By Akinyemi Ayinoluwa
Skales And His Manager In Jail For Defrauding Record Label Of Millions Of Naira. June 1, 2016 – tooxclusive.com
Runtown and record label at war! Label sues, Runtown terminates contract. May 31, 2016 – thenet.ng
Court Orders DJ Zeez To Pay Record Label N23 Million – MAY 10, 2016 – 360nobs.com
Record label and rapper Milli part ways, 07.03.2016, pulse.ng
Brymo part ways with Chocolate City. May 30, 2013, HiphopWorld Magazine
Yet Another Split! Kollertunz Records Parts Ways with Flowssick, January 16, 2013, Pulse.ng
Who left who? Analyzing Chidinma’s exit from Capital Hill Records, 07.03.2016, pulse.ng
Trybe Records and Eva Alordiah Part Ways! November 7th, 2012, notjustok.com
Hip-Hop act, Soul-E met His Waterloo, Court Orders Him To Pay Collossal Ent. N160 Million, August 23, 2011, Nigeriafilms.com
The headlines above underscore the ubiquity of ‘drama’ in Nigerian music industry. Bickering evidence runs a steady course throughout these headlines, as to the necessity of an inquiry and reinforcement of credible means of sustaining a contractual relationship between parties (artiste and music label); which should help encourage a healthy environment for return on investments. In order to put this intervention in the right footing, I would like to state the following.
By industry convention, a record label is responsible for the marketing of music recordings. Often times, it coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos; and as well as conducts talent scouting and development of new artistes. More than discovering talented artistes, and introducing them to the sizzling world of stardom, it is bound by contract to deploy its resources in sales, publicity, promotions, marketing, legal, business affairs, and A&R.
In sane climes, labels are by far the largest investors in artists’ careers, staking their resources with the prospect of huge profit or colossal loss, which is often the case; indeed a high-risk business. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), approximately 90% of the records that are released by major recording labels fail to make a profit.
In recent times, record companies are sustained as going concern by the execution of “multiple rights” or “360” deals with artists. These types of pacts give labels rights and percentages to artist’s touring, merchandising, endorsements and other forms of commercial exploitation of the artist and his music.
America is home to the biggest film, technology and music companies. In Nigeria, however, our music has acquired an iconic stature, and indeed enjoyed unprecedented patronage in recent times. But we have a history of Artist-Label disputes that has continued to threaten the sustainability of music Companies; an inquiry which this piece seeks to address.
The United States of America’s soft power is its Music, Film and Technology Industry. This has enthroned it as innovation capital of the world and culture superpower. Undoubtedly, a large chunk of American prosperity is built on the exploitation of Intellectual Property (CONTENT): Any lessons for Nigeria?
At the last edition of the NIGERIAN ENTERTAINMENT CONFERENCE, Dolapo D’banj Oyebanji keynoted a session themed CONTENT IS THE NEW CRUDE. Indeed, there are many ways in which the Content Business can be likened to the Oil Business. The news of Olamide’s YBNL Records losing Lil Kesh, a blossoming ‘cash-cow’, offers an avenue for deconstructing Label-Artist relationships in Nigeria.
In music, as in the oil business, an investor or record company prospects for the next big pot of gold. It is a costly exercise where nothing is assured. Time, expertise and resources are expended in trying to discover, nurture and launch an unknown product (Talent). The risk is huge and the success rate is very remote. The investor wagers the viability of the product in the market place, or that the new oil well will be able to churn out crude in millions of barrels. Once successful, the returns on the initial investment made can signal the birth of a new enterprise. The profits can be ploughed back into the business to launch other products and expand frontiers.
However, working with the benefit of hindsight on the risky venture of oil prospecting, I would posit that Olamide just lost a major oil block but I am yet to understand why. Prior to the break of the news, I was privy to the impending loss of YBNL’s frontline artist Lil Kesh. Initially, I doubted the credibility of the claims as it is unthinkable that a young label on the rise would give room for such an occurrence. However, barely a month after, series of mishaps coming in quick succession further sustained the claims as Lil Kesh/YBNL story, the cases of Runtown, DJ Zeez and Skales were reported in the media. Thankfully, these Record Companies have enlisted the help of the Courts to seek redress. I applaud these new developments; as they will help reinforce the Nigerian jurisprudence on Label-Artiste disputes.
