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INTERVIEW: Why an artist should hire a lawyer before manager — Olayemi Oladapo, music lawyer speaks on legal pitfalls in the industry



Olayemi Oladapo

The music industry offers its successful players an intersection of glamour and life’s finer thrills – wealth, foreign cars, bling jewellery, expensive wines, and adoration from millions of fans. 

But beneath all these is the core of every business that binds the industry together – collaborations, agreements, and contracts between multiple parties with personal interests. 

A mutual relationship must be established between artists, producers, audio-engineers, managers, OAPs, investors and other parties. Connecting these dots is where entertainment lawyers come in.  

Prior to the rise of the Nigerian music industry to its present state, a lot of the creatives who paved the way were exploited because they approached the business side of music with naivety. 

They appended their signature to ‘slavery’ contracts because their manager, who happens to be the artiste’s secondary school friend, sees no issue with the contract. Many also got into debt because they thought record label money were gifts and not advances.

Today’s NewsWireNGR interview guest, Olayemi Oladapo, is an entertainment lawyer who has spent the majority of the last five years drawing up contracts, licencing music and providing legal consultancy services to artists and record labels. 

In 2017, he joined Mavin Records as Licensing Manager & In-house Counsel. After two years with the label, he was made the Label’s Licensing Manager, managing the company’s music licensing and publishing portfolio. 

He licenced creative outputs of Don Jazzy, Rema, BabyFresh and other big artists under the record label. 

Having spent four years with the record label, he went solo and founded his own legal firm, UXbridge, where he presently represents artists and labels, licence works for use and provide legal consultation. 

In this chat with NewsWireGR’s Oladele Owodina, Olayemi explains how critical law is to the growth of the music industry and the most common legal errors made by artists and record labels. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Kindly give us a brief introduction to yourself? 

My name is Olayemi Oladapo. I was born and bred in Nigeria. I am a lawyer, called to Nigeria bar, and I grew up in Ibadan. Moved around the southwest for school, Ogun State, Kwara State. I got called to Nigeria bar 2015.

Prior to becoming a lawyer, I had always been passionate about music, so I kind of played in different places in the music industry, including music-related contents, you know like interviews behind the scenes of TV shows, and also organising events back in the university. I am currently an entertainment lawyer and a music business consultant.

I worked with Mavin Records for about 4 years; I joined them in 2017. I was their Licensing Manager and also doubled as a Legal Officer. What I was doing majorly was handling licensing of music created by Mavin Records artists and producers to both local and international distributors and other licences like filmmakers and different platforms that leveraged on the music that we created. So I did that for about 2 years.

We then saw the importance of establishing a music publishing arm of the company, which I pioneered and championed based on the ideas that I had when I joined the company. You know, like Nigerian record labels or music companies don’t really have music publishing companies. Music publishing companies primarily represent songwriters and producers. Just as you have a label representing the artists, we don’t really have a lot of that. And Mavin Records being a company founded by arguably one of the biggest record producers in recent times; it was important that we championed that kind of cause, which we did in 2019 and we ended up launching the Mavin Music and Publishing Company and partnered with one of the major publishers in the world, Warner Chappell Music in 2019.

Then I started to work with Warner Chappell Music and Mavin Records on Mavins Publishing Portfolio and we signed almost all the artists on the roaster to the Mavins Publishing including Don Jazzy, producers like BabyFresh, artists like Rema and the rest of the other guys, with the exception of maybe like a few.

So I did that for another 2 years till May 2020 when I resigned to start my own law practice which I have been doing since November/December 2020. We are currently representing producers, record labels, artists and within a short time, we’ve had exciting projects that some of our clients have been featured on like Coming to America, The sequel, one of our producers has a song on it. And, recently, we have struck a deal with Sony Music Publishing in France and BlueSky publishing as well.

We are also in the middle of negotiating other deals as well internationally and locally for our clients. So that is a summary of what I have been doing in my career. I am also currently trying to launch a virtual law practice with a few other young and talented lawyers in Nigeria.

When you started as a lawyer, did you think you would end in entertainment? 

Yes. 100%. You remember I stated earlier that I have always been passionate about music, even since when I was a child. I was really into music and dancing. I think I was in SS1 when I said I would work in the music or entertainment industry; and that was even before I chose the path of being a lawyer, you know. 

So I guess how it is in Nigeria, when you get to the University level where you have to decide what course to do, I picked up law as a course. And a few years into being a law student, I had my first Intellectual Property Law Class, and I realised how we can merge music and creative work with law. That was kind of like a defining moment for me.

