MBW’s World Leaders is a regular series in which we turn the spotlight toward some of the most influential industry figures overseeing key international markets. In this feature, we speak to Lanre Masha, Director, West Africa at The Orchard. World Leaders is supported by PPL.
The Orchard has been particularly busy in Africa this year.
The Sony Music-owned distribution and artist and label services company has participated in several key music conferences in markets like Rwanda, Tanzania, and Lesotho, and hosted its inaugural ‘Spring Bloom’ event for clients and partners in South Africa, attended by founder Richard Gottehrer.
Last year, the company appointed a raft of executives in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
The company also recently appointed a new Director for West Africa, Lanre Masha.
Based in Lagos, Nigeria, Masha reports to the company’s EVP, Head of Strategy Prashant Bahadur and works alongside Ben Oldfield, VP, Market Development for Africa.
The Orchard’s expansion in Africa arrives at a time of significant growth for the Sub-Saharan African recorded music business, which became the world’s fastest-growing recorded music region in 2022 (up 34.7%), according to IFPI, to become the only region last year to see more than 30% growth.
The region has also produced some of this year’s biggest breakout global stars, such as Rema, whose hit Calm Down Remix (Mavin / Jonzing World/ Virgin Music) featuring Selena Gomez (Interscope) became the first Afrobeats artist-led track to hit a billion streams on Spotify.
Rema’s Calm Down was also No.1 on the ‘Top 100 in 2023’ Shazam chart, after spending more time atop the global Shazam chart over the past year than any other song.
The Orchard’s Masha says that he considers himself a “cultural architect” and that he is in the business of building an ecosystem to bolster creativity in Africa.
His career started in the United States, where he worked for Pepsico and Enterprise. In 2014, he brought the experience gained at those companies back to Nigeria, where, he says, he set his sights on the market’s burgeoning creative industry.
Masha was then appointed Head of Marketing and later General Manager of Music at TRACE Urban, where he spent a total of eight years.
In his new role at The Orchard, Masha will spearhead the company’s operations in West Africa, offering distribution expertise, release strategies, and regional support to the company’s roster of artists and label clients.
He has also co-founded the sub-label MARS (or Mother Africa Reigns Supreme), where he signs and develops rising African talent.
Through The Orchard, Masha has already signed Ghanian hip-hop duo R2Bees, which has collaborated with artists such as Wizkid, Davido, King Promise, and Wande Coal.
Masha has also led the signings of Nigerian gospel artist Ty Bello, Afro-fusion artist MUIS, Afro-pop star YKB, and Melodi from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Looking to the future, the exec says that his “driving force” is to be “of service in the creative industry” in Africa.
“My goal is to uplift, to see us tell our stories in a unique way and through our own lenses,” he explains.
Here, in the latest installment of MBW’s World Leaders series, Masha tells his own music industry story, and offers his predictions for the future of the music industry on the African continent…
How did you first get into the music business?
One of my good friends, AmilCar, informally introduced me to the music business. He, along with one of the biggest Djs in Chicago at the time, Sean Mac, had a mixtape series they sold throughout the city.
Over one of my summer breaks in college I joined AmilCar to help him sell the mixtapes and that started my journey.
Over the next few years we went from selling mixtapes to eventually launching a management company and a small-scale entertainment media company.
What have been some of your career highlights to date?
Honestly, I believe I’m still scratching the surface on my career journey but some key milestones I have accomplished would be :
Launching TraceLive (a live music platform) in Lagos, Nigeria; launching Trace in the city: an 11-city campus tour across Nigeria and launching Trace TV in Ghana.
Bringing legendary photographer Chi Modu to exhibit in Nigeria (in partnership with Budweiser) for the first time before he passed away.
Working on the Jameson Brand Heard & Seen campaign which launched Tems’ Try Me single which became one of the biggest records in Nigeria at the time.
Curating & developing Art X live (with the Art x Lagos team) that serves an intersection between art & music.
You previously worked at Trace Media for eight years. Tell us about how your experience in that role has informed your approach to your current role at The Orchard?
