Every musician needs a record label. Record labels or record companies are the homes to Musicians where the business of music is harnessed. It’s the umbrella which protects the interest of the musician in all ramifications. Record labels discover Musicians, sometimes they poach already made artistes to their fold, other times artistes come to them, believing that such a label will best serve their interests.
Back in the day, record labels inscribed their names/logo at the centre of the vinyl record, displaying the title of the records and all other relevant details of the sound. Basically, the record companies/labels should broaden the consumer base of the artistes, market their albums and promote their music via streaming services, radio television. They also give the artistes media exposures to achieve their envisaged stardom.
Typically, a record label enters into an exclusive contract with a musician to market his/her works in return for a share of the royalties from the sales of such works and commissions from the paid performances of the artiste over a period of time as stipulated in the contract. This may or may not cover specific and actual recordings of the music, particularly for the budding artistes.
However, the more established musicians are able to negotiate what they deemed better and more favorable contracts for themselves. In such instances, the contract might provide for the artistes to deliver his recorded master tapes to the record companies for exploration and exploitation. Here the benefits are mutual. The record label leverages on the fame of the established artistes to get the released works massively accepted. While the artiste expects to enjoy all the technical and global market reach of the record company.
“Forget the large sums of money getting into the bank accounts of the individual musicians or even some of the caricature record labels. The so-called record labels are mere jokes with totally no structures as listed earlier. There can’t be. The artistes running them have no capacity to so do and are completely bereft of any idea to do the business of music.”
With the budding artiste, the story is different, as the record companies would be involved in the the music from start to finish, outside of the compositions. The record companies provide the producers, pick the songs to be in the album and where they don’t have a recording studio, select one, pay for it and should supervise the recording process.
What all these mean is that the business of record label/company is a specialised one. It completely differs from that of the artiste. That’s why the music industry is called show business or showbiz, for short. In other words there is the show on the one hand and the business on the other. The show belongs strictly to the artistes while the business of it belongs to the music entrepreneur. The two cannot substitute each other’s function otherwise there will be massive conflict and a breakdown of the industry’s development. You cannot be the patient and the doctor at the same time.
The record company consists of various specialist sections :
- The marketing department which specialises in promoting, sales and distributions of the work of the artistes. They are solely responsible for the numbers and how to get in the figures so to place the artistes on top of the music charts which rakes in the revenue. This department also handles distributions of the company’s works globally.
- There is the artistes and repertoire department which is saddled with discovering musicians and grooming them to stardom. They are also concerned with wooing established artistes to their stable to, not only, enhance the company’s status but also boost the revenue. Artists’ welfare, negotiations, and all other entitlements that make Musicians attracted to the record company are in the purview of this department.
- There is the production department that handles all the technical aspects of the business. The producers, sound engineers, beat makers all come under this department. Where they don’t have an in-house studio this department is responsible for sourcing for appropriate studios to handle all required recordings for the company’s artistes.
- There is the Finance and Administration Department which is concerned with payment of royalties, commissions and all entitlements to the artistes and the members of staff of the company.
- The Maintenance department which is responsible for servicing and maintenance of all the company’s equipment are usually under this department. They keep the soul of the company beating.
In Nigeria as in other parts of Africa, back in the days, there existed such major multinational record companies as EMI, POLYGRAM, SONY, DECCA and some indigenous ones like TYC, KALAKUTA RECORDS, TABANSI, JAPEX,etc.
These had and ran all the specific departments, where they all worked towards the actualisation of harnessing all the benefits of the creative economy.
It is very necessary to give this background so that a good picture of how the industry should be run is given. The point is to enable us clearly appreciate the charade called record label in today’s Nigeria Music Industry where any angry upstart musician just wakes up and calls himself a record label owner. Sadly. The situation is threatening the very fabric of our industry and beginning to breed life threatening cult like organizations, masquerading as Record Labels. Before we all get consumed, it will be necessary to retrace our steps and, while not necessarily apportioning blames, count our losses and sincerely start to do it right.