Does the Nigerian music industry recognise the role of lawyers in the business?

Very much so. Over the years, the industry has realised how important lawyers are. Unfortunately for many, they had to get into a lot of trouble before they realised this importance. 

My team and I are doing a lot of great work and there are several great lawyers in the industry as well doing a lot of great work, closing a lot of major deals locally and internationally for their clients.

So basically, the industry recognises the importance of lawyers. No serious artist goes into a record label without a lawyer. 

You spent four years as the legal representative to Mavin Records, how did you bag that deal? 

I didn’t exactly start from Mavin; I had worked briefly with Creative Legal just within a short period, a boutique law firm run by Mr Justin Ige. But prior to that, I worked with a general practice law firm as well where we did different types of practices. And so when I left there, an old friend of mine gave me a call and asked if I was really still interested in working in the entertainment industry. Then she introduced me to Justin Ige in 2016. I was there for a short period but within that period I was able to get some knowledge on the music scene and entertainment law.

Shortly after that, I was going out to look for more opportunities. A friend of mine was working with Mavin Records at that time, he introduced me to the CEO, mind you I already had a background in general law practices together with my interest in entertainment law which was growing at that time.

And while I was working with Justin Ige, we did something on music licencing and an opportunity at Mavin Records opened up where they started a new licensing department and they wanted me to join the department with a few other people. So, I just think it was me being at the right place at the right time and having the right knowledge at that time. Because prior to that I didn’t have so much knowledge on licencing but because I had worked briefly with someone who was focused on that area, I had the opportunity to kind of have an interview, had a proposal and everything just started in 2017.

Tell me about your role at Mavins and your role currently at UXbridge?

My role at Mavin as I mentioned earlier involves music licencing.

Music licencing has to do with those granted licences to use music from digital platforms, to TVs and radios, and even to movie producers. So while I was with Mavins, for example, some of the songs we had on our catalogue were featured on film productions on EbonyLife, Wedding Party 2, Royal Hibiscus, and with other international brands. We had a Tiwa Savage song featured on it for a documentary they were doing. We also had a Rema song featured on FIFA 2021 and in a number of other productions.

So that is like a part of what I was doing in the sense of the paperwork, negotiating the terms, clearing up all these works to ensure that anybody who contributed in the song also gets their own right share from the music, by this production company. And on the publishing side, we were representing record producers. A publisher is to a record producer what a label is to an artist.

As a said earlier, when label sign artists to help them build their career, publishers on the other hand sign record producers and songwriters to publish their works, put them out there, get them collaborations and partnerships, etc. so that is like a summary of what is it and not to bore you with the details and intricacies of the job description, I hope you get the gist.

What is your day-to-day routine  at UXbridge like?

At UXbridge, we are doing general law practice as it relates to the entertainment industry and tech industry as well. So, in my day-to-day life at UXbridge, I work with a few other brilliant young lawyers as well. We represent record producers, artists, record labels, depending on the briefs we have on the table.

We represent them to negotiate record deals with their record labels, publishing deals, etc. we also consult for our artists. We have partners that we work with and manage artists, writers, managers, etc. Also, one thing that we will be working on is organizing writing camps both locally and internationally for producers, artists, and songwriters to come together and create music. So my day to day, I wake up in the morning, have a zoom call with my team members, catch up on works that we have as outstanding and set a timeline for the outstanding works, assign roles to team members, and also then catching up again at the end of the week to see the progress of the work.

Then other times, we set up physical meetings where we have meetings with clients, partners, etc. you know, sometimes physical meetings are also very important as much as the world has gone digital. And sometimes when we have given advice to some of our client’s events and live shows, we also join as part of that as well.

Do you know Burna Boy’s lawyer?  

Yes, I have met the person who I believe represents him. I met him one time in London at a show. I met him through a friend of mine who is also a lawyer, so she introduced us. That is literally the one time we’ve had interaction, but I know the person who is his lawyer.

To better grasp what lawyers do, what specific role might Burna Boy’s lawyer play in him going global?

The thing is, personally; I don’t have that much of a relationship with him, so I can only speak about what I expect that he would have done.

Obviously, it would be advising him on the terms of his agreement, and just general business advisory on every type of opportunity that comes to him.

He is also of Nigerian descent as well, although he’s based in the UK, and so that kind of help bridge the gap between the two sides of the world.

Like I said earlier, even if you are working with people internationally, make sure that they understand and appreciate your culture.

So he himself is a Nigerian as well and having a Nigerian background, and he also mentioned to me that he represents other artists as well and he’s doing great work there in the UK.

