will help us reach out to the American market,” (Nya, 2012). Even though MuMak has its product on Museke.com which is big in Africa, the platform is not popularly access by the US audience. This is because product on the platform is primarily African and for African Audience.

Filling the gap of the much needed platform access by US audience is MuMak’s partnership with FatalCut Entertainment, LLC; Los Angeles based media promotion and distribution company. “FatalCut Entertainment too is another partner who is doing a fabulous job to help us reach out to our American market,” said MuMak CEO, Jules Nya. FatalCut Entertainment (FCE) (www.fatalcutentertainment.com) provides distribution and promotion of film and music content. FCE is very connected with the entertainment community in Los Angeles, California and works very closely with Hollywood film and record label executives. Its online platform at www.fatalcutentertainment.com is a premium platform with the ability to distribute as well as expose and market filmmakers and artists with the right quality content for its target audience. If any US or international filmmaker or artist wants to break into the US entertainment market, FCE encourages them to get an account on FCE.

 

How does the label plan to stay relevant in the industry?

“By making relevant “Glocal” music, signing young acts, understanding our markets, networking properly and always using innovative ways to promote our music,” (Nya, 2012). Besides the above mentioned strategies mentioned by MuMak’s CEO, the label could also stay relevant in the music industry by establishing a touring schedule, performing local and international radio and TV interviews in person, via phone or Skype, performing collaborations with local and international artists, attending local and international award shows, music festival and events.

MuMak could keep its artists relevant in the industry by not only producing quality content but also submitting these products to award ceremonies in international territories. In US for example, there is the Cameroon Entertainment Awards which would be a great venue for MuMak music to be exposed to not only African audience in US but to US audience and press in attendance. CEA was founded to recognize Cameroonians in entertainment. It is a non-profit organization whose aim is to involve the participation of the entire community. Though it was founded on the ideology that the Cameroonian Entertainment Industry must get on the world stage. It also appreciates and recognizes other talents embedded in Cameroonians. While celebrating the achievements of our entertainers, CEA seeks to find ways to improve the communities from which these entertainers and celebrities originate. This event promises to showcase many of Cameroon’s top entertainers as well as celebrities from Cameroon and the African Diasporas (Cameroon Entertainment Awards, 2012). With JOVI being nominated in the first award ceremony of the CEA which took place July 29th, 2012, it is worth noting that MuMak product is slowly but surely entering the US music market.

Entering the US music market and remaining relevant can be achieved through participation in US based musical festivals such as Coachella Music Festival. This festival has a huge following and is a presents a grassroots passage to break into the US music market. Repeated appearances in this festival will create MuMak artist familiarity with the local US audience. For a MuMak artist to break into the US music market, such association builds familiarity with the US culture and style of music appreciation. Another international musical event located in the Canadian music market is the African festival in Montreal called Nuits D’Afriques (Eyre, 2012). These are 4 days of free outdoor concerts in the month of July from the 19th to the 22nd could be another opportunity for MuMak artists to stay relevant in the US market via the Canadian market which is similar to the US music market.

What is the impact of the challenges on people and product?

The general outlook of the MuMak artists in the face of these challenges towards exporting their music into the US and other markets is simply remarkable. “The artists are quite confident and optimistic about the outcome so far,” says MuMak CEO, Jules Nya. With their belief in quality, branding and originality, these challenges will only last for so long.

In response to a similar inquiry about public reaction towards MuMak musical products amidst the afore mentioned challenges, MuMak CEO said. “The feedback is very positive and quite encouraging both online and mainstream. This only goes to confirm the fact that we make music that meets up our people’s needs and aspirations. This can also be confirmed by our ever growing number of YouTube hits and fan base on the social networks,” (Nya, 2012). The music videos referred to by MuMak CEO can be seen here ; Jovi-Don 4 Kwat http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-ZAI2rCBlc&feature=plcp ,Jovi-Pitie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpEJgaUnTjE , Jovi-Man Pass Man http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WZyndS_Q9A , Magasco-Lineloba http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mprULUkKTZ0  andRenise-Holy Wata http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNRYzhh4Eas   

 

