INTERVIEW: Chocolate City, Brymo and Nigeria music industry – Audu Maikori


“You can’t walk up to me and say you are an artiste and you want a record deal with just two Facebook likes or followers, I won’t take you seriously.”

A lawyer and entertainment entrepreneur, Audu Maikori, president of Chocolate City, recently spoke to PREMIUM TIMES at the label’s Lekki, Lagos office. He declined to comment on the label’s breach of contract case with one of its former top artistes, Brymo, but hinted on what might have led to the break-up. Mr. Maikori, however, gave insights on how the Nigerian music industry can become more structured.

PT: A lot has been said about the lack of structure in the Nigerian music industry, how can this be resolved?

AUDU: The music industry is growing to finally become an industry, prior to this, it was just a sector. There are the roles of distribution, marketing, recording, publishing, licensing music, synchronization and quite a few other things. So, there are some things that are quiet undeveloped. When you think about the recording industry in Nigeria, a lot of music is going out, but in terms of tracking those sales – I’m not talking about piracy, I mean tracking the music, which is a whole lot of information as well, isn’t there yet. But the digital programming is helping a little, the radio stations now keep logs and you can get the airplay.

We are not bad in music publishing, which is how you make money from the music and there are different categories. In terms of recording itself, which is like if you hear a song like Raise the Roof; the way and quality of recording is the recording aspect and the other part is publishing which is using that song in other ways. So these sectors are still developing and with COSON on board, there is hope of more money from publishing, because radio and TV will begin to pay royalty. You also find a lot of Nollywood movies, they use Nigerian music content and they are not paying for it. You find even advert companies doing jingles with a lot of content that’s not paid for. But with technology, with a smart application, I think it’s going to be easier to track music. If you look behind the music, we are having issues with remittances either to government, record label or artistes. Theses gaps need professionals in the accounting world to help us with. I will say there are still quite a lot of structures that are missing.

PT: How lucrative is the Nigerian music industry?

AUDU: It’s a relative term, what I find is that music is a glamorous business. It gives you different levels of opportunities. Musicians are endorsing products, they speak for brands, they make money from YouTube. There is also money from airplay round the world. So if you are under CMOs, like PRS in UK and COSON in Nigeria, and your content is being played in those countries, you can make money off that. We have not started making money in the music industry yet. People are making money, but I’m saying the money the Americans are making, we are not there yet. It’s growing gradually.

Recent report says 1.42 per cent of the country’s GDP is from the creative industry and about 30 per cent of that is from the music industry. Our music is not there yet by virtue of how it’s being coordinated. You know Nollywood has a more organised industry, but I think our value should not be less than N5 billion.

PT: In recent times, there have been issues over the number of copyright monetisation organisations in Nigeria. Would it be better to have at least two CMOs as oppose to the one (Coson)?

AUDU: I wouldn’t really agree with that. I don’t think we are there yet, and I’m not saying this because I’m a member of COSON. I’m saying this because in the U.K., which has a proper music system, from publishing to licensing to all those necessary things, they only have one. So I don’t know why Nigerians keep going back and forth on the issue of CMO when we are not there yet. How much is the value of our music industry? It’s peanuts. We are not there yet. America with about 300 million people that has been doing music for years has only two. And you know that one or two sates in America are bigger than the land mass of Nigeria. So people are just making emotional statements. Look at what happened when we had two, there was confusion. You didn’t know which CMO had licensed your music; so, two people were sharing your content without obtaining license from you. And you find out that you will be chasing both of them and you don’t know which is using your content. So it is better to have one so you know that only one CMO is working for you.

But if you look at the copyright law of Nigeria, it made provision that if the copyright commission feels that one collective society is inadequate, then it makes provision for a second one. As I see it now, it is adequate, because how much are we collecting as royalty? When you look at what is happening in South Africa- South Africa has a bigger and more structured music market. They have only one as well and it’s collecting over N2 billion. Nigeria, based on collecting only N100 million a year, why do you want two?