I think another major role he would have played is also leveraging on his relationships to maybe bring him some opportunities as well, do some introductions.

What’s the highlight of your career so far?

I have a couple of highlights, both working independently and also working with Mavin Records. But I will start with the most recent one, which is a deal we just announced with a record producer called London.

London is a very talented young record producer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He’s worked with Wizkid on about three songs, with Tiwa Savage, Rema, and many other artists. He is currently signed to Sony Music Publishing and myself and my team championed that legislation and have finally announced the deal about two weeks ago.

That is just the beginning of what we are looking to do with London and Sony, we are still going to do a couple of other things as well and we are looking forward to that.

That was really huge and exciting for us. We love working with Sony because they are really excited to work with London. Just love their approach to work, their legal team, and whatnot.

I will say another moment was when I was with Mavin Records and we signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music, and the team I worked with at that time, we had a trip to the UK; we had several meetings with some of the top industry executives in the UK and that was a really exciting moment because it opened my eyes to how things work internationally and also opened my eyes to a lot of potentials of African music internationally and how the international market is actually getting ready to receive our sounds.

Being a part of something that great is a defining moment for me. Another one was when I represented Mavin Records in Kenya, together with other teams from different parts of Africa.

I also had a presentation on behalf of Mavin Records there in Kenya. Yeah, that is just a few of the defining moments in my career.

When is the best time for an artist to hire a lawyer?   

Hire or at least get a lawyer from the moment when you have paperwork to sign. A lot of people would even tell you to get a lawyer before a manager because it is your lawyer that would negotiate the terms of your business with your manager.

What I advise many new artists is that if you can’t afford established lawyers, hire young guys like you as well who are lawyers or up-and-coming lawyers who are still in law school that are passionate about the music business and you guys can grow together. If not anything, they at least have a backpack in legal frameworks.

The music industry is still yet to solve conflicts between record labels and artists. What is this gap in this relationship?

Ok, the thing is, first of all, I think many of these scenarios as much as we hear about similar occurrences from artist to label, a lot of time many of the things that even cause the issue may not necessarily be what is inside the paper.

One thing I have seen a lot of time is that many people don’t even read contracts before they sign, especially new artists. And the one that reads, they don’t even understand it to the extent that they are supposed to, except if they get the right lawyers to explain it to them.

Another thing is when they start. Even from the not-so-legal part, what I have experienced is that a lot of times, it is not even necessarily the terms of the agreement that cause the issue.

The agreement just serves as a tool for the record label owner to try to ensure that the artist continues to stay with them. But a lot of time, there’s been issues like the artist having an ego.

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Obviously at the end of the day, if you are signed by a label that is not so big, you end up being more popular than the label. You now start to talk to your peers and artists and they tell you different things.

Some might be lies, some might be true, but basically, selling you as a new artist all these ideas of what you might be getting out there that you are not getting with your label, you might feel like this label is too small to contain you.

I have seen situations like that happen and next thing you say you are no longer interested or just start to act in some type of way, maybe not show up for shows, or recording sessions or those kinds of things and then that’s when the label will now have issues with you and try to take legal actions.

That is one of the most common things that happen. On the other hand, we can also put blame on the labels as well.

Some labels are not up to par to provide what they are supposed to provide as a label, and so as the artist gets bigger, obviously, there will be more demands and more requests from the artist, which the label is expected to grow with.

Some labels just startup without having a budget for their artists, they just set up a label maybe because they had money at some point and hope they will continue to have money. But then it doesn’t work like that. At the end of the day, it is still business and these artists will look at it like this is my life and my career, I have put a lot of things on the line, and they decide to step out and then issues occur.

So there is blame from both sides. When it comes to the agreement, generally they are usually standard contracts that a lot of people don’t even understand the history of these agreements, they go way back and there are reasons why they were structured that way from the beginning. Also, the issue of leverage also comes to play.

The higher the leverage you have, the better the negotiation you have.

For lawyers, it is important that you understand the situation of the artist, label, and whoever needs your advice so you can better advise them.

There are several questions to be asked from both sides because a lawyer is supposed to be both a business advisory person and a legal counsellor.

You mentioned something about there being a framework or established structure for negotiations like this. So, what is the industry standard for artists and labels, is it like 70:30, or 30:70 percentage?

To be honest, it varies from label to label and artist to artist. But generally, with new artists, labels are most likely to collect the lion’s share of the percentage. I mean, it could be from 70:30, 80:20, or even 60:40. And for reasons which can be justified on paper, of course, the label is bringing in a lot of money, and on the other hand, the label is also investing so much into the artist’s career. We have heard of situations where a label spends as much as N50 million, N60 million and they are not even able to get anything back in return. And that is what happens most of the time, I promise you.