Judging from the amiable disposition between both parties in the media, one is led to believe that all is well and that Olamide was being magnanimous. Tellingly, he was able to cope with this loss by taking recourse to the business disposition of his benefactors; those who introduced him into the Nigerian music scene; the likes of ID CABASA and TONY PAYNE. In retrospect, one can argue that these individuals also lost a goldmine in Olamide. It goes beyond debate that no single superstar in music happened on the world stage without the blood, sweat and tears of other music professionals and investors.
My worry is that this gruesome anomaly is fast becoming the status quo. Why should anyone applaud a system where a Record Producer, Talent Manager or Record Label is easily discarded and rendered insignificant? Sadly, they are victims and losers when success happens. This eplains my concern for as the revered Osagie Alonge- of the #FactsOnly fame- applauds Lil-Kesh’s exit from YBNL in one breath yet in another- blame the Nigerian music industry on its lack of structure. Why can’t we have a label that stands strong for as long as decade or two? Where are the Labels from 2005 and early 2000s? Would Olamide’s YBNL still be on top ten years from now? Will other YBNL affiliates follow the example set by LIL-Kesh? The answers are seeded in the womb of Time, and only she can tell.
Olamide, at his mecurial awesomeness and peak in 2016, is not the smartest businessman on the music scene. He would have acted differently if he acknowledged that no Nigerian rapper has breasted a decade at the apex of the Nigerian music track. Most of the music enjoyed today is dated, and this owes largely to the generational shift in the consumption of pop culture. So what happens when this transition period resurfaces?
I recall the days when Idris Abdul Kareem, Rugged Man, Eldee, Naeto C, and M. I Abaga were at the top of the food chain as rappers; when they had music labels to their names. But where are these labels? Had Olamide consulted them, I doubt he would have conceded to giving any of his signees a 2-year record deal.
I concede that it is an entrepreneur’s prerogative to determine the modus operandi of his enterprise. But judging from these recurrent trends, however, it becomes clear that Artist –Label relations in Nigeria needs new orientation. I have observed too many misconceptions bandied in the media, and when news of ill-fated relationship diffuses to the public, it is erroneously applauded and enthroned as the new benchmark.
Without equivocation and after careful appraisal of the facts in the public space, I humbly hold the view that:
- Lil-Kesh’s exit is a direct consequence of an absence of a valid record contract. No lawyer with an understanding of the music business, or a practicing entertainment attorney will advice, draft, negotiate and execute a 2 year contract. 2 years is hardly enough to break an Artist. And any serious label needs a minimum of 3 full length albums from a Talent it helps build to prominence.
The absence of this contract has given the Talent more leverage to make impracticable and irresponsible demands which has strong-armed the label into submission. I suspect that the decision to retain YBNL as Management is a leftover of the negotiation.
The music business is no joke. It is an industry where serious players’ every move must be intentional and guided by professionals.
A Record Label or Entrepreneur is not a charitable organization. They are in business for profit and the business must be self sustainable. If YBNL wasn’t self funded or a ‘one-man-show’, investors and creditors of the company would have disapproved of letting go of a Company’s prized asset.
Serious investors will remain skeptical as a result of unpalatable news such as this. If a Record Label is spending as much as N30 Million Naira to build an Artist or Label, how feasible is making profit, if a 2 year – one album arrangement is what they subscribed to?
If there was no contract at the inception, the crisis/situation could have been managed better. As usual, the Nigerian ‘Anyhowness’ of ‘leave am for God’ must have prevailed.
The business of developing Talents should not be a thankless one. Investors, Talent Managers, Record Producers and Record Companies reserve the right to be happy and prosperous , many years after sweat, tears, blood, money and time has been drained into the career of the talent.
No investor, record producer, label and talent manager should invest a dime or break a sweat trying to develop a talent if they are not properly guided or secure as to the consequences of success. I have witnessed two occasions of colossal wastes, wherein, after millions of naira and hundreds of man-hours were committed to the development of a talent, the talent eventually ditched the record company before they could execute the record contract.
When disputes arise, parties should be conciliatory in the manner they seek to address these disagreements. The Arbitration Clause in contracts should be activated for the benefit of the parties.
Dear Record Label owner, please don’t be like Olamide. Beware! Be aware! And be Wise!
Behind the great music or artiste is a whole range of resources which helps him bring his creative vision to fruition. While public opinion is always in favor of the artistes, the fact should not be lost on music enthusiasts that record labels and investors help provide a viable industry.
Akinyemi Ayinoluwa is a lawyer with HighTower Solicitors and Advocates. He heads the firm’s Entertainment Practice. He tweets via @akinyemilaw.