Boomplay Banked on Africa Early and It's Paying Off Now

Ayomide Oriowo

December 21st, 2021

Boomplay became one of the earliest entries of a major streaming platform in Nigeria when it entered the market in 2015. At the time of its entry, music download blogs ruled the Nigerian music scene having both the numbers in terms of download and web visits, artists support, and cultural impact – the tag of a music download website was a constant feature on Nigerian songs. Boomplay’s entry at the time was bold and forward-thinking.

They were offering a service that few saw the importance of despite having huge potential and value for the music landscape. The company had to battle a lack of streaming culture, copyrights issues, absence of technological infrastructure, expensive data plans, obscene level of piracy, and a degree of apathy from industry stakeholders.

Boomplay is pre-installed on Transsion phones (TECNO, Infinix, itel), the most widely used smartphone in Nigeria and Africa. This is a key feature of the platform that has given it an edge over its competitors. The company is led by its Chinese owners but it also had to have a local office that could handle the operations of the company and also offer the kind of context & experience to navigate the peculiarities of the Nigerian music scene.

These days, streaming is a more common phenomenon in Nigerian music with the entry of Spotify in 2021 making it the 15th streaming platform offering a similar service in the country. Music download blogs still hold the largest market share in music consumption, however, they are not backed (at least publicly) by Nigeria artists and their cultural impact is gradually waning. Six years after they made the bold move into Africa, it can be said that Boomplay’s bet on Africa is paying off.

We spoke to two of the key staff in the company’s operations division, Phil Choi, the Director of Content & Strategy at Transsnet Music (Boomplay), and Dele Kadiri, the General Manager at Transsnet Music (Nigeria). These top players gave TurnTable Charts a background of the journey of the streaming platform into Nigeria.

Part 1: Interview with Dele Kadiri

TTC: What is your position in Boomplay?

Dele Kadiri: I am the General Manager at Boomplay Nigeria, a role that I have held for 3 years now.

TTC: Boomplay is one of the first music streaming players in Africa. What prompted the foray into African music?

Dele Kadiri: As one of the earliest streaming platforms on the continent, we have been fortunate to witness the growth of the industry, artists, genres, and of course, streaming. Up until we made our entrance, the market was still in the developing stage, nonetheless, the upward trajectory has been consistent. Expanding into Africa was a no-brainer. Already the continent was showing great potential as an investment hub, and the music was starting to gain traction beyond the borders. It was only right for us to harness the potential while ensuring that our vision of building the most reliable and transparent music ecosystem in Africa is achieved.

TTC: What are some of the challenges the platform has faced in its time in Nigeria?

Dele Kadiri: When we entered the market almost six years ago, there were definitely some challenges we faced. For one, streaming was predominantly a new service, and transitioning users and artists to it was taking longer than we expected. However, six years later we have successfully done so and positioned it as the number one music streaming and download platform on the continent. Another major challenge we face across the continent is piracy, which remains an impediment to the growth and success of the industry

TTC: Boomplay and Ayo Shonaiya recently put out an Afrobeats backstory documentary. What is the story behind that?

Dele Kadiri: As we have all seen, Afrobeats has grown in leaps and bounds. The genre has successfully penetrated through Africa and also globally. One thing about African music is the uniqueness in sound, cultural-infused beats, and the feel-good vibes one gets from it. Ayo Shonaiya has been instrumental in the industry for over 20 years, and this documentary was a testament to that. He has been able to witness the transition from the ‘godfathers of the industry’ to their sons and daughters now carrying the mantle. It was a privilege to partner with him on this project. I believe that the documentary will definitely be a major reference point for generations to come.

TTC: It is an exciting period for Afrobeats and African music at large, do you think Boomplay has contributed to that?

Dele Kadiri: To sound as modest as possible, I certainly feel that it has been concerted efforts from different players in the industry. We must pay homage to icons such as Fela, Don Jazzy, 2Face, among others who opened doors for the artists to have the successes they do now, plus the sheer determination of our artists. At this moment, we do acknowledge that we have played a significant role in propelling music from the continent, but only until we truly actualize the potential of the second largest continent of 1.3 billion people, then we shall be in a better position to honor the role we have played.

TTC: A lot of people have concerns regarding the ability of artists, songwriters, and composers to make money off streaming services generally, why is that?

Dele Kadiri: Those are very valid concerns, and have been an ongoing conversation within the industry. Prior to streaming, artists would solely rely on performances and shows, as royalties were not truly reflective of their hard work. We also have to remember that piracy has been a major factor in being a barrier to this. Nonetheless, we are optimistic that the projected growth of the continent and industry at large is a positive reflection that streaming is bridging the gap and we are getting closer to empowering the music ecosystem to reach its full potential.

