Exclusivity has been an important part of music distribution deals from time immemorial. It’s the best way for a distributor to protect their investment in a project and – since they usually trade something in for the sole rights – it’s also the best way for an artist to cash out early if that project bricks in the marketplace. The distributor is sorted and the artist/label is sorted as well but exclusivity is not always in the best interest of the consumer. Rather than looking for the easiest ways to get music to them, the reverse happens sometimes and the consumer has to struggle to find ways to get to the music.

When Alaba became the primary distribution network for physical CDs in Nigeria, the initial model was loosely built around artists and labels getting in bed with a TJoe or AHBU Venture and allowing them become the sole distributor of an album nationwide. The Alaba distributors then feed smaller distributors, who then feed smaller distributors, until the CD literally ends up in your face when you’re in traffic. 

In 2006, Mo Hits Records was one of the few companies that tried to break from the norm, they performed an interesting experiment for D’banj’s Rundown Funk U Up album. Controlling the marketing and distribution of the project, the label – who was already in partnership with UAC Foods at the time – struck a deal to make Rundown Funk U Up available at Mr. Biggs outlets for a limited period. Ostensibly, Mo Hits would later re-release a version of the album with more songs and make that version available on the streets through the more conventional channels. The truth is that as many outlets as Mr. Biggs has, if the consumer isn’t used to getting his music there, it will take more than one album roll out cycle to get them to change that behaviour.

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10 years after, history is repeating itself in the digital space. In the last 36 months, there has seen an increase in exclusive distribution deals between artists and online platforms. The deals usually come with exclusivity windows and staggered release dates, so for instance Bez and Illbliss handed their recent projects Gbagyi Child and Illygatti: 7057 to MTN Music+ first before any other outlets and Olamide and Phyno’s joint album 2 Kings was first available on Etisalat’s own streaming service Cloud 9 before others. Breaking from the mould, rather than making his new album Lafiaji available on every platform or striking a deal with one of the more traditional local ones, Vector’s 3rd album is currently only available on Arcadia Media TV, a niche website that provides media content to its subscribers. 

#LAFIAJIABLUM OFFICIALLY OUT??? EXCLUSIVE to on www.arcadiamobiletv.com

Vector

Unfortunately, there have been significant challenges with the roll out of Lafiaji. The first is around awareness, the second is around technology. Vector is no longer signed to YSG Entertainment and the marketing budget for the new project has been understandably more modest in comparison to his previous 2.  The raise your “L’s” for Lafiaji campaign was successful but other than that, there wasn’t much visibility. That’s the more reason why Lafiaji shouldn’t be hidden in a secluded part of the internet where the consumer has to leave their natural music habitat to go and find it. With regards to technology, the minute I saw that the website didn’t have an HTTPS connection I knew there was something wrong. HTTPS connections are more secure than HTTP connections, the protocol is highly recommended for sites that collect sensitive info from you – social networks, e-commerce sites etc. When people give you their financial information, they expect you to keep it safe. However, security is only one of the many technological challenges with the site and fans complained bitterly for the first day or so after the project’s release –  Vector’s fans were ready for the D-Day but Vector and Arcadia Media clearly weren’t.

When demand for an album and supply for said album don’t meet, that gap creates an opportunity for piracy! That equation has been true since the days of vinyl and will continue in the days of streaming. True to form, bootlegged copies of Lafiaji are currently floating around on the internet to bridge that gap.

The Lafiaji roll out has been chaotic so far but I expect that if/when the exclusivity window closes and the album is made available everywhere, all will be well. But whether the music is exclusive to Arcadia or exclusive to a bigger local online platform, artists who enter into exclusive deals do so without the consumer’s best interest at heart. Let’s circle back to Bez’ Gbabyi Child – the album came out on 28th November but unless you were on MTN Music+, you wouldn’t get your hands on the album until December 10th and physical CDs later, maybe. And even then, if you were on TECNO’s Boom Player or on Spinlet you still wouldn’t be able to get it as of today.

From a sales standpoint, the most important weeks of an album’s release are its first few weeks, that’s the peak of the public’s interest in the album and a significant portion of the total sales and streams are recorded then. Digital platforms (both in Nigeria and abroad) are aware of this and that’s the reason why they use exclusive album releases to maximize profit in that window and also as a weapon to fight each other for market share. But when 2 – or in this case more – elephants fight, it’s usually the grass that suffers. The owner of the album exclusive gets the subscribers they need, the artist gets the compensation they negotiated for, but the consumer – who is supposed to be king – ends up being sent around the internet looking for music like he’s a messenger for the both of them.