In the Nigerian industry of today, I have a strong feeling that you can have up to 50 new songs every day and that is probably new artists coming to the scene every day.  Bearing that in mind, everyone is putting in some resources and for most of these artists, they are not even popular at the local scene, not to talk of at the international level. So, how do you account for the money that has been put on most of these artist’s careers? So that would be the argument for the label and their reason for requesting a bigger share of the pie.

So what are the most common misconceptions or legal mistakes artists and record labels make?

The most common ones are ownership of rights, like intellectual ownership rights. For any musical work, there are two types of right, the master’s right and the composition right. A lot of them tend to mix them up and that goes a long way in affecting royalty sharing and also just right ownership. Many producers have lost opportunities or revenues that they should have gotten from master’s rights and even their publishing rights because they don’t even know that they are in fact entitled to certain things.

They don’t even know how to go about registering their works in the right places to get revenue for them. So that is like one of the most common ones which in the past couple of years in Nigeria we’ve worked on educating people and also just creating industry standards through practices that were put in place as regards proper production agreements, highlight what right is being highlighted to what party, and also educating the creative guys as well. Another misconception that is very common with artists is that when you sign with a record label, in most cases, a lot of the money expended into your career depending on the agreement you agreed on are advances and not gifts.

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So every money that they invest, like if your label invests forty million and is stated in the agreement that all that forty million is an advance or maybe ninety or seventy percent of that money is recoupable from your future revenue, then it is established that the label should recoup that money from your future royalties and in a situation where they are unable to recoup it, then the artist is in debt. I don’t know if you saw recently that Sony, a major record label summed up unrecouped royalties from the nineties, and they let it go. If Sony didn’t forgive them of those royalties or let it go, that means they are still in debt until they die.

It is a big misconception when artists feel like their label is just supposed to be pushing and pushing money into their career. Also, many managers don’t know their roles because many of them are more of personal assistants as opposed to being managers and so if you don’t know your role, you wouldn’t be able to execute them the right way. Another misconception is when artists think that their managers should be their best friends from way back in the day.

But if your best friend doesn’t know anything about the business, then he has no business being your manager. He can be your support system o, but he has no business being your manager because he is just going to end up messing up your business. There are a lot of misconceptions, but those are the few ones I can pull off the top of my head.

Are there those unforgettable moments for example, like some costly mistakes made by big players in the industry that people reference? I see you have been avoiding mentioning names  

This is a bit tricky because I don’t have the privilege to see the contract that was signed from the legal side. But for general ones, there are quite a number of those.

Let’s put it this way, in the early days when Nigerian artists started to get popularity internationally, they had the opportunity to be signed or cosigned by the biggest artists in the world, maybe signing to their labels or their management, as the case may be. Some of them were at the pinnacle of their career at that time, internationally.  

As far as the present-day Nigerian music is concerned, some artists reach their peak in like nine, ten years ago and internationally they got the kind of popularity that no one had gotten, I feel that at that time; you know they decide to sign with the foreign label, is it said that these people deciding to sign with the foreign labels at that time was also one of the issues within a particular camp at that time.

Now, I feel like if that deal wasn’t taken at that time or it was structured in a way it could have given room for everybody or the crew to express themselves in the most comfortable way, maybe it would have recorded more success at that time. So, I feel like if it was handled better at the time, it would have put them in more legendary status internationally and they would still be benefiting from that decision right now which I feel they are losing a lot on, you know.

So, I’m saying like the first set of people maybe in 2010 or 2011 that got international recognition and signed off, I feel like they didn’t get the best deals. But then, that served as a lesson to other subsequent artists.

Also, I’m speaking based on reports I read here and there, when Davido signed with Sony, he was supposed to make an EP, The Son of Mercy EP. And based on certain reports I also read, I think he didn’t have that much creative control and there were attempts to sort of change the sound to what would seem appealing to the international market and we have seen that happen with other artists as well. But luckily for him, he was able to come back home and switch off the sound and that was what now led to like a main base of Davido’s career that blew him up internationally. And till today I feel like that has been the most successful pace of his career starting from 2017 when he came back and he dropped FIA, FALL and IF.

Potentially, that could have been a costly mistake which I feel like other people before him also made. Here’s the thing, if you are working with major labels internationally because these companies are controlled by people who do not necessarily understand our culture, they understand the music streaming culture or record business culture and have been in the music business but they don’t understand the Nigerian culture, it becomes very tricky. Because in their own mind, they want to change your sound to what they think is most appealing to their audience, so what I advise people to do is that if you are working with such major labels whether in the UK, US or other parts of the world, make sure that particularly whoever you are working with or the team you’ll be working with appreciate your sound.