PT: Another cankerworm eating deep into the music industry is the issue of payola (paying to have music played on air). As a stakeholder in this industry, how do you think this can be managed?

AUDU: We haven’t paid payola before. What we do is appreciate them. If we actually pay, we will be out of business by now. We can’t afford it. How much do we make? So if I want to pay every DJ in Nigeria of over 140 radio station, how much do you think that will be? The truth is that, I know some people pay, but at the end of the day, DJs will play good content. It is subject to demand. If Wizkid has a new song and he has a million fans, those million fans will request for the song and the DJs will have to play the song.

PT: What about upcoming acts that don’t have money?

The truth is payola isn’t a new thing. Even in the U.S., it is there. But there are laws against it. I think we need to go back to the Nigerian system. Where do you go in Nigeria that people don’t expect something from you? Even a policeman whose job is to protect you will still ask anything for the boys? It’s a Nigerian problem.

However, I think there is a way by law that something can be done. If someone is caught demanding for money, he should be fired immediately or fined. Now, will it really work? It all depends on how Nigerians are committed. If you are an upcoming artiste and you need to get airplay, there are people called pluggers, who plug in your song. So you pay a plugger and whatever he needs to do to make that happen is there job. That’s the legal way to do it. We only appreciate those who show love to us. We can throw a party for you, celebrate you; I won’t pay payola.

PT: What other ways can record labels make money order than sales of CDs, since piracy has eaten deep into the system?

AUDU: I think we have a technology problem. The truth is the mobile phone has become the new CD. If your phone goes off now you don’t feel ok. It has become part of us and most of these phones have the ability to play music. So you find out that technology has actually helped to wind down the value of CDs, even this laptop (pointing to one on his desk) doesn’t have a CD drive, you just need an mp3 device. I recognise that problem and I also agree with you that CDs are still very viable in Nigeria because more than 70 per cent are still using CD. It won’t die in the next two or three years.

I think it’s also a function of improper financing for the industry because it takes a lot to stop piracy. NAFDAC spends millions trying to stop people from selling illegal drugs, unlicensed drugs. I think more efforts needs to be put in policing unlicensed content being sold freely and tracking. Another thing is I don’t know how many copies of my CDs have been sold illegally, so there is no number or code. On a good day, what should happen is that there should be raid like every Monday to check up on these CDs to read the code and if its not licensed, that means it is illegal. I think there needs to be a lot of investment in that area as well or else it’s going to get worse and worse. I still think that with the right kind of distribution network, we can still beat piracy.

PT: Whose responsibility is it to check the activities of pirates?

AUDU: It’s the copyright commissions.

PT: Can record labels influence government on laws against piracy?

AUDU: We’ve been having those conversations. In fact, at COSON, we put together a digital summit (in 2013) and we had a lot of stakeholders and we are in talks with the copyright commission. The copyright commission is represented on the board of COSON to watch its activities and make sure COSON is not bending rules and if it is, the commission can withdraw its licenses or punish COSON. Last week, I was in a meeting with the ministry of finance on how we can strengthen distribution because the only way we can curb piracy is to strengthen distribution.

PT: What do you think is responsible for artistes walking away from their label or management? Is it greed on the part of the artiste or label?

AUDU: I can’t say. Every case is different. It’s actually not new, it’s just new in Nigeria but it’s not new elsewhere. Even Michael Jackson moved from one label to another. It is natural for somebody to want to progress but I think it depends on the deal and parties involved. We can relate it greed. Generally, what I think is happening is that artistes tend to want to take control of their career and that’s natural. When you grow to a certain level, you feel you can take care of yourself.

It’s just that most artistes are not good at managing because they are creative people and management is a business thing. And playing two roles is difficult. Some people have been able to do it, but it’s generally difficult. You know artistes sometimes want to say this is the music I’m putting out, let me just do my thing and this were the issue of quality control comes in. That’s the critical role investors in music industry make and it can never change. There will also be need for someone to be objectively involved in how music is made and that person shouldn’t be a fan. He is a fan but not a fan, because as a fan, whatever the artiste releases is good.