TTC: Boomplay prides itself in being able to offer its users/subscribers extensive catalogs including that of older Nigerian artists. However, one notable omission is the catalog of artists under Mavin Records.

Dele Kadiri: You are quite keen. [Laughs] We are currently in talks with the team at Mavin and all I can say at this point is, good things take time, and great things take even longer.

TTC: Fireboy DML has two albums with over 40 million streams on Boomplay, an impressive feat for any artist on the platform. What is your reaction to that?

Dele Kadiri: The new generation of young artists are all offering very unique contributions to the industry. Fireboy’s growth is commendable, and he has the numbers to show for it. For an artist who has been in the industry less than three years, he has been making some serious strides, not only in Nigeria but across the continent. He has a strong label and team who are behind him, so I guess that it will only be upwards from here. In this industry and business, consistency is key and my advice to these artists would be to stay on track, keep the focus and never get tired of learning, re-learning, and unlearning. And oh! Anytime soon Fireboy will be the second artist ever to hit 100m streams on Boomplay, after Burna Boy (As at the time of publishing this magazine, Fireboy DML has reached a 100 million streams). One for the books, for sure!

TTC: Can you share some of the plans to further spread Boomplay as one of the major music streaming platforms in Nigeria?

Dele Kadiri: Despite the infrastructural challenges we are facing, we are still very optimistic about our future in Africa given its huge potential. We have only scratched the surface and intend to move to the next stage. We remain committed to offering our users access to more music and amplifying our support for more upcoming artists. Our fight against piracy also remains a top priority, and we’re planning for further engagement with key industry stakeholders to fight the menace, that has been crippling the industry for years.

TTC: Can you share some of the numbers detailing Boomplay’s growth and reach in Nigeria?

Dele Kadiri: Our numbers across Africa are over 55 million Monthly Active Users and over 54 million tracks. We also surpassed 100 million downloads on Google Play Store.

TTC: One of the exciting things about Boomplay is the issuing of plaques for artists that have crossed milestones.

Dele Kadiri: Most definitely. We have taken it as our culture to celebrate every milestone achieved by artists on the platform. It is only a fraction of the other support we provide our artists.

TTC: As of today, Omah Lay’s “Godly” has crossed over 14.7 million streams on Boomplay – that has to be a record right?

Dele Kadiri: Omah lay is one of the fastest rising acts right now. For him to be achieving such numbers has been a pleasure to witness. Cumulatively, he has successfully managed to reach 69.5m streams in a very short period, which is very commendable.

TTC: With the entrance of more streaming platforms in Nigeria, many people believe it is a positive sign of development? Do you agree? Or do you have any concerns regarding the entrance of more competition?

Dele Kadiri: Most definitely! There is a lot of untapped potential in Africa. Although you might view us as competitors; I, however, have a different opinion about that, at least at this stage. In my opinion, all the streaming platforms in Africa today are actually allies as we all face the same biggest threat and challenge — Piracy. As one of the earliest music streaming services in Africa, we very much want to work with all other legitimate streaming platforms, rights holders, and governments on fighting off piracy. Only if we could achieve that, we would then be able to actualize the potential of the 2nd largest continent with a 1.3 billion population and build a well-structured ecosystem for the industry.

TTC: For TurnTable Charts, we are excited to have a platform like Boomplay as one of our direct partners. We believe this will set a precedent for other music streaming platforms as well as contribute to the growth of music data aggregation and documentation generally.

Dele Kadiri: Partnering with TTC has been a pleasure. We are grateful for the opportunity and look forward to stronger partnerships in the near future as we work together to build the most reliable and transparent ecosystem.

Part 2: Interview with Phil Choi

TTC: Firstly, how did you get into music, like your musical background and how you started?

Phil Choi: My background was in entrepreneurship and strategy consulting, so it’s not a glamorous story, as it was actually by chance that I came across this opportunity for Boomplay, a streaming service focusing on Africa. I have always had a love for music, and being from the UK there was a growing Afrobeats movement, especially in London that I’d been closely following. With Africa being such a huge fascinating market that was still in its relative nascency in terms of the digital era, I wanted to take up this challenge to help grow Boomplay in the market and realize the potential in the music industry.

TTC: So what consultancy firm did you work at?

Phil Choi: Ping An Technology, part of the wider Ping An group. Interestingly, it’s not well-known outside of Asia but is actually 6th on the Forbes Global 2000 list.

TTC: Okay. Did you start in this particular role or have you changed positions in the past few years?

