Nigeria does not have a standard charting system that aggregates the success of music via tracking airplay, streaming, downloads and sales. It inhibits the growth of the ecosystem and documentation of numbers. A system without a charting system risks a problem of assumption and idea of vague perception.

‘What is a hit?’ might seem a simple statement that should easily be answered by perception, but it’s a problem in Nigeria. Charting might not fully tell that story anymore, but it still informs much of our actions in the modern world. It’s imperative that we track the use and consumption of songs as well as award accolades as necessary.

Those numbers and consumption metrics help artists make touring and branding decisions. For a long time, that seemed like a distant dream, but not anymore. Say hello to Turntable Charts. Over the past few months and through several partnerships, Turntable Charts has been able to tell the Nigerian story one chart at a time.

As of September 11, 2020, the chart publication platform has the following charts; radio airplay, TV airplay, Shazam, iTunes, Top Nigerian songs on Triller and streaming charts. The company also does numerous analytical breakdowns on Nigerian music to determine the consumption patterns of certain genres of music.

TurnTable Charts

When Ayo Oriowo, the Editor-In-Chief of the young platform was in JSS3, his oldest sister had a boyfriend who introduced him to consumption of albums by Chris Brown, Lil Wayne and so forth. Until 2016 when Nigerian music became easily accessible to him, this final year Estate Management student of Obafemi Awolowo University was heavily into foreign music.

Then on November 8, 2019, Peruzzi, Joeboy, Wurld & Sarz and YCee dropped projects on the same day. He thought to himself, “It would be nice to document the success of these albums through a proper charting system, analyse the numbers and actually see the actual listener behaviours. But then, we don’t have a charting system.”

Hilariously, Oriowo sent an email to all the streaming platforms hoping to get a reply. These days, he laughs at his naivety, but he thinks it was worth a try. When he didn’t get a reply, he did something even funnier.

Oriowo reached out to Simi Adegoke, a programmer, designer, Mechanical Engineering student at Obafemi Awolowo University and the second of the three Co-founders of the Turntable Charts to design a technology that could track music consumption across board.

I just wanted to do something, bro [laughs]. When I was in Abuja, I also approached Premium Times with the idea, but they turned it down,” Oriowo says.

Then in January 2020, Oriowo looked at how Nigerian artists kept boasting about Apple Music Chart positions as an authority on Nigerian music consumption when that chart barely tells 10% of the Nigerian story. As of December 2019, reports claimed that Apple Music only had about 90,000 users in Nigeria. For context, the country has about 200 million citizens.

While Oriowo thinks that such perception is no fault of Apple Music’s as it only seeks to track consumption on its own platform by creating a chart, he felt Nigeria needed something better.

“I think it also made me think that Nigerians were yearning for a proper charting system - especially since ‘Afrobeats to the world’ has gathered pace,” he says. “Our artists have charted in foreign countries and they want that feeling again. Some people who have not charted in foreign countries also want that feeling. I think that’s why we defer to Apple Music so much.

Turntable Charts, then without a website of its own partnered with CriticsCo, a website to publish charts.

He says, “We were combining chart positions on Boomplay, Apple Music, Audiomack, YouTube Music [a little later], YouTube and Deezer. Looking back, it’s not data that I’m proud of but I felt something had to be done [laughs].”

When Oriowo felt like the chart was not getting traction, Turntable Charts - still without a website - briefly partnered with 49thStreet to help Turntable get some traction.

But looking back, Oriowo jokes, “I don’t know why we even did that [laughs]. What were we publicizing?” He buttresses, “But I guess it was about making people know that charting is more than Apple Music.”

Inspired by Billboard Charts

Asides the idea of creating a charting system, Oriowo loves the idea of America’s flagship charts, the Billboard Charts as well as understanding the inner workings of music data.

He says, “The Billboard Charts never ends. It also helps people understand who is what, when, where and how. Beyonce can’t come tomorrow and say she was the biggest artist of 2019.

If there was no chart and Beyonce was always big, she would assume that she was the biggest. But due to the existence of Billboard, she can’t say that. That’s one problem we have in Nigeria - assumption. It’s also a key driver for Turntable Charts, we want to create facts. Charting also helps the industry to track patterns and viable products/genres.

