The future of online music distribution

Online music distribution is stronger than ever with an increased need by Rwandan artistes and recording houses to tap music into online sales.

Online music distribution is stronger than ever with an increased need by Rwandan artistes and recording houses to tap music into online sales.

Simple ways of music distribution, like artistes distributing their music at media houses, negotiating with radio presenter or DJs for a play, are the norm; they exist alongside other more modern channels like YouTube and SoundCloud which are used more for exposure than sales.


Despite the massive challenges of the online distribution platforms in an industry which isn't going to transform overnight, companies like Africori are ready to take on the challenge.


Uwase Mutimura, Africori’s Rwandan representative, says there has been a need not just for Rwandan music but African music on the Internet, alongside music from other parts of the world. More people should know how online music distribution works.


“There's a big need for sensitisation because people don't understand it, before we can get people to sign up with us we have to teach them to go online and see what's there and they read it themselves,” Mutimura says.

Africori, which is based in the UK, delivers music to over 300 outlets in Africa and around the world including digital download stores, such as iTunes, Amazon and Google Play, audio and video streaming services and mobile services. They have a profit sharing model. 

It sounds like a coup with the services offered that help bridge the gap between the artiste and market, however, new online music distribution platforms have to restore trust as there are many that have come up and are inconsistent, according to Theophile Twahirwa, commonly known as DJ Theo, an artiste manager. 

“Artistes have signed contracts before with distributors promising to sell their music on online music platforms in the USA and Europe and it has all come to nothing. So they have to rely on illegal distribution methods,” says Twahirwa. He refuses to give any names though.

“There's a bit of a lack of urgency and I find that the concept maybe too far for people to grasp. It takes forever for the things to materialize, to get contracts signed and music to get uploaded, you need to do this quickly so that as soon as your music is out there, that's when you start getting money,” say Mutimura.

However, Afrifame, an online distribution service by Inyarwanda Ltd which has 85 per cent of Rwandan artistes signed to it, has proved that this idea can work. However, it pays artistes who fill a given quota of streams and downloads, especially through YouTube. 

According to singer Diana Teta, the more everything becomes digital, the better.

“We have big communities of Rwandans abroad and they are interested in what is going on. They can't listen to Rwandan radios or TV stations, all they have to do is go online,” she says.

Distribution companies also offer services to collect royalties and enabling rights from radio and TV stations. This is possible with Intellectual Property laws in place and artistes being able to register their works at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). 

In 2012, legendary songstress, Cecile Kayirebwa sued six radio stations for Rwf 300 million, for not paying royalties from playing her music. King James was also cited with his hit Ganyobwe and had to make a deal with the Abadahigwa Cultural Troupe, the owners of the song.

These cases have set precedence in the protection of intellectual property and for artistes to earn from royalties. 

“The more the people understand how the industry should work the more they can protest,” says Mutimura. 

However artistes are surviving in the current set up, like the upcoming artistes who earn from gigs other avenues. 

“I can't really complain as an upcoming artiste, those are artistes who have management, they can take advantage of that,” says Mike Kayihura. He adds, however, making more music signing with an online distribution company would be a feasible decision.

“I deliver my music to radio stations, if they play it, well and good. I haven't paid anybody,” Kayihura says.

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