Without mentioning names, some artistes have degenerated because they don’t have anyone to do quality control because what they have is staff or yes men with nobody saying no and I think that’s the part of management. Even with the artistes we have here, sometimes we argue about what song is coming out and how it should be. Even recently we had a big argument with one of our artistes. At a point, M.I had to tell the artiste; look, this is the process we’ve all gone through. If you have a situation where there is nobody to tell an artiste this is the right thing, then you are just doing your thing without objectivity.

Sometimes, the artistes want more money, or independence. Sometimes, the label wants more money or more control of the artiste and that’s why the contract is very important because it tells what everybody does. The worst case you can have is that an artiste will say I want to re-negotiate my contract and you will agree on the new terms.
PT: What went wrong between Brymo and Chocolate city?

AUDU: I’m not going to comment on that. It’s a very clear case of breach of contract and it is in court. If an artiste feels that he is aggrieved, even within the contract, there is a mechanism to resolving issues. When you fail to honour your contract and you abandon it feeling that you have a right, the contract empowers you to go to court and that’s what has happened.

What I will say about this is that we need to learn to respect our words. The only reason why this company is set up like this is because we honour our word. Nigerians don’t honour their words, it’s not that it’s convenient. You work with PREMIUM TIMES and you have a contract and you must write for them. You came here in the rain, is it convenient? The day you say you won’t write for PREMIUM TIMES again without proper notification, you have breached the contract. There is nothing good or bad about this issue.
PT: How does Chocolate City prioritise to ensure all its artistes are well taken care of?
There are no rules. In the beginning, we used to do it according to how you are signed but after a while, we found out that everybody has different level of creativity. Some people want to keep pushing out music while some people take their time and you find out that it depends on the fans also. What we do is sit down and agree on a plan with our artistes. We can say we want your album out by so so time, but if your album is not ready by that time, that’s when you find out that contracts drag out for too long. You might sign someone for two years and the person ends up spending four years.

Let me take the case of Nosa for example, Nosa’s album was half ready by the time we signed him but, there was a lot of work that needed to be done. Shooting videos, rebranding, re-promoting and getting the market ready for the album, so we had built it to a stage that the day the album was released, 5,000 copies were sold instantly at Alaba. But sometimes an album is ready but there isn’t demand, you don’t release it. So it’s case by case. It’s generally about working alongside the artiste’s plan and ours.
PT: What is the drive behind the recent extension of chocolate city’s business to Kenya and how big is the Kenyan music industry?

AUDU: Nigeria is far ahead of Kenya. Our outfit is a pan-African outfit and we understand that Nigeria has a strong pan-African presence entertainment wise. Just interacting with Kenyans since 2009, we found out that there is a lot of hunger for Nigerian music. What we’ve done is that, we think that it’s time for Africa to have a mega label that speaks the language of Africa and that’s what they’ve done in other places like Europe and US. They have big record labels like Universal, Sony, Warner Music which has cross border presence. So people understand that if I’m on Warner, I have access to this and that and that’s what we are doing. If you are plugged in into Chocolate City, your music will get to Kenya. Right now, we are supplying Nosa’s album to Nairobi and we’ve already released his contents in Nairobi and that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have any presence or chain there. We are also expanding to other African countries. We are doing it gradually, not too many countries at a time. And then, we have partnerships in those countries we are going into. They own the brand, it’s not just us putting our people there, and we are working with their people there.

PT: So many record labels have surfaced and died under three months of operation due to lack of finance, do you think there should be a certain entry point for record labels and should labels have capital base so as not to endanger the career of artistes?