“A lot of record labels are putting effort into TikTok now because a public database like Billboard makes you understand that you could sell Diamond in months if your music blows up on the platform.”

Objectives of TurnTable Charts

Like Billboard Charts, Turntable Charts is created with a similar objectives;

  1. Tracking what’s popular
  2. Determining listener/consumer behaviour
  3. Documentation
  4. Content creation

However, Turntable Charts also wants to become a bedrock for;

  1. Certification - it hopes to roll that out very soon
  2. Data analytics on Nigerian music 

Oriowo says, “I look at how Nigerian artists celebrate their debut on World Music Album Charts. I mean, it’s a measure of success but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a limited measure for success. Tiwa Savage and Motown only have to sell a couple hundreds of Celia to be on that chart.

“That is not exactly a reflection on Nigeria. Our music is so diverse and our palettes continue to widen - we also have 200 million citizens. There’s a lot going on in Nigerian sub-mainstream markets that mainstream markets don’t pay attention to. With a chart like ours, we can actually see consumption patterns.

“If you look at the numbers of Nigerian gospel artists like Mercy Chinwo and Sinach, only like five Nigerian pop artists can even dream of matching them. Without charts, we will not be able to track the immersion of some of these artists. With a qualitative charting system, labels can also make adequate investment decisions based on successful genres and available markets.

“An artist like Hamisu Breaker is doing wild numbers on YouTube, but most people in the South knew about him till this year. These charts could also allow foreign investors to know what to throw money at in Nigeria.

Oriowo then goes on to say that the UK Afrobeats chart will never truly tell the Nigerian story because only the top Nigerian acts will ever truly feature on that chart. Aside from that, he also notes that even the top Nigerian acts will find it hard to topple Afro-swing acts like J Hus or NSG because the chart is based on a foreign market.

He feels only a Nigerian chart can help foreigners know what is actually successful in Nigeria. “A song like Jamopyper’s new song will never make it to the UK Afrobeats charts,” Oriowo notes.

How Turntable determines charts?

Right now, Turntable Charts has the following charts;

  1. Streaming charts, which combines data from streaming platforms
  2. Digital songs sales charts
  3. Radio airplay charts
  4. Visual airplay charts
  5. Triller Charts: Most popular Nigerian songs on Triller
  6. Shazam charts 
  7. Apple Music

The company analyses music consumption from Fridays to Thursdays and then publishes charts from Sundays to Tuesdays.

Challenges

These days, Turntable Charts is still trying to fine-tune certain parts like its streaming charts. It feels a presumably imminent partnership will solve that. Even though a big problem with Nigeria is the monetization of charting, Turntable has major plans to avoid that. It also has some amazing expansion plans for 2021.

Right now, it’s in the process of raising its first round of funds.

Ayo Oriowo on consumer behaviour and the Nigerian soundscape

These days, his interest in Nigerian music is as formless as the current Nigerian soundscape. Oriowo sees the widening variation in listener palettes in the Nigerian soundscape as well as the offshoot of several media platforms documenting this culture as a sign of early maturation of the Nigerian entertainment sector.

However Oriowo wants the Nigerian ecosystem to be wary of regurgitating successful artist-models. He agrees with this writer’s query that there is a ‘Rema template’ that everybody else is trying to recreate in the Nigerian music industry.

ALSO READ: Here is why Nigerian music is becoming more about strategy than just good music [Pulse Comment]

He says, “I actually think that selecting a versatile artist is more about the demands of the current soundscape, but I also feel like fans don’t know what they want until somebody gives them. Fans are like the stomach - when they are filled up on something, they stop consuming it. I would like more talent diversity in the Nigerian music industry, but that’s just me [laughs].

“Since crossing over is our current order of the day, we need to make sure we offer a range of things and not sound like each other…

Oriowo then goes further to say that while numbers are reflective of success, that success could also be momentary. He feels like the streaming makes it impossible for major acts to have terrible numbers, especially in their first week of release.

Finally, he notes that the rise of Omah Lay has reinforced the power of ‘word of mouth’ evangelism even with a sizable marketing budget.