Phil Choi: When I joined Transnet over 3 years ago, my initial role was international partnerships, not just for licensing content, but also for strategic business partnerships as well. My role has evolved moderately over the years, but, the core role is now global licensing and strategy.

TTC: So Boomplay is one of the first streaming platforms to have entered Africa, what prompted the need to enter into an emerging market? Do you know why the company made that decision to enter Africa?

Phil Choi: To cut a long story short, Boomplay started as Boom Player, it was the default music player for the TECNO J7 music mobile phone from Transsion. There was a lot of positive user feedback following the release of this handset and we saw that there was a lot of demand for a music-centered service on phones which did not exist at that time. There were hardly any ways artists could monetize their music digitally and nowhere fans could get all their favorite music in one place. So, from 2017, Boomplay started to work on a standalone application, and that was how the application as we see it now, came about.

TTC: What are the challenges the platform has faced since it began the music-centered platform as you said?

Phil Choi: The African music market is quite fragmented as there are over 54 countries across Africa and they all have their different genres, dialects and you know different artists and it’s nothing like in the more mature markets where there’s like one big label or one aggregator that covers the whole region, like in the UK, USA, India or China. For example, in Nigeria, there are so many indie labels and many more indie artists. The initial stages were quite difficult for the team and time-consuming for the teams as a lot of these labels and artists didn’t have digital copies of their music, a lot of them still had CDs and physical copies of their music at the time. We had to manually transfer and convert their music into digital formats so they could be used for streaming. At the moment, one of the challenges we face is still piracy, data cost, and knowledge of the digital ecosystem among music stakeholders. Data costs are prohibitively high across Africa which and the lack of a reliable internet infrastructure makes it difficult for users to stream music online.

Another one is piracy which I think the two go together – you know data cost is high so they choose to download from an illegal blog. Even for you guys at TurnTable Charts, you cannot get data from playing music from a blog, right?

TTC: Yeah, definitely.

Phil Choi: So that’s why we are trying to educate both users and artists on the benefits of playing music and driving your fans to stream through platforms like Boomplay. From an artist’s perspective, we have the data available for where your fans are and who’s listening to your songs and you can reach a pan-African audience while getting substantial revenue for your work. For music lovers, you don’t need to search online or go to different blogs, because we have over 65m tracks available for free. You’re also supporting the music eco-system which helps support artists and ensures they’re able to keep creating those hits that you love.

TTC: So some of those challenges you mentioned. Do you foresee that there are going to be any changes say the next 5 to 10 years?

Phil Choi: So we are working together with a lot of industry stakeholders, lobbying powers and you know our colleagues are also members of the music associations…Copyright associations and Boomplay are working with a lot of other partners to clamp down on piracy. You know there’s only so much that we can do as a private entity, so we rely a lot on the Government to really clamp down and maybe make an example of these illegal channels. In terms of data, we have partnerships with Telcos where we offer data + subscription bundles to make it more affordable for our users and make the payment process much more convenient.

TTC: Remarkably, when you try to play music from Boomplay even with just edge, you’re still able to play music. This is something people find impressive because, for most of the platforms, if you don’t have 3G or 4G you cannot play music and edge is still present in a lot of areas in Africa. This for one we find very impressive.

Regarding, TTC’s partnership with Boomplay what led to your company saying they need to provide data directly to TurnTable Charts?

Phil Choi: We work with a lot of other international partners such as Billboard, but, as an African-centric streaming service, we feel that there’s not been a lot of spotlight on Africa, and you know maybe up till now the only African country that we see on a lot of the data reports with regard to the African music industry in South Africa. For us, we know that’s not representative of the wider African music industry, so we feel that we have the responsibility where we should share that kind of data and you know shed more light so that the industry and grow and learn. I mean just to show people that the African music scene is a thriving scene.

We kind of recognize the work that you’re doing to try and promote the music scene in Nigeria. So that’s why we felt that this partnership is a good way where we work directly with the TurnTable company, ensuring transparency and helping build trust in the information you put out. We want to ensure that the data put out by TurnTable Charts is reliable and representative, and I think having Boomplay’s data, considering our standing in Nigeria, will really help it grow.

TTC: For Africa generally, it’s an exciting period, there’s been the entrance of some of the biggest record labels in the world, some of the biggest music platforms in the world. Different publishing services, partnerships, agreements, deals at large it’s a wonderful time for African music. Do you think your platform Boomplay has contributed to that development?

Phil Choi: I’d like to think so because when we first came to the market, not a lot of people were looking at Africa as a significant market, or one that was worthy of them to invest significant resources into – so that shows the hard work by our teams across Africa have put in to make this work. Aside from being a music streaming service, it’s important to lay strong foundations and allow everyone to grow together. That’s why we hold conferences where we invite artists, the media, industry stakeholders and discuss issues such as copyright protection, how they can market their work, how they can increase their income, and all kinds of other topics to help maximize their potential, basically a 101 on the digital music landscape.