4 – Conclusion

MuMak Records can so far be considered a benchmark for contemporary music labels in Cameroon. In an article by the Center for Black Music research in Columbia College Chicago, contemporary African music is said to be very diverse with numerous characteristics of the Western popular music in the mid-20th century. However, with the coming of recording technology and the development of the recording industry, it is said that contemporary African music has been substantially influenced by R&B, American soul music, Jamaican reggae, and other musical forms from the Americas (Columbia College Chicago, 2012). With its talented roster and clear goals on impacting and dominating the music industry in Cameroon and Africa, MuMak label, just like any label in Cameroon, Africa or rest of the world, is facing the challenges of exporting its music to the US market. According to Jules Nya, MuMak CEO, it’s just a matter of time (Nya, 2012).

            With distribution being one of the major challenges for MuMak to export to the US and other global markets, the label could consider heavy investment in online distribution platforms and digital downloads. Digital music consumption is steadily surpassing records and CD sales globally. With digital presence on ITunes, Amazon or other music sale web platforms, the label could reap some revenue from its popular hits such as JOVI’s Don 4 Kwat and Pitie. Scandinavian nations such as Norway already account for over 80% of their music consumption via streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. Although the revenue recouped by the artists from these platforms is not much, presence on such platforms could contribute to exposure and relevance of the artist. It’s better to be accessible and not be relevant than to be relevant but not accessible. Relevance is relative.

            In an article written by Mark Sweeney and published in The Guardian on Thursday May 31, 2012, the BPI that represents the British music industry reported that spending in digital music in the first three months of 2012 has outpaced traditional CDs and records for the first time. In the same article, digital music revenues accounted for 55.5% of the revenues while sales in CDs fell by 15% (Sweeney, 2012). Britain is a significant market in the consumption of digital music worldwide and such changes could be the case in the US which is on the same digital transformation boat. If major markets are experiencing a significant increase in music consumption via digital platforms, the MuMak should consider this trend as it breaks the barrier of physical presence in any global music market.

Looking at the music landscape in Cameroon and the steps made by MuMak to export urban music, I can confidently say that the record label is moving in the right direction. However, there are still some major obstacles that could hinder the smooth export of music into the US market. The lack of investment is a big blow to the music industry in general in Cameroon. Cameroonian need to appreciate, promote and invest in their music before external sources can do the same. Although it has become relatively cheap to make music and expose your product, the cost for the highest quality of the same product has not gone down.

Source: IFPI

It still takes high quality and performance equipment plus resources to produce high quality product. All these requirements require heavy investment and financing which MuMak does not possess at the moment. According to the IFPI report on investing in music, big record labels such as EMI, UMG and WMG invest up to 1 million Dollars on a less established artist and up to 4.6 million Dollars on an established artist (IFPI, 2010) as can be seen above. It might not take millions of Dollars for an artist to be discovered but rising above the flock requires a certain degree of investment from the artist. With MuMak Records shepherding its artists along the core principles of originality, brand awareness and consistency, it could be a matter of time before its artists fall into the column of Artist Y in the table above which could mean a break into not only the US music market but other global markets.

The unresolved structure for royalty collections for artists is a big impediment for music export. The lack of a working and fully acknowledged copyright body makes the artist to fell less appreciated because they never see the bulk of their royalties due to piracy, lack of accountability and regulation. With such relaxed government tendencies and laissez-faire attitudes, the much revered Cameroon music industry and aspiring artists and record labels such as MuMak see no option than to export their product.

The underdeveloped nature of the musical infrastructure in Cameroon could also pose a challenge to MuMak’s exportation of urban music. Lack of accessible venues and promotion will make it difficult for events to be organized and attended. Although disposable income could be an issue, as mentioned by Jules Nya in our interview, music relates to emotions and if the right chords are stroke, choices will be made in favor of concert tickets. More effort needs to be put in by Government and business men to create mid-sized venues for artists in high demand such as JOVI.

With a desire to use social media as a tool to reach the audience in the US market and worldwide, MuMak records is faced with the challenge of scarcity in high speed internet connection. Although there is internet café scattered all over the major cities, access high bandwidth content such as music video can be a challenge for the consumer. This leads to frustration and eventual piracy in the form of CDs and DVDs.