I learned early on at Trace that if I was going to be successful in the music business I needed to have good relationships. That is probably one of the key tools I have at my disposal now in my role at The Orchard.
We are in the people business, and over the years I have been able to build goodwill with artists and the industry at large. Those relationships are now the foundation of new opportunities to create more value for our partners.
How is The Orchard positioned in West Africa currently?
Positioning could imply we are in a race and I don’t see it that way. I believe The Orchard is best positioned to create shared value for our partners and that’s my mission statement: to create value for our partners and grow together. We are here for a long time and this is a marathon not a sprint. Word to Nipsey Hussle.
What are the biggest challenges for the music business generally in West and sub-Saharan Africa?
The cost of mobile data coupled with access to disposable income are arguably two of the biggest challenges in sub-Saharan Africa for the music business. Here data is pre-purchased (unlike other parts of the world with unlimited data plans).
“The cost of mobile data coupled with access to disposable income are arguably two of the biggest challenges in sub-Saharan Africa for the music business.”
Access to streaming services is currently still too expensive to fully actualize the potential of Africa’s young music lovers, which make up about 70% of the overall population.
Additionally, Artist Management and Music Business specialists are still in infancy or fledgling stages of development across the continent. This presents a challenge to scale artist careers and develop the ecosystem.
What trends are you seeing in the market we should know about?
We are seeing steady growth across all music platforms with new entrants like Audiomack, Boomplay, TikTok, and Meta making music more accessible.
“We are seeing steady growth across all music platforms with new entrants like Audiomack, Boomplay, TikTok, and Meta making music more accessible.”
Young Africans are also finding their voices and starting to turn their backs on the idea that the West is the purveyor of all things cool. I see more and more kids wanting to be “African Giants” that are “Made in Lagos.”
To be African across the world is actually a social currency right now.
Where are the biggest opportunities for artists in the region?
Harnessing the social numbers from the continent and building a household name through community and collaboration. In addition, developing and honing their craft to global standards will be one of the keys to success for artists in the region.
In which markets within the region are you seeing the most growth potential currently?
Each of the regional markets is particular. Southern Africa historically has the biggest domestic monetized audience but all have high potential as certain barriers to Pan-African business get unlocked.
These include data costs and visa-free travel across the continent. So the real growth potential is developing our local market and making it easier for music to travel across the continent and beyond.
You have already signed a few artists through the Orchard, could you tell us about these artists and what your ambitions are for them?
While The Orchard is primarily focused on working with independent labels, some of my early signings are artists. I genuinely believe in their potential or saw an opportunity where we could provide more value for them. An artist like TY Bello is an amazing gospel artist that had become jaded by bad business practices in the past and is finding it easier to do business with us.
“My name is the most valuable asset I own, so putting my name behind any artist is a commitment I don’t take lightly.”
We recently signed legendary Ghanian duo R2Bees and have plans to expand their success via our global network.
Also developing artists such as MUIS and Melodi that are being groomed by our partnered labels for future success. My ambitions are shared with our partners; help scale their brand and develop future global superstars, while doing good business.
My name is the most valuable asset I own, so putting my name behind any artist is a commitment I don’t take lightly. We are in it together ‘till we WIN.
What are your predictions for the music streaming business in West and wider Sub-Saharan Africa in the near future?
Near future: Meaning, one to two years, would be steady, sustained growth despite worldwide economic headwinds that are beyond our control.
Then, accelerating growth in 5-10 years as those obstacles are overcome and the full potential of all local markets are fulfilled.
Could you outline your plans and strategy for 2024 and beyond?
Create opportunities for our partners to grow, do good business that can scale and develop future global superstars. Then repeat.
If there was one thing you could change about the music business, what would it be and why?
The value given to awards, because they are opinions of a few people who mostly don’t have the context to measure cultural impact or the feelings music can evoke in listeners.
Music isn’t a competitive sport, it’s what our collective emotions sound like at that moment in time.
World Leaders is supported by PPL, a leading international neighbouring rights collector, with best-in-class operations that help performers and recording rightsholders around the world maximise their royalties. Founded in 1934, PPL collects money from across Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. It has collected over £500 million internationally for its members since 2006.
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