Martin Nielsen on the business of putting African music on the global map
Founded in November 2012, Mdundo has over the past four years provided local artists with a platform to distribute their music and earn revenues based on the number of downloads they receive.
Their music and great vocals was confined to their tiny villages and countries at most, effectively denying them an equal playing field to compete with the rest of the world on the global music stage.
With the entrance of Mdundo.com, a music service tailored for the African market which aims to make local and international music available for Africa's 150 million internet users the odds are changing for the African artists.
Founded in November 2012, Mdundo has over the past four years provided local artists with a platform to distribute their music and earn revenues based on the number of downloads they receive; simply put Mdundo has the same structure as Sound Cloud however the difference is that Mdundo actually pays artists.
Martin Nielsen, the CEO at Mdundo Limited describes himself as a music lover since he was a toddler.
“Yes music has always been a big part of my life, it come as a surprise that I ended doing it here and under this circumstances and with this team, when I was young I saw myself more involved in production and management but I am very happy and lucky to be in the music industry, and it is an industry I am very passionate about” Martin says at their offices in Riverside, Nairobi.
I had a chat with him to discuss more about the music business in the African continent.
George: The Grammy awards was held recently which saw big artists like Adele bag several awards do you foresee Africa ever having a similar Grammy awards say for Africa?
Martin: Definitely! I think the music industry in Africa has been on a rise for a number of years now, if you pay attention to Grammy and international award shows they do have more and more African inspired music. Afro beats is very popular at the moment globally, so I think definitely as the industry matures further we will also have our own Grammy awards and even better have the African seat at the Grammy awards.
George: Nigeria music is very popular in Kenya; some critics have criticized the Kenyan media of favoring foreign content over local content, what is your opinion on this touchy matter?
Martin: I think in everycountry you have a big chunk of local or domestic music and then you have a big chunk of international or foreign music. In Kenya international or foreign music is in many cases actually Nigerian, so it is still foreign but it is from the continent which is a good thing. I don’t think it takes away anything necessarily for the domestic music, we can very easily complain Oh! why is Nigerian music played so much but American music is also being played a lot and you could easily blame them for the same. So I think for the whole continent it is a positive thing and I don’t think we should be worried about them as a competition but we should all be proud that Nigeria is actually helping African rhythms and beats to move forward.
George: Kenya has over the years been accused of organizing music awards which do not necessarily come with monetary gains; you guys have a music award show as well, why it is necessary?
Martin: We have mdundo awards in Kenya, we are also trying to acknowledged artists from outside Kenya like Tanzania and Uganda. I believe it is important to acknowledge artists and their actual achievements, In many cases you would find an artist having hundreds of thousands of downloads but no one actually knows about them, so it is important to talk about it, there is also a fame factor that comes with it, like what is an artist doing, how people are listening to this artist's music therefore having an award show is important because that really underlines how much a particular artist is doing for the industry and for the country.
George: How different is your award show compared to other music awards?
Martin: Our award show is purely based on consumption because we have statistics on who gets the most downloads and who gets listened to the most, so the artist with the most listenership is the one who wins unlike in other award shows which is easily based on say a panel of people who decides which is the best song or it is based on SMS voting you know those kind of things. Sometimes in our music awards you will find artists who are not genuinely acknowledge by the mainstream media but are widely consumed.
George: What criteria does mdundo use in terms of choosing artists or songs to put on the mdundo platform?
Martin: We don’t actually have any criteria so as an artist or an audio artist, if you have spoken word or comedy or whatever else you are doing. You can easily use our services by just signing up online and then upload the content right away, after that you can follow how many downloads your content is getting. So in that sense we are an open platform anyone can join us and push their content in our platform.
George: For an artist out there who is yet to upload his/her music on mdundo website what are they missing?
Martin: We are in a position where we can help artists reach fans in different countries, most music services that exist currently are domestic, it can be ring back tunes, Skiza tunes in Kenya or even media houses all are Primarily domestic, you would find one service for Kenya, one service for Tanzania and one service for Uganda. For us we try to be a broad service solution for artists to reach fans across Africa.
George: What is your biggest challenge as per now since you launched mdundo?
Martin: I think there has been many challenges, we officially launched on January of 2013, so it has been four full years. One of the biggest challenges is to explain the vision of what we are trying to achieve for the industry, one thing most people pay attention to is our services is free, so many musicians would be like why I am putting my music on a service that is free to download, why are you not charging for my music? however our vision in the long term is we believe free music actually generates more royalty for the content owners.
George: Despite the obvious challenges in the music industry, I bet you have also experienced some milestones after all you are still in business today?
Martin: Of course we have, we are very proud to have reached one million active users a month, so that's a fairly reasonable milestone, but we are not satisfied yet, we wanna go to five and ten million. We are also happy to have more than 30,000 artists from 37 different African countries.
George: Who are some of the Kenyan artists you listen to?
Martin: One of the artists I listen to in Kenya is King Kaka, I really like the way he plays with words, I am also very proud to Sauti Sol, Hart the Band and Khaligraph Jones.
George: Where do you foresee mdundo say in the next five years?
Martin: In the next five years mdundo aims to be across whole of Africa and make a financial difference in the lives of artists.
George: What are your guilty pleasures?
Martin: Being in the music industry what I do for fun is kinda what I do for work, so I do listen to a lot of music, I try to attend as many music events as I can, I also think we do live in a beautiful part of the world so I enjoy getting out of Nairobi to enjoy nature and the beautiful spots we have around here.
George: What is your favorite Kenyan food?
Martin: Pilau, it is a very beautiful food, it’s very unique and it is something you will never find anywhere in the world that is why I really like it.
Martin: The best way to support music and enjoy all varieties of music is to download our app, go on our website mdundo.com I will challenge you if you do it, I can guarantee you, you will listen to a song by an artist you have never heard of before and you will enjoy and listen to it over and over again.
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