We have users across the world right now, even though we’re focused on Africa at the moment, but we have users across the world in America, in Europe, and so on. This proves that African content is gaining worldwide recognition and we’re proud that we’ve played our part in allowing users to access their favorite songs from the continent.

TTC: That sounds great.

One of Boomplay’s distinguishing characteristics is the extensive catalog that you have especially for older Nigerian Music, a lot of songs that are not on other streaming platforms or probably they are just on YouTube they however, can be found on Boomplay. Surely, securing the licenses for these songs can’t be easy because some of the artists are dead, some of them (and their estates) are not necessarily interested in the digital scene, and some of them have relationships and agreements with international labels who might not be so easy to reach. How have you been able to secure this kind of important music on your platform?

Phil Choi: We have offices across Africa and large teams in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania. I have colleagues that are music execs that have been in the music industry for a long time, so they have a lot of these artists as close friends, some you can even call family because we have known them for a long time.

Fortunately, we are able to track down the copyright holders of these catalogs and if the artists have unfortunately passed away, then we talk to their estates or who owns their copyrights to negotiate licensing agreements. They trust us that will handle their work with respect and give them the correct exposure that they deserve and help carry on their legacy.

TTC: Can you share some of the plans you have to further spread Boomplay as one of the major streaming platforms in Nigeria?

Phil Choi: The African catalog is always going to be our strong point, we have the largest catalog of African music in the world. Additionally, we are slowly expanding into other regions such as Zambia, Uganda, and also the Francophone regions, so that will be another step for our expansion. Our teams are also regularly visiting other cities in these countries, we are going to the north and south because they have a lot of talented musicians there that are yet to be noticed.

You know we feel that the African service, everyone deserves the chance to get their music heard and there are lots of talented artists in these other regions that are just waiting for that little support or nudge to help them reach a wider audience. We are listening to their music and trying to put it on our platform to give them a chance of monetizing their talent and taking them to the next level. Finally, we have an open-door policy for artists and we are always happy to partner with you to take your craft to the next level.

TTC: This is a personal question for you, how often do you come to Nigeria?

Phil Choi: Before the pandemic, I used to go to Africa every quarter or so and spend a good week or two in Nigeria and our other offices as well. It’s important for me to keep in communication with our partners, the labels, the artists, as without their support and trust, the industry wouldn’t have grown as fast as we’ve seen. There’s also only so much you can do with data, but nothing can compare with actually being in the region and experiencing first-hand what our users experience.

Lastly, I have to give a shout-out to our teams in Africa, they’re so fun and great to be around and I can honestly say, it’s amazing to see the passion and commitment that they have to build the music landscape with Boomplay

TTC: Concerning Monetization of music on your Platform, there has been a lot of discussions both within the industry and outside the industry regarding monetization of content even, there was some news around last year, regarding some distros pulling their music away from your platform regarding issues with disagreements surrounding monetization, what do you have to say about that?

Phil Choi: What I can tell you is that we pride ourselves on being transparent. You know you can speak to a lot of different artists and content providers, we have a CMS System on the backend where if you’re an artist or you’re a label, you can check your backend to see exactly how many streams you have or the royalties you have accrued.

We understand that everyone involved is passionate about the music industry and trying to do their part to support and grow the ecosystem, so there’ll always be differences in opinion about which is the best way to do it. I’m happy to say though, that these partners are now back on the platform and it’s through constant communication and working together, that this trust is built. I can honestly say we do things the right way, we have been doing things the right way since our inception. Even for payouts, it is on par if not higher than the industry average and you know a lot of times you can see how we have supported the industry. I mentioned before we have held conferences, sponsored concerts, we have given away free data, and so on. So, I don’t think anyone can honestly say hand on heart that Boomplay has not supported the industry.

TTC: There are a lot of platforms operating in Nigeria at the moment, I think all the biggest streaming platforms are in Nigeria now – what do you make of the competition brewing among these platforms including yours?

Phil Choi: For us, competition is good and healthy for the market. We have been here for a long time and we have a strong user base, but competition will also help bring extra attention to the market as we strive towards a common goal. We have offices and teams dotted across Africa so our operations are slightly different from other platforms in that we’re able to work very closely with our partners and on a daily basis. We have been here through the hard times, we have fought side by side with artists, with labels to try and improve the industry, and you know something good that can come from this competition is that we hope it can give more pressure to the right people to try and join the fight against piracy as they are now in the market.

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