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Investors Might Be Hard Players, But they aren’t the demons
by Joey Akan
Eat the rich…especially when they are putting money down for business.
It’s hard to be a Nigerian record label owner. There are very few reasons why anyone in their right minds would want to go into the music business in a country where selling music requires you to operate from a place of loss. But people do it and trust me, their lives are some of the hardest.
At the height of my work at Pulse, I worked on an investigative report about a record label situation in Lagos. A popular Nigerian musician had decided that his record label, who found him when no one knew he existed, and ponied up the cash for his career, hired professionals, and paid a great deal of payola to get him off the ground, was exploiting him. That story changed my perspective on how I saw the record label business in Nigeria.
At first, my heart was given to the artist. I’m a creative, and I understand how hard it is to make something out of nothing. Heck, this newsletter which you are reading is designed to get me some money for y creative efforts. After trying to get the artist to go on the record, and failing at it due to “there’s a legal case, and my lawyers insist that I cannot talk to journalists.”
While they turned down the opportunity to talk to me, they were prolific with their press releases. They would rather control the narrative with smooth PR than allow me to stab at the truth. This is common practice, and I understand their reason for not playing ball. But I needed my story, and so took another route to it. For the first time in my history of reporting on record label deals, I switched focus to the businessman who was being demonized in the entire saga.
When I approached him, I was welcomed. Through sources close to him, I got all the documents that have ever passed through the artist and the company. I pored through all the record contracts, the books, text messages, emails, voice notes and more. The receipts O por! It was plenty in the ear.
Turns out that the record label had been fair to the artist, even though he switched up once he blew. When he began to bring in more money after years of investment, he immediately pushed for renegotiation. That was done reluctantly by the label, but they did concede some ground. They gave him more money and kept it moving. But the artist didn’t want to be tied to them anymore. Further investigations showed me that the artist simply didn’t want anybody’s hand in their bag.
That wasn’t all.
Turns out the artist had aligned with another legendary artist who wanted to break him free of his contract. We’ll call the artist K, and the legend B. B had a company that wanted K, and he sold a dream to K. K appeared to fall fr it, and enlisted B who had experience with these things to break him out of contract jail. B engineered the process, found a technicality and played a strong hand with a reputable law firm. Super chess moves, and it was checkmate for the record label. B had done it for K!
K left, record label went to court, failed to get an injunction to stop K from performing, and have been pursuing that case ever since.
Meanwhile, a new free K had the world at his fingertips. He broke it off with B immediately in the most “inside life” of episodes ever and set sail as a solo artist. Free to live a life of independence, head high up in the clouds, feet chasing the sunset.
So what happens to the record label boss who had just begun to reap the benefits of taking a chance on an unknown talent? What will become of the investment they had thrown in? How will they get justice?
They never will. After failing to get a court to grant them an injunction, they effectively lost the case. Artist K celebrated when the injunction was not granted. He will perform, and go about life, knowing well that the case can drag on for years until everyone gets tired of spending racking up legal fees in futility.
The record label owner will no longer want to take the chance on any other artist. He knows that he got lucky to have an artist that blew that big. Most don’t even know how it happened so big for them. And when they try to push for replication, they’ll discover that several variables that are beyond their control, aligned for their earlier success. Things such as artistry and funding can be controlled and improved at home. But public acceptance and the changing sonic spectrum need to be navigated. You can never control the weather, you can only open your umbrella and hope that you can weather the storm.
That record label owner has never recovered after K’s loss. There’s a strong chance he wouldn’t. And when his friends tell him that they are trying to invest in music, what do you think he’ll say? He’ll be an anti-mascot, dissuading everyone from taking a chance. He once did and got bitten. He’s currently losing money investing in deadwood. He isn’t smoking backwoods. Why would he allow anyone of his friends to go down that ugly route? Over his dead body!
That’s how the Nigerian music industry loses investors. When contracts are weak and fail to protect the money, they fail to protect the industry. It’s like CO emission hitting the ozone, and depleting it, one hole at a time. Every time an artist gets away with rebellion, the collective attractiveness of the space drops. It’s already hard to make money from music, why make it so insecure for my capital? Why needlessly increase risk with a faint possibility of ROI? Is it crack?
The Vibe Economy
Sing it with me, to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s famous ‘Come Fly Me’: “Come vibe with me, let’s vibe let’s vibe away…”
Love is the highest level of vibration in the music industry. It is easy to find, difficult to sustain, and vulnerable to feel. All other vibrations sit on a spectrum reaching forever to the purity of love. The music industry in Lagos is packed with love or a version of transactional camaraderie that is anchored by business but masked as care for each other. This seldom lasts. It is often pulled back in time when the exchange of value between two people become imbalanced. The party with the higher power often pulls out and leaves in search of new lovers who they share similar footing. The dumped one either learns a lesson and is inspired to level up, or they stay with a hole in their heart which grows stronger, manifesting as cynicism or savvy wisdom.