The biggest blame goes to the pioneers of the new music label fad. They left the business and became the show. Most guilty are the owners of Kennies Music who, though, creditably inspired the first drive and push for the Afrobeats, then called hip-pop, in the International space, were also the most guilty of the offense of bringing down the roof. I will explain. As pioneers they suddenly found themselves in a global platform laced with fame and wealth. They got carried away and became the show rather than the business. They started riding in limousines while the artistes who provided the show that yielded the new found wealth and glitz, were relegated to the background. They wore the bling bling and were the masters at events in an obvious master/servant relationship with the artistes. Those who came immediately after them also borrowed their leaf, towering intimidatingly over the makers of the show. Wrong move. The record label or company owners usually stay in the background relatively unknown while they allow the artistes to steal the show which belongs to them in the first place, whereas when the books are down, in the real sense, the chunk of the accruing revenue belongs to the investing entrepreneur. However, that should be limited to the books and not blatantly rubbed on the faces of those whose creative products generate the wealth on display. As this unnecessary gap between them and their artistes widened, resentment and mistrust set in and the feelings of “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop”, took over. Soon “monkey eyes come open”, and they demanded their “rights”, as it were. However in anger the artistes took the wrong step. Believing that since they own the show they resulted to self help and decided to be the marketers of the show. That singular move turned the industry in Nigeria, on its head and hasn’t recovered since and may never if we don’t stem the tide right now. Musicians who themselves should be managed now have become the managers of themselves and other budding artistes who also are craving stardom, believing that once you are under the umbrella of a star you too, will blossom into stardom. Wrong thinking. No sooner did they get to the new “artistes managed record labels”, than they realise that no artiste will be comfortable with another artiste, under his watch, growing bigger than and eclipsing him. So, they too quit the label to start another one and the fragmentations continue with none of them running a proper music business. Everyone wants to own a label, believing it’s the best way to avoid being cheated and hold their destinies in their own hands, whereas they are under valuing themselves in the real business sense. A case of “penny wise, pound foolish”. And the foolishness is massively hurting the industry. Sincerely the industry’s growth, is, in real sense, stunted. Forget the large sums of money getting into the bank accounts of the individual musicians or even some of the caricature record labels. The so-called record labels are mere jokes with totally no structures as listed earlier. There can’t be. The artistes running them have no capacity to so do and are completely bereft of any idea to do the business of music. The result is the bullying, threats, and cultist tendencies pervading our entertainment economy, today.
Some have argued that there had always been the artistes/record labels rancour. Fine . However what existed before now had been largely as a result of sharing formula progressions. In other words, artistes in the past had fallen out with their record labels due the demand for reviews in the initial contract entered into by the artistes with the record labels, especially when the artistes’ sales rose beyond initial projections. No doubt big names in the Industry had fallen out with, particularly, the multinational record companies, yet these had largely been the result of asking for a review of contract. A good example is FELA falling out with both EMI and DECCA Record Companies, at different times, which led to his release of the monster hit track, “Unnecessary Begging”. And also Sunny Ade’s historic disagreement with Chief Abioro’s TYC, which also produced the hit number, “Esubiri Biri Ebomi”. In FELA’s case, he resulted to recording his works and licensing his master tape to the highest bidding music company for a period of time and payment was made upfront and thereafter the tape reverted to him, whereupon he could re-license it to other record companies. He didn’t start a label for other artistes. No never. KALAKUTA RECORDS that came later in his life was strictly a label to distribute his own records. This was to curb piracy. He took the bull by the horn as it were, and carried the anti-piracy fight frontally to the homes of the pirates, attacking and destroying their hide outs and the equipment used for illegally duplicating audio tapes. Sunny Ade’s Music Label also was not used to sign artistes, to a large extent. He merely used it to protect his works
None of them started a record company because they were aware that such was a completely different aspect of the industry strictly for those who are Music Entrepreneurs and not Music Players.
There must be a regulatory body to control and structure the establishment of record labels. Industry Standards must be set and maintained otherwise all the gains so far achieved by the emergence of Afrobeat will be filtered away into the hands foreign companies who are already lurking in the shadows to reap where they did not sow.
The time is NOW.
Coming soon from the same author: 1) Don’t Kill The Marlian
-Okwechime has written about music in top music journals for close to 40 years. He was a columnist in The Daily Times of Lagos, Nigeria, in the early 1980s and did both culture and crime reporting for This Week from the middle of the 80s. He was close to Fela Anikulapo- Kuti and was briefly a manager of Femi Kuti. He is back to write the column LET’S TALK MUSIC every fortnight for BookArtVille.com