Porting Season: Are Nigerian Record Labels Getting Extinct?

Written by Osarumwense

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It is ‘splitting season’ in the music industry with artists leaving labels within the blink of an eye. Here today, gone tomorrow- seems to be the best way to describe how fast artists are disappearing from the rosters of their respective labels.

It’s a revolving door right now in the music game with more acts leaving labels than acts being signed. While some were predictive others have just been startling.

The biggest record labels in the land have seen some of its prized assets walk out the building. Read below to see some of the biggest departures from your favourite labels.

Chocolate City– Within the space of 8 weeks, Jesse Jagz and Brymo have left the Choc City imprint. The record label headed by Audu Maikori now boasts of only Ice Prince and M.I as the heavy hitters on its roster. Acts such as Pryse, Nosa and Victoria Kimani are newbies in the music business.

Judging from the direction of Jesse Jagz’s new songs, ‘creative difference’ might have been the reason why he left Chocolate City. BrymO’s exit is not known but the weak promotion of his ‘Son of a Kapenta’ album highlights the discord between the label and the artist.

Storm Records- Before the dumping trend caught on, Storm Records has had more than its fair share of artists leaving the label. Ikechukwu was the first to jump ship. After his exit, acts like GT Da Guitar Man, Sauce Kid, and Pypealso bounced. Their migration didn’t bat eyelids. This year however, the label’s star boy Naeto C left the imprint after releasing two albums. No one knows why he left but the perceived ‘inactivity’ cloud that hangs on Storm artists might have been a reason. Naeto C is striking out on his own with his own label- WKG/Cerious Music.

Knight House– The record label that introduced Mo’ Cheddah to the music world lost its pop princess last year in a puzzling fashion. Despite pushing Mo’ Cheddah to continental prominence which climaxed when she won the MTV Base New Comer Award in 2010, the pop singer left the label that discovered her for greener pastures amidst many tantrums. She is still searching for those pastures as her new works have flopped. Knight House on the other hand are concentrating on a young upcoming rapper by the name ofPhenom.

EME- You wouldn’t have imagined that at the beginning of the year, Wizkid was threatening to leave EME. Thanks to cooler heads prevailing Wizkid is back in the fold. The young pop star has however launched his own label Star Boy Records and it is said that his sophomore album will be the last under EME.

Square Records- The match made in Heaven between Square Records and May D ended up in the flames of Hades last year when May D left/or was kicked out from Square Records. The bone of contention was the recording contract offered to May D. Depending on whom you ask May D’s contract was borderline slavish or May D was being greedy and asking for too much. May D has gone on to establish his record label ‘Confam Records’ and has released his debut album ‘Chapter One’.

If you add the recent departure of Chuddy K from SQN, Eva from Trybe Records, Hakym the Dreamfrom Serengeti, Black Magic from Syndik8, Maytronomy from Effyzzie and Seriki, Kayefi and Wisefrom Alapomeji Records then it is safe to say the music scene right now is a game of musical chairs.

 

Why are artists leaving record labels?

You can’t give a specific reason why artists are leaving record labels. Every departure is unique but there is a thread that runs through them all. MORE! Every act wants more, more money, more promotion, more creative control and more attention. Wizkid wanted more money, BrymO wanted more attention, and Jesse Jagz wanted more creative control. It all boils down to these things.  Fallouts between a record label and artist is because of these things- the thirst for more.

The truth of the matter is this- the attention, and promotion on an act is directly proportional to the money the act brings to the label. If you are not bringing in that cash for your label chances are that you will receive little attention and promotion. Your career will receive little or no attention while the money maker in the label gets preferential treatment. Even the top acts today had to go through this until they churned hit after hit, until their label execs turned to their house boys.

As for creative control, some labels have a ‘template’ for its acts. It easier for them to sell an act that follows the template than an artist who wants to follow his own path. Choc City is a master at selling rap-pop music and promoting Jesse’s new sound might have not been in line with their marketing approach. Artists that are more ‘free-spirited’ will always exist. It takes a good A&R department to nurture talents who crave creative control and turn them to profitable acts. Labels in Nigeria have to start creating solid A&R departments to cater to acts like Jesse Jagz.