That’s why artists leave their Day 1s. It’s also the reason most producers get dumped on the floor every time an artist rises on the back of their creativity. The love that once existed never was. The business was mistaken for affection. And when a ‘lover’ can broaden their options significantly, they pack up and leave the arrangement. It’s also why you always hear these advantaged artists say, “It’s not personal, I got mad love for you, but leaving you was business.”
Vibing is how this love between creatives are expressed. The art of vibing is creativity in motion. Vibing means two or more innovative souls testing each other’s strengths for common footing on which to bond. The artist brings the vocals, the producer supplies the beat and instrumentation, and work is birthed. The problem comes when it becomes time to extend that love to everyone’s pockets.
Vibing can also be done regardless of class or social status of the vibrators. But when matters of money come up, it usually turns into a power play. I know a producer who vibed with two of the hottest artists at the time. These people own teams that are well respected in the music business as leaders. Well, they vibed and a clear hit was born. The song was so good, that everyone in the room patted themselves on the back, as they wrapped up the record. Vibing for the win!
Well, except for the small business of the payment and structuring splits. The dynamics flipped. They offered crap money, and when the producer refused, they pushed back harshly. One told him a version of “weren’t we just vibing? Why do you want more money?” The producer stood his ground, the big guys cut him off and contracted another producer who could take less, to remake the beat.
Business screwed love over.
Another producer was approached by an A-list artist, housed, fed and milked for an album. On completion of the project, he was kicked out of the house, without payment. When he asked, he was derided and threatened. He went away, heartbroken. These stories are abundant. Ask P Loops, the creative who produced D’banj’s ‘Emergency’ how much he got. Ask producers to talk to you off the record. Tears inna me eye.
Even now, an A-list artist is trying to erase another producer from a record that has just recently been made a single. Vibes will kill you.
Producers ought to have their business reps sort money and splits out, while the creative sessions are focused on optimum output. There’s also the understanding that the informal nature of the music industry, means that sometimes everyone gets led by the spirit to work together. There’s also the currency of trust that some musicians and their producers extend to each other for blanket sessions.
But value has to be exchanged. Sometimes it isn’t just money. Value can be whatever everyone agrees for it to be. Experience, access, social media hype, or collaborative barters can offer great rewards. The trouble happens when all parties aren’t on board with the nature of value offered. But I have seen very few people frown at money. When in doubt, throw more money at the producer.
Vibing can be great, but it mostly kills producers and everyone else. Get your money. Always. No artist will vibe with show promoters. They wouldn’t vibe with video directors. They won’t vibe at the payola bus stop. Why are producers vibrant receptors of vibration? Why are they forever complaining that they have been done dirty? Vibing will do that to them.
Once again, get your money. Vibe later, except you have reached a level where you can extend trust, or the artist has a long history of keeping his end of every deal.
Caveat: The catch here is that producers make reasonable demands, using market forces, and a few other factors to set their price. Asking for more than you are clearly worth will kill you faster than any amount of vibing will. Everyone has to use their head.
Plugging Away: Lucas Jay (Entertainment Exec)
An A&R, Music Promoter and Talent manager, Lucas started as an artist, and producer, before finding his true love in management and A&R. In 2018, he joined Universal Music Nigeria, where he added music promotions to his abilities. Right now, he’s collected the event management stone, and bookings. He is currently the CEO of Speed Plug Africa, a boutique services company offering solutions to musicians. His team recently executed the promotion of the EP, ILGWT by Sarz and Wurld.
Why did you decide to plug music?
When I started my career as an artist and producer, I saw a lot of problems to solve. Back then I hung around radio and TV stations begging for airplay. I witnessed a lot of debilitating struggle for emerging artists, looking for a break. Artists shouldn’t have to be dehumanized for access to airtime. I started plugging in 2014 when I took on my first clients. I loved the process and had to stick with it.
How does plugging music on radio and TV work?
It’s simply having an understanding of music, identifying strong records, and building sincere relationships with the media. Everyone can have the contact details of anyone in this game. But can you reach out and build a relationship? That’s the difficult part. Relationships are two-way, and if you experience some pushback, well, you just might not see any light from there. But you keep moving and tweaking your strategy. But maintaining relationships is 99% your core task.
What informs your choice of clients?
First, if you desire any chance of success in plugging, it is necessary that your understanding and taste of music is great. It’s from that knowledge that you create a strategy for promotion. I love being a part of creating any I promote. It makes me able to help finesse the record, which makes my job easier. The media loves great music. You increase your chances of success when your clients have competitive music. I find that I can stand strongly behind the song, and pitch with a measure of conviction and confidence. One special feature of my work is that I mostly help the artists to recreate all the records I push.
How do you navigate plugging across Nigeria and Africa?
Identify key pluggers or promoters in other markets that share similar viewpoints and vision for growth. You connect and partner with them in creative ways. My vision as a music promoter is to create an ecosystem that would enable the seamless promotion of African music. It is why I created my company SPEED PLUG AFRICA.
How can artists improve their success rate?
Artists need to understand their sound direction, the target market, and the best product to fit. I advise artists to ensure that they stay true to their sound, and push consistently. There’s space for every good artist to thrive by growing a fanbase loyal to their art. This generation is lucky to have social media and promotional tools to push their music to the right audience.
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