How Artists Get Paid For Their Music (A Nigerian Artist’s View)

II recently read an article about how artists make their money (the article was inspired by the recent Infographics published by The Future of Music Coalition on their website) and from the writer’s view most artists have a general understanding of how money works when it comes to live performance and merch sales — but when it comes to getting compensated for radio play, digital sales, webcasts, and interactive streaming, the waters are a bit more murky.

I can relate to this because as I have come to find out as an artist learning to be a businesswoman, many artists do not know a single thing about the potential streams of income from their music. We are caught up with dreaming and perfecting our art to make these dreams come true. So, we hire managers who may not have a clue any better than we do, go for phony reality shows or settle for record deals that promise fame and fortune. The typical artist does not look past the live shows, record sales and endorsements. As a matter of fact, many artists (and producers) have no clue how much more money songwriters do make than performers in many cases.

Countries like the USA and the European continent are blessed with a structure that appears to work (at least from where we stand in Africa) and have organizations and PROs that provide reports and show they work (as we imagine) like BMI and ASCAP, Sound Exchange, Harry Fox Agency, etc.

In Africa we have radio, ‘Alaba’ (The ‘music distribution’ system we have endured for decades) and the Collecting Societies like PMAN and COSON who have not (at least to my knowledge) given a model of which artists can measure against their expectations of the services they hope to provide… There appears to be a lot of commotion dressed in an impression of false corporation but that is not an excuse for the artist to complain. I see this peculiar situation as a grand opportunity to make some money in many innovative ways which base on the ideal and can be customised to suit our situation as African artists and musicians.

One solution I’d propose is artists need to band together and start road tours from Nigeria to West Africa and let the trend spread to the entire continent. An industry cannot be built by the same set of people playing the same annual and monthly shows. artists teaming up to bring a variety of music to a starving audience provide a brilliant avenue for healthy competition to grow into a budding industry the rest of the world can respect. At tours artists can sell their merchandise (cds, T Shirts, etc) and bond with their fans and maybe positive social change can be encouraged at some level.

Looking beyond this the African artist who wishes to benefit from the ideal models of making money from their music has to register with one or more of the foreign PROs and organizations as earlier mentioned to earn money from broadcast radio and webcasting, digital sales, and interactive streams.

Based on the given situation of the Nigerian and African artist making money from music as independent players who own their sound copyrights (You own copyright to your work the minute it is put on paper or recorded in audio format) and use services (known as the aggregators) like JTV Digital, Tunecore, CDBaby, etc the system works like this:

Christine Ben-Ameh

Christine Ben-Ameh

The first step is to have your music released to the major digital stores (iTunes, Amazon, etc) via the aggregators and the monies (if any) made from the sales is sent back to the aggregators who pass the money down to you. In the case that you the artist didn’t write the sold music, publishing royalties are also sent to the songwriters and publishing companies. Recently, aggregators have started providing publishing administrating services that can help the artist in ensuring that these royalties are rightly administered. For streaming services like Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio etc, monies earned are collected in three parts – by the aggregators, the PROs and the Publisher or mechanical licensing agent; the PRO who disburses royalties to the songwriter and publisher, the publisher who disburses royalties to the songwriter and the aggregator who sends royalties to the artist/band.

Aside these, take a chance at songwriting contests, apply to participate in festivals, organize hangouts, jam sessions and get your community involved in your art and business just as you prove to them that you want to be involved with them. I know this because I learn everyday how nobody wants to be a part of your business as an artist if you do not show that you are interested in them and have a life that builds other people up in some way- a life that boasts an inspiring story.

The Nigerian society already does not regard the artist in a serious light (The typical Nigerian artist sometimes doesn’t help this impression). The issues that face the artist regardless of what part of the world you are many but even more frustrating in Africa and other parts of the world that are seen as ‘developing’. Therefore, to find direction and reap its benefits, we as artists need to start to know and pursue exactly what we want and in many cases what we will cease to tolerate.

Christine Ben-Ameh is a Singer/Songwriter as well as a budding music entrepreneur whose entire music catalog can be accessed at this location (distribution through JTV Digital). Find out all about the artist and her latest projects at