The former General Manager of Sony Music West Africa, Michael Ugwu has been appointed into the board of Merlin Network to represent Africa.
This makes it the first time a Nigerian will be appointed to the board as the seat has always been previously occupied by South Africa.
Merlin is a Europe-based digital rights agency for independent record labels, with a membership of over 20,000 independent record labels and distributors from approximately 62 countries with offices in London, Tokyo and New York.
Ugwu, who is the founder and CEO of Nigeria’s pioneer online digital music distributor, Freeme Digital, was one of eight new executives announced last week to represent Africa on Merlin’s 15-member board.
Other new executives that joined the board are from Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, North America and South Korea.
The other incoming board members are Alexandria Hock of Better Noise Music; Carlos Mills of Mills Records; Chan Kim of FLUXUS, Inc; Katie Alberts of Reach Records; Marie Clausen of Ninja Tune; Merida Sussex of Stolen Recordings and Pieter van Rijn of FUGA.
Jeremy Sirota, a senior member of Facebook’s Music Team, has also been appointed CEO to replace Charles Caldas after more than 12 years at the helm.
Ugwu described the appointment into the board as an important milestone in the evolution of Nigeria’s music industry and it’s growing acceptance and expanding footprint in the global music scene.
He said: “I am humbled by this appointment. It is another testament that the Nigerian music industry is making the expected progress. The talent, hard work and investment in the industry continue to gain deserved recognition.
“As far as the Nigerian music industry is concerned, Freeme Digital remains committed to the rights and opportunities of Independents and their artists. And we will continue to expand the scope of opportunities and the frontiers of digital music for the emerging generation of independents and artists in Nigeria and across Africa.”
Prior to exiting Sony Music Entertainment West Africa in August 2019 to fully focus on Freeme Digital, Ugwu led Sony’s expansion in West Africa as the General Manager for five years, spearheading unprecedented historic deals for Africa’s biggest talents including Davido and Wizkid.
He also oversaw the licencing of Sony Music’s entire music catalogue of 5 million tracks to Africa’s largest mobile telecommunication network, MTN via the Huawei developed Music Plus service.
Ugwu’s footprint into the Nigerian music industry continues to deepen even as Freeme Digital continues to drive digital music distribution for creators across the industry’s value chain, especially with the launch of the Freeme Space in 2018, which is arguably Nigeria’s largest music and content production studio.
Ugwu believes that joining the board of Merlin, which has distributed more than $2 billion to its almost 900 members since launching in 2008 and often considered as the 4th major label representing 15% of global music rights, will draw more attention to the growing opportunities of the Nigerian digital music distribution ecosystem.