In the case of money, artists will always want more money. The question is does the artist deserve more money. In the case of Wizkid, the minute his debut album became a household success his deal should have been structured to increase his earnings. This is standard practice in other parts of the world. When50 Cent’s ‘Get Rich Or Die Trying’ became a runaway success, Interscope offered him a better deal before the issue of him pulling a power move came up.

Record labels also have to change the way they operate. Most of the money made by record labels here comes from the performance fees and endorsement deals of artists. This is so because the major revenue streams for labels- sales of CDs and royalties- are meagre in the Nigerian market. Piracy bites harder with each day and radio and TV stations hardly pay royalties. The only way for labels to make money in the music business is to dip their hands into their artists’ performance fees and endorsement deals. This will always be a source of friction as no act really wants to share his bread and butter with a label that should making money off his CD sales and royalties. Unless the business model of most record labels changes it would be hard for most acts to sign long term deals with them. Once they attain the stardom, they leave and set up their own labels.

 

The Incoming Trend of Vanity Labels/Management Outfits

A cursory glance at the situation now shows that a few acts are already thinking this way i.e setting up their own labels. M.I has already established his own Loopy Records which is home to Loose Kaynonand Ruby. It’s just natural for the J Town rapper to think of leaving Chocolate City and become his own master. While M.I’s situation isn’t crystal clear yet, the handwriting on the wall shows that Wizkid’s newly formed Star Boy Entertainment is his getaway from EME when said and done. Naeto C had Cerious Music for years but one feels that he was taking his time until when he felt it was the right time to move.

The reality on ground is that artists will want control and ‘vanity labels’ are nothing new to this business. Lil Wayne has Young Money, Rick Ross has MMG but yet they are signed as artists to Universal/Motownand Atlantic Records respectively. Deals have to be structured to favour all parties involved. This is where Nigerian record labels have to evolve in their thinking. Deals can be struck to bring the artiste’s label on board. M.I’s fourth album will make sense for both parties if it is released under Loopy Records/Chocolate City and Star Boy/EME won’t be a bad joint venture if the deal favours both parties. Tiwa Savage has this kind of agreement with Mavin Records. Labels have to start seeing artists as partners rather than workers. If Nigerian record labels still hold on to their rigid format then they may not last the next decade.

The success of Olamide without a record label but with a management outfit indicates that record labels need to step up their game. It is only a matter of time before courageous artists and managers embrace this business model fully. It makes more sense for your management to take out of your performance fees and endorsement deals rather than a record label.

It is not entirely the fault of labels. ‘Money Miss Road’ labels owned by individuals with lots of money to throw around have given a lot of artistes the notion that a record label is paradise, candy land. These individuals with no idea of how the music business works splash cash around, sign artists and spend money on the unnecessary stuffs like cars and cribs while neglecting the essentials- promotion of music. Unfortunately many impressionable upcoming acts believe this is the norm and expect a label should give them a house and a car after signing them. Wrong. The record label owes an upcoming act nothing apart from investing in his or her career (paying for studio sessions, photo and video shoots etc). The perks of a house and car are normally for seasoned acts that have proven their mettle of creating hits. The most a record label is give an act a monthly allowance. Many have been fooled by the money miss road labels and have fought with record labels that want to invest with them over a car and a house.

With the way the music business is evolving globally, the record labels are losing their powers daily. The modern day record label has to evolve in the way it markets, promotes and sells music. Today’s artist wants to be a top priority in his label and not an afterthought. The one size fits all approach to handling artists has to stop. Artists are unique and need to be marketed differently. The indie route (thanks to the internet) is getting more lucrative by the day. Acts like Mac Miller, Tyler the Creator and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have shown that you don’t need a major label backing you up to succeed. If labels in Nigeria don’t set up shop properly and fast, a large percentage of acts would rather have their own vanity label or work with a management outfit. A record deal is a business contract and in a contract when one party fails to deliver, the other party has no reason to hang around. Guys are porting; it’s time for labels to start evolving.

 

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