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The Music May not Play!

March 2, 2017




A few months ago, I was at an event and a few "up and coming" artists were talking about COSON (Copyrights Society of Nigeria) and how they would start earning money from royalties through radio and TV stations. I listened as they calculated non existent royalty rates (highly misleading numbers indeed) and talking about how radio stations have been "cheating" them by not paying them but instead the OAPs keep collecting money (Payola) from them to play their music. 


I listened to everything they were saying and had to hold myself from shouting "Keep Quiet!!!" I was itching to tell them that its not that straightforward... that there is a process and sort of a science or structure to this royalty thing and that they have absolutely no clue of the shock waiting to hit them in the face... and that it would be painful... very painful! 


Then I had to leave... So I didn't tell them anything. 




When I got home that night, I started saying to myself "there are so many people who think the same way". Artistes believe that registering with COSON solves all their publishing issues as well as their financial problems. l am sure there are Artistes that would have been disappointed because months after they signed with the collecting society, nothing has been "collected". Artistes who do not even understand their rights and therefore cannot ask for it to be given. Well, they can but they don't know what to ask for. 




I will not waste your time doing a breakdown of the different types of royalties, and how they are shared in developed parts of the world... GOOGLE IT or search "Royalties on wikipedia. It provides a general background on the subject 


I will however focus on how this applies to us here in Nigeria and why some artists may not get paid as expected.




I have sat in meetings with Legends like King Sunny Ade, Chief Ebenezer Obey etc and from conversations with them, it is very clear that at some point in the Nigerian Music scene, artistes were earning money from rights and licenses… What happened? 


It’s like the Nigerian economy in general. When oil came, we forgot every other natural resource and left them along with the people who worked in those industries to suffer. Mining, Agriculture amongst other things suffered because we were too focused on this new “gold” called oil and that caused the growth of the other sectors of the economy to suffer. These days, an artiste focuses on shows for income. This “gold” was found when corporate organisations began to spend money on massive activation campaigns for their products and services and found out the Nigerian musician has a strong hold on its people/target audience. No jokes… Some artistes can actually cause a riot if they choose to start one. Unfortunately, this show-money mentality has made us forget about other avenues to make money. EVERYONE wants to be on shows. That is why I would sit in a meeting with a totally unknown and “un-demanded” artiste and his first question would be “Which shows can you get me?” The truth is I don’t blame them; the industry is focused on quick and immediate income. This is a topic for another day!




Back to the matter… What I failed to tell those excited artistes was that unfortunately for them, especially with the way royalties are structured, once the process starts “properly”, their music would MOST likely be taken off air. LOL! Let me explain. 




A huge part of royalty payments come from media buying/advertising. Where did you think it came from? So basically, the advertiser (media buyer) decides to put adverts on a radio station. The radio station charges them a fee per advert slot and a time or times for when the adverts to be played are agreed. The advertiser is listening to the radio station for his or her advert. Now the radio station has the responsibility to ensure that they provide value for the advertiser who is spending a lot of money on these adverts. So, they have to ensure they drive traffic to their radio station… Tell me honestly. Do you, the unknown artiste, really think its your song they will play? 




Absolutely NOT! 




They will play a song in high demand as more people will stay tuned to the station because of the song and that means more people will hear the advert when it is played next. So as we tie the payment of royalties to advertising money... Lets be fair, would you want to pay an artiste no one wants to hear or see?




Don't lie to yourself! 




Honestly, it is more technical, but I have put it this way so you have an idea of how this thing works! The truth is if you were the radio station, you wouldn’t play it! 


It would not make financial sense to the radio station. This basically means that the artiste and his/her team now need to focus on building their brand and creating demand for his/her music. Unfortunately, those guys talking that night aren’t doing this… they just registered with COSON! :/ 




Being a musician is like being a business or a company. There has to be investment in marketing your products. People will not buy what they do not know exists. Even when they know, they will not buy what they don’t want. So first you create what people (your target) want and then you market or sell it to them. 




COSON is a collecting society, not a Bank. So the assumption that by just signing with them you will make money is foolishness. There is a lot of unclaimed royalty money sitting in different places because the organisations holding them cannot find the owners of certain works. COSON basically provides a face for these people to be found. So yes, you can make money simply by signing but that's if you already have a body of work that has been put out and well used. Truth is they aren’t yet operating in the full capacity of a collecting society with the necessary technology for measuring and calculating royalties, but they have started the process and we all hope, for our sake, that development continues. Currently, COSON provides a breakdown of where money is collected and how much was collected. Some artistes have been collecting steady cheques for their music for a little while now. The collection, calculation and sharing process isn’t entirely clear to most artistes or managers or labels because not too many people have actually tried to engage the heads of COSON to ask relevant questions. Nonetheless, we are mindful that just 3 years ago these cheques never came… we never even asked for them. So we are moving forward. It’s a process but it is not Magic.


Shout out to people like Audu and Yahaya Maikori… two names of the many that are working on ensuring the law protects the Nigerian artistes because Legislation in Nigeria also needs to help with ensuring that laws favour the collecting societies. 


Also re-direct some of that investment money Jonathan provided. Oh yea, it’s still there… largely reduced? Yes… but still there nonetheless! In America or other