If technology advancement and use of social media were the bridge to exporting music, Cameroonian artists would have a one lane bridge at their disposal while other markets such as US, UK, Europe and Asia artists have a three-way lane bridge. For a MuMak artists such as JOVI to have a cumulative view of over 80,000 views on YouTube, 80% of which are from outside Cameroon, it would be worthwhile considering the millions of fans in Cameroon without internet access who would have contributed to the number of views on the same YouTube platform.

Does this mean MuMak music will eventually break into the US? Yes. This definitely shows how relevant the music has become in the local market and is becoming in the global market. The product of MuMak could possibly export itself if consistency is maintained and value created. Value to its audience which could translate to monetary support from the audience or an adoption of a style and culture that is defined by MuMak practices.

The bridge to music exportation from a small music market to a bigger one could be done by use of social media technology, proper representation and partnerships, musical collaborations and concert touring in that order. In major record labels such as, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music, it takes a newly signed artist, with some limited popularity, an average of two years to break into stardom. This period could be longer depending on the artists. However, the resources available and put in place to see this happen are huge compared to those of MuMak. Does this mean MuMak artists could expect breaking into the US market within the next 2 to 5 years? Possibly with the right personality, right amount of social media presence, proper representation and partnerships, musical collaborations and concert touring.

 By Gerard Ngwang

for CMGT 547

Bibliography

Afrca News. (2008, May 19). Cameroon Music Corpoation stopped. Retrieved from Africa News: http://www.africanews.com/site/Cameroon_Music_Corpoation_stopped/list_messages/18313

Cameroon Entertainment Awards. (2012, July 27). Press. Retrieved from http://www.cameroonentertainmentawards.org: http://www.cameroonentertainmentawards.org/Press.aspx#nominees

Cameroon Today . (2011, June 11). Cameroon Music Corporaton. Retrieved from Cameroon Today Newspaper: http://news.cameroon-today.com/cameroon-music-corporation-odile-ngaska-re-elected-board-chair-of-cameroon-music-corporation/6547/

Columbia College Chicago. (2012, July 27). The Center for Black Music Research. Retrieved from Traditional and Contemporary African Music: http://www.colum.edu/CBMR/Resources/Definitions_of_Styles_and_Genres/Traditional_and_Contemporary_African_Music.php

Danaher, B., Smith, M., Telang, R., & and Chen, S. (2012). “Digital music goes global in 2011 while action on piracy gains momentum” . London: IFPI Communications. Retrieved from http://ifpi.org/content/section_resources/dmr2012.html

Eyre, B. (2012, July 17). Nuits D’Afriques: 26 Years of Afro-bliss in Montreal. Retrieved from Afropop Worldwide: http://www.afropop.org/wp/3948/nuits-dafriques-26-years-of-afro-bliss-in-montreal/

Fuller, H. &. (1996 – 1997). A History Of Bikutsi Music In Cameroon. Retrieved from AfricaSounds: http://www.africasounds.com/history_of_bikutsi.htm

IFPI. (2010). Investing in Music: How Music Companies Discover, Develop & promote talent. London: IFPI.

International Journal of Communication. (2004). The Role of the National Civil and Copyright Corporation (SOCINADA). International Journal of Communication: IJC., Volume 14.

Mark D. DeLancey, R. N. (2010). Manu Dibango. In R. N. Mark D. DeLancey, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon:(Google eBook) (p. 491). maryland: Scarecroe Press, Inc.

Nya, C. J. (2012, July 28). CEO, MuMak Records. (G. Ngwang, Interviewer)

Sweeney, M. (2012, May 31). Digital music spending greater than sales of CDs and records for first time. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/may/31/digital-music-spending-bpi

Teke, E. (2011, September 13). Supreme Court says “no” to MINCULTURE and SOCAM. Retrieved from CRTV: http://www.crtv.cm/cont/nouvelles/nouvelles_sola_fr.php?idField=9988&table=nouvelles&sub=national

US Department of State. (2011, March). 2011 Investment Climate Statement – Cameroon. Retrieved from US Department of State: http://www.state.gov/e/eb/rls/othr/ics/2011/157252.htm

Advertisements

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look
    forward to new updates.

    Like

    1. Thanks for visiting our site. You can follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @FCEontwit.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s