How streaming algorithms have become Afrobeat’s biggest gatekeeper

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..over the years, Afrobeats has become shorter with most tracks not exceeding a three minutes band. There are many reasons why this is so.
How streaming algorithms became Afrobeats' latest gatekeeper

In the dwindling years of this last decade, when BurnaBoy started to inch closer to becoming a worldwide Afrobeats sensation, and WizKid locked hands with famed supermodel, Naomi Campbel at the Dolce and Gabbana show, streaming began to offer African artists a path to global stardom.

By the time the ilks of Omah Lay and Fireboy DML started to pick up steam as global sensations, BurnaBoy had sold out Madison Square Garden and WizKid had won his first Grammy.

It is arguable that all of these would not have been possible without streaming. With streaming platforms; Spotify, Apple Music etc, and their emergence as a global village for all types of sounds, musicians across the world are treated to a wider audience with different tastes.

But to break even in this wide array of sounds on streaming platforms this new crop of Afrobeat stars had to adapt to the demands of the streaming world.

How streaming algorithms became Afrobeats' latest gatekeeper
Afrobeat singer Fireboy DML. Image source: Instagram

When Wizkid broke onto the scene in 2011, when streaming wasn’t a thing and musicians depended solely on relationships with radio stations, DJs, record labels etc. to break even his hits; “Holla At Your Boy,” “Tease Me” from his StarBoy album were at least four minutes long.

But over the years, Afrobeats has become shorter with most tracks not exceeding a three minutes band. There are many reasons why this is so.

Afrobeats: it is mostly about the money

First, content overload on Instagram and YouTube has drastically reduced the attention span of consumers. A new report shows that the attention span of a Gen-Zier doesn’t exceed eight seconds.

But also, musicians are paid royalties (if you can call it that) from the streaming platforms based on the number of streams they generate per song. One of the hacks to increase their streams is to make the songs shorter. If they have songs that go on for a duration of five minutes it will automatically take longer to generate as many streams as they need to make some money.

Spotify for instance pays $4 for every one thousand streams a song generates. Apple Music on the other hand can pays up to $10 for every one thousand streams. TIDAL pays as much as $11 for every one thousand streams.

For young musicians looking for critical acclaim and scrape some coins while they do it, they create shorter tracks. Consider the rising star Oxlade whose songs consistently exceed two minutes only by a few seconds.

It is also about the rep…

Streaming numbers more recently have gone beyond being a marker of what musicians make from streaming companies.

Like all things in the music industry, it has become a kind of reputation determiner. The musician with the highest streams wins the pissing contest so much so that top streamed songs now dominate news cycles for just being the most streamed songs on Spotify or Apple Music.

How streaming algorithms became Afrobeats' latest gatekeeper
Oxlade is a Nigerian Afrobeats singer. Image source: Instagram

This has led some musicians down the crooked path of buying streams. With about 50 dollars artists can buy up to five thousand streams. Websites like UseViral and SociaViral specialise in propping up tracks on streaming platforms with streams typically by bots.

If you dabble in the TikTok space, you most likely would have been tempted to search for a viral song used by an influencer on a streaming platform. And you most likely would have been surprised by how the entire song sounds.

It’s called influencing baby.

Afrobeat artists trying to survive the algorithms of these streaming platforms pay influencers, especially on TikTok to create content around their songs with the hope that it becomes the next viral challenge. All of this is so they can generate as many streams as possible.

The consequence of streaming companies and their algorithms becoming a new kind of gatekeeper in music is also having a direct influence on the nature of the sound of most of the songs.

Artists in the early aught struggled to make sure their sounds weren’t similar to their contemporaries.

But with algorithms deciding for many streamers what songs they should listen to, the goal for many Afrobeats musicians has become to sing as similar to the big stars as possible. The algorithm uses things like mood, style, and genre to create costume playlists for each streamer. The idea is that streamers will discover new artists and new songs.

This has made almost all the songs have similar sounds and moods. Contemporary mainstream afrobeat songs, at least the ones that get the most streams sound and feel alike.

There is a hint of Caribbean beats à la Wizkid’s “Sounds from the Other Side,” smashed with traditional Afrobeats tunes, creating a feeling that makes every single song perfect for an evening moving slowly with friends by the beach.

For instance, Omah Lay’s Get Layd or JoeBoy’s Love & Light albums have very similar moods.

How streaming algorithms became Afrobeats' latest gatekeeper
Rising Afrobeats start Omah Lay. Image source: Instagram

The consequence of all of the streaming services creating the platform it does for artists to get millions of music enthusiasts to listen to their songs is that big streaming companies and their algorithms have over time taken charge of the feel and sound of Afrobeats.

In a bid to break even, streaming algorithms have become a kind of de-facto gatekeeper of music.


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