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Now, it is not just them saying they appreciate your sound but also seeing that these people have gone to do their homework and preferably are people that already understand the sound to start with, so that way, you guys can create magic together. I feel like that Davido experience as well could have caused a major issue to him and just by extension, to other people in the industry that would have followed that as well. Yeah, those are some of the ones I can think about.

Are there cases where artists get international exposure and thereafter ditch their Nigerian lawyers for foreign lawyers?

Yeah, it happens a lot. I mean, it depends on the lawyer you get internationally but what I have realized is that the lawyers back home understand your situation better than other people. For example, if you are signing a deal with a major company, maybe a label or publisher, a lot of time there is a budget that is put in different things.

 Maybe they are doing budget for your promotion, even down to how you are going to break down the spending of those budget, and even the payment process, a lot of times because we understand where we are coming from, there are things like maybe retainership for example, their services on the retainership would cost a lot more internationally. And you know that there are talented young guys in Nigeria that can do it, it is best you listen to your own team back home that would explain to you or advise you the right way.

But obviously, I think it just brings us back to the colonial mentality of how our people think. We always give more regard to things that are foreign than Nigerian, but the wise people have been able to break free from that bondage.

Looking back now, do you have any regrets?

The thing is that when it comes to specific things I wish I had not done, I won’t call it a regret but more like a lesson. Because regret is like you look back in pain or what a view, but the lesson is more like I have the opportunity to learn from this and kind of make a better decision.

What I usually say to myself is that I am very happy with the many decisions I have made, if not every decision I have made career-wise. But one thing I wish I had done is that when I had desires to work in this industry, I wish my dreams were much bigger than what I set to be realistic. In the sense that when I get closer to certain goals, I realize that this thing is probably not as difficult as I thought it would be. And time has passed and you realize that I had done this within this time frame. So that is one thing I always think about.

There are times that I have thought about it that I want to do this thing but maybe because I am too timid to take the steps to do it, I will start giving myself excuses and whatnot. So, I just feel I should have multiplied my dreams from 5 to 10 and set that as my goals and dreams as opposed to what I did. Like I said, no regret, it is just me learning that there are more opportunities I would have tapped into.

What was your favourite part with the Mavin? How was it working with Don Jazzy, Dr Sid and others? 

Well, at first, there was the normal element of being starstruck maybe for a couple of weeks or a couple of months then. Then you interact with them and get used to them and realise that omo, this person is also a human being like me.  And then you build personal relationships with some of them and become even closer.

More than just work, you guys are even chatting on a personal level. It is also interesting too to go out with them to events and just kind of see life from different angles. I think it also balances how much you stan celebrities, things would not really freak you as much as they used to before.

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They become humans to you in the sense that someone is like oh how is it like working with Don Jazzy, coupled with the fact that in recent times, more people have seen how Don Jazzy can be behind the scene on social media, but a lot of people did not realize that before. So kind of just getting first hand experience of things like that is exciting. A lot of time as well, people just want to be friends with you based on that as well. So yeah, it is generally interesting and sometimes you just experience some crazy moments.

Like maybe you go out with an artist and they literally have to use security to take them out of there because people are about to mob them and those several things like that. 

I was recently reading an article by the present NBA president, Olumide Apata, and he said something like entertainment law is now the new oil and gas. Yet most Nigerian universities do not teach specialised courses on entertainment law. How can young, interested lawyers get into this space? 

Most universities only do intellectual property and I think I mentioned it earlier. That was the first class that became a defining moment for me. It opened my eyes to what I really want to be doing as a lawyer. Intellectual property is broader than entertainment law. It has laws of contracts, employment, insurance, tax law and several other things that you would experience day to day.

On the master’s day, internationally, there are schools that offer entertainment law as a course and people who can afford to do that take it up as a course.

So, a lot of times, it comes down to a lot of self-taught situations, which was what I did myself through research and personal education.

But I feel like as it is becoming more and more prominent in the country and everybody knows that Nigeria is arguably the bigger entertainment capital of Africa, so does make sense for courses from law to accounting and mass communication and all these different areas that can help the industry to have courses that would focus on entertainment as a business, even at undergraduate level.

Personally, it would even be something I would be interested in supporting and even lecturing or teaching at the university level when it comes to entertainment law, in particular.

It is important that they infuse it into the education system from the university days or even earlier, if possible.

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