AUDU: The truth is that one of the challenges the music industry has is a plus and minus one, no barrier of sort. Anybody can start a label, and a label means your name on a piece of paper in Alaba and people just start doing business. I think it’s also a policy issue. These are things we are beginning to sit down and look at and say we need to set a minimum standard. But the truth is that everywhere else in the world, there is no such thing. People naturally die off. You find out that a JayZ, as big as he is, still needs a record label. With all noise about Rock Nation, it is hooked under Universal Music. So what happens is that these labels are fixed under mega labels and they rely on the distribution and facilities the mega labels have.

Chocolate City is doing stuff with Universal Records now in South-Africa and other parts of the world. So, it means if you are signed to Chocolate City, you have the opportunity to work with Universal Records. You know Ice Prince recently signed a distribution deal with them and we are already discussing having one or two other artistes sign a deal with them. So, those are the kinds of opportunities we should create. If we say you have to have a certain amount, it will be great to do that; but I don’t know how we’ll be able to do that. But you are aware that if there is a minimum requirement, people will think about investing in the industry properly and people will sign better contracts. We sign a 360 degrees contract because we knew we won’t make money from record sales. We make money from everything the artiste does and it’s just now that people are going into 360 deals. Prior to this, it was just whatever you sell, we take a percentage and that’s all.

In 2008/ 2009, the record labels around the world realised that that system is no going to work because they realise that you are not going to sell that much as before. Just like a way of education, before, let’s say this album is going to 12 tracks, (pick up Dwari’s singles promo jacket) and you sell for $10 and if you want a song from this album, you buy the whole album, but when the mp3 came, it made it possible to buy just one song which you can buy for $1. So you need to sell over 20 million of a song to make the amount you make when you sell a whole album because of one single. Here is another problem, that song you have bought; I can give it to you via Bluetooth. If five of us wanted this song before, we all have to buy the album, but now, one person will buy and share to all. So that’s exactly what started this whole downward slope in the music industry. And even with streaming and those other things, it is still going down.

But what is now hot is live performance. People want to watch you, they want to feel you and that’s where the artistes are making money from and if you are making commission from that, it’s just increases your income. Other sources of income is licensing, so having licensed our music to Universal and one other company in South-Africa, there are opportunities to make extra income from that.

PT: What should people expect from Chocolate city within the next six months?
AUDU: We had a listening for M.I’s album about two weeks ago for the first part of the album and we made some comments about some songs on the album, which is why I was talking about the quality control process. In every Chocolate City album that you hear, there is a team that works on the album. M.I’s album is definitely dropping. We are going to start off with some singles just to usher in the album. Ice Prince will be dropping a mixtape as well, and Pryse is working on her new singles. We have some artistes we are unveiling soon. We just concluded their contract. We have a guy and a girl coming on board.

We’ve been approached by quite a few established artistes who want to plug into our system. They still want to do their own thing but they want a coordinated system and that is what we provide here. Especially when it comes to international market and other things aside going into the studio to record and those are the value added people are looking for. For you to get into the Chocolate City system, you really must have worked on yourself. Like some of the artistes we are considering now, they are people that have been doing their own thing. You can’t walk up to me and say you are an artiste and you want a record deal with just two Facebook likes or followers, I won’t take you seriously.

People are looking for content. There are people with no talent with five thousand followers; that means they are actively engaging and doing something. It’s important that you have those followers because it shows me you have fans. How was Justin Berber found, on YouTube? He has fans and he was marketing himself. Chocolate City will not wake up one day and say, “You, it looks like there is hope for you, lets sign you.” No, you have to be active. You must be doing things. Then, based on these things, we can say, “Wow, you need some support and we can sign you.”

The first time we met Ice Prince, my brother said, “This Ice Prince, if you give him money now, what he will do is buy baffs (designer clothes),” because the way he was baffed then, you will know that the guy likes clothes. Labels don’t change you; they add to what you already have. For example, Jesse Jagz didn’t learn how to produce because of Chocolate City, he already had that. We only provided the environment to enhance that.

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