THE NIGERIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY: A CASE FOR DEVELOPMENT CONTRACTS
PennedMusingsNG for Urban Central follow him on Twitter @Weird_Liberal
The Nigerian music industry is filled with under-cooked talent. In advanced musical climes, asides the enabling environment that promote artistic growth and talent nurturing, which cuts from parental encouragement to learning environments, to social amenities, to established individuals who aid these talented individuals, the system for attaining peak potential is usually not expedited, except prodigies are involved. And even in those cases, those special talents prove their capabilities under pernickety microscopes or pressures of creativity.
While labels are famed mulla dinosaurs that do about anything with most artistes to get premium return on investments, including distorting artiste identities, ruining purity of art/output and killing pristine culture, they don’t just offer every seeming talent recording contracts. There’s always a place for pragmatic ascertainment of talent and procedural development rather than gazumping the process; no one signs a contract until the possibility of your talent propelling you to own a significant market share, even under intense change in your fundamentals are unquestionable. They understand that;
1. Even the greatest talents need nurturing.
2. Nurturing cannot be bullied into conformity. It must be paid before it budges.
This has led to consistent revere of the American/European music environment and its culture of consistently churning out seeming baked talent, making them remain at the forefront of the musical train, which they will be for years to come. Artistes are not malformed in the embers of shortened gestation; they’re fully baked in world class kitchens where the utensils are complete, under the watchful eye of food critics (A&R people) either digitally or physically.
Around 2009, I watched a profiling on E! where The Jonas Brothers claimed their co-signer admitted their talents, but still proceeded to put them through rigorous processes to advance their budding talents, which included sharpening their instrument affinity and testing their songwriting skills. On another occasion, I watched Big Sean claim to have met Kanye at 17, worked with him till 20 before he signed a record deal and only released his album at 23 — that’s 6 years of intense formation that could make or break careers. It not only enhances talent, it aids resilience, determination and appetite for quality. In these moments, artistes are truly born.
Foreign artistes are better baked, not because they are substantially more talented, but because the enabling environment and practice is targeted to heighten the potentials of their talents through carefully thought out pragmatic processes including training and constant exercise of such talents to be refined.
In Nigeria, especially regarding rappers, it’s complete reverse, despite boasting bastions of talent to be implemented and potentials waiting to be realized. The problem is overt anxiety which gets counter-productive in the long run. It’s why most of them become musical nomads; experimenting multiple genres before fading away like a wraith. With the kind of development our foreign counterparts afford talents, they become so familiar with music, that they explore endless possibilities with sounds and sometimes end up coming up with bespoke sounds that both defy market demands and appeal to even cynics because they’re unique. The erratum that is our model of talent nurturing; a façade by the way, is why Nigeria isn’t already producing a wide array of Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 hits, despite boasting a wide array of talent.
In Nigeria, aversion to pragmatic development is the modus operandi. Folks down here misuse their carte blanche guaranteed by the discretionary magna carta on the platter of freewill and catching the next talent. One minute, an artiste is killing a roadside rap battle, the next minute, he’s getting a record deal and due an album. He drops the album, talents helps him to a few hits, then a tour and endorsements. But then he gets constipated and convoluted inside the prison that is demands of success; the quotidian reality that hits like a wave of rude awakening — no warnings that you’re almost tempted to beg for things to slow down. The answer thus ensues; dancing with furnace of trend while fanning the flames with your lazy attempt to match up. Long story short, second album probably under performs, and career takes dive, head first.
All these point to a weak background. While I am not saying weak backgrounds are solely responsible for the increasing number of flailing careers, it makes a strong case. There is a growing misconception that dope lyricists and worthy Emcees, with innate familiarity with poetry and groomed art are numbered in Nigeria. I beg to differ; they belong in the northern astronomical proportions. Myself, I’ve met 100s who know not what they possess. Most end up with faintly successful careers however, while others become music trade rags. Nigeria brims with rap talent. The enabling environment is just lacking and they get thrust bang into the spotlight far earlier than they should be. They should go through similar processes of mining and transitioning like most of their foreign counterparts. Most of them never truly reach the hegira their talent promises; they fade in the rawness of freshness — they never arrive and the rate is alarming.
Lil Kesh for example has copiously envious lyrical dexterity the GOAT Emcees will be proud of if they understood him. I mean this guy delivers metaphors, wordplays and flows that vaunt his large albeit raw talent. The problem is simple; his development was so limited, he’s still stuck on corny metaphors when he should be spitting fire. 5 years in, he’s isn’t evolved to the point I’d hoped the boy I listened to on Lyrically would. He’s still as base and peripheral, delivering, corny lines and comical rhetorics — shit he should have outgrown.
The day I heard Lyrically, I remember conversing with my Lil Sister what wonders a development deal could do for him while he drops fire mixtapes and discovers an integrated sound to serve his and the market’s demands. Looking at the evidence right now, I was probably right.
The solution is Development Deals also known as Artiste Development Contracts which are basically alternative recording contract, signed on label promise to develop the skills, nurture talent and boost artiste profile, through constant studio time, PR ops and high profile collaborations either as an unknown third-party, or a major side kick. These deals usually guarantee the artiste royalties and other enforceable rights. Sometimes, these deals are a precursor to major recording contracts.
In Nigeria, they’re a close to obscure practice. Labels prefer straight up recording contracts, with little recourse to reason and I can say as a matter of fact, it’s ignorance. With appropriate development, labels stand to make a killing. Now, do they risk a stagnant act or losing such artistes to other labels? Maybe. But aren’t all business ventures risks? Regardless, the latter can be mitigated by First Refusal Clauses which makes the committing label first option on offering such artiste a recording contract.
For artistes, record labels are known to abuse development contracts. One way to avoid those too are clauses. You can retain as much rights as you want if you negotiate well.
This leads to the overwhelming points; patience and faith in the process. With patience, any artiste can do anything. Patience is even a virtue while making any body of art because it guarantees you a chance to perfect your art meticulously. And we all know the most meticulous usually win.
But in all these, one recurring theme is fundamental; talent. It’s the bedrock to any form of success in music or anything else for that matter. Even the seeming raunchy, raw trapper has a measure of talent, believe me. It’s the condition precedent to any form of success.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that to every rule, there is an exception and certain talents don’t really need nurturing. You’re right, but do the ones who need nurturing outweigh the ones who don’t? The latter is where most Nigerian artistes belong to.
Note: There’s a reason Wizkid is making waves now. He went through several levels of training for about 5–6 years before his major launch. By the time he reached the epoch with Banky to receive final stage, one thing was sure; he was ready. His taking the world by storm is no coincidence.
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