Starting An Online Record Label

How much do you think local musicians earn from their music? I bet it is pretty low. Perhaps that is why musicians in our part of the world have full time jobs. As a musician, when you give your song or album to a local record label such as Ogopa Deejays, or Calif Records…how much do you earn? How much do they earn?

I believe that all artists should have affordable access to all channels of music distribution, get all of the money generated from the sale of their music, and all without giving up any of their master recording ownership, copyrights, merchandise rights, live performance income, public performance royalties or any other rights or money. Do you share my beliefs?

So recently I helped a friend (a musician) set up online. He made a sale yesterday. A Swedish couple, in Sweden, liked his album, and bought it. My friend emailed me saying, “you should start an online record company.” I actually have thought about that for quite a while. I know for sure that our local artistes have a far better chance of earning from their music online than through the local market. Blame piracy.

Is there need for an online record company? Well, look at it this way…if I was a musician and I found out that I can quit my day job and focus on my music, I would jump at the opportunity! Would you? The bigger issue is whether there is a market for Kenyan music online. More research needs to be done on this but I do feel there is a large and untapped market for anyone’s (not just Kenyan) music online.

What would it take to start an online record company? I do not know. But as with all good ideas that I have, I shall share my thoughts with you, dear readers.

First and foremost, one needs to know how to market online. You shall be taking the hopes and dreams of people and you shall be responsible for their success or failure. You need to know how to build an online presence, nurture it and grow it. This requirement means that, currently, not many Kenyan are qualified to start an online record label.

Secondly, one needs to understand how to market music online. Apart from setting up the artist’s website, blog, etc etc one must be able to actually find a market for the music, and then sell it. The most obvious places to sell seem to be places like: iTunes, Amazon MP3, Zune Marketplace, Rhapsody, eMusic, etc. One should also understand the more indirect methods of selling – for example, one American band famously gave away all their songs free on MySpace. They then went on a tour of the USA, and had live – well paying – shows in almost every town, big or small. Despite being a small unknown band, almost all their shows were well attended. It turns out almost everyone knew of them and liked their music (they got it free).

Looking at the two requirements above, I would say that, really, all a prospective online music label needs to have people who know the Internet; people how know marketing and, above all else, people who are creative and are not afraid to to do new and different things. Could this be you?

Let’s be honest, some music is harder to sell than others. If I had an online record label, I would find ways to work with only those musicians whose music inspires or impresses me. One would think that the best way to run the business would be to accept all musicians. I be to differ. Perhaps you can offer certain limited services to every other musician but I believe real success can only be achieved if you work with musicians who you believe in. Marketing is challenging, online marketing even more so. if you do not believe in what you are trying to market, then you will not market it so well.

Finally, my type of online music record label would be creative in how it charges its musicians. I believe that musicians deserve 100% of all their royalties, copyrights, merchandise rights, and any other rights. Instead of charging a commission on the royalties, for example, I’d charge a small annual fee (depending on how much work I do for them).

Does this make sense to anyone? Discuss below, let’s start an online music record label, shall we?

Photo by Shankar, Shiv.

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  1. I thought of the idea last year in October, and Ive already started developing it. Its at 60%. So how about we team up and do this?

  2. Kihatto says:

    Wa! We seem to be thinking on the same line .Is there anyone out there ready to know and reap from operating an online record label .With over 1/2 million kenyans on facebook searches related to kenyan music rising (kikuyu music term alone has over 17000 searches in january alone the time to act is know.Hope to share with readers some fascinating details on how lucrative this market is

  3. Sounds good, ill give more info soon

  4. sawa-am ready.yesterday i was at a meeting and was suprised to know that the guys organizing the forum were Nigerians and guess what their aim was(is)to penetrate the east african market with their ecommerce ideas

  5. Send me mail at

  6. Timothy Clark says:

    i truly believe in what you are saying but remember, all that money that would have to go into it. well, then again it might not have to be hardly any money as it would be online. it would be all most free. you could use webs.
    so that would be just about free.

  7. impressive i must say….though the internet is full of challenges this is one rough sea that people with passion for local music and entrepreneurial minds will be willing to surf in. the idea sounds practical in the sense that most of the Kenyan youths are almost entirely on the internet 24/7; so the market is definitely there. But this presents another challenge, most of our local content is of inferior quality compared to that of the Americans, Europeans and close home west Africa and south Africa. which are readily available on the world wide web. This might impact negatively on the pricing and also on preference. as such, to be successful, our musicians must be willing to put in more work and compose creatively. I believe this should be the starting point.

  8. Back in 2003 one of the top acts in Kenya had a online distribution deal and worked out fine till they were sent abroad for a tour then all things feel apart.
    In 2004-08 ,two distribution companies were started during this time frame by a few Kenyans based abroad including myself and they both failed mainly because of the lack of foresight on the part of the artists who we were distributing their music at the time.In short we gave up on fighting the good fight …counted our losses and moved on…planning to fight another day,with new strategies.
    So fast forward to 2012 and the internet dynamics have changed mainly due to iTunes and the Apple computer products not to mention the numerous PC/cellphone based platforms used to download and hear music.Then came music publishing and mechanical rights issues online.All have created a window of opportunity for those who can understand the new dynamics and for those artists and musician who are humble enough to start small and partner up on projects to push their music online and through mechanical publishing deals.
    Another thing is there are two approaches to Distributing and marketing music in Africa/South America as compared to the rest of the globe, and this are affected by the purchase power in this two continents which is very low, hence the commodity pricing and methods of delivery, have to be different from what one would do in the west.
    So strategy :
    1. you can use the true and tested way of the West by using various avenues of distribution online and setting up one site bringing them all together or marketing the individual streams of each site.
    2. come up with a more cheaper and creative way of doing distribution through Apps and simple mobile web applications. Hence making the product to cost as low as Kshs30 per download.
    Or a third and better option combine both elements of the two and make a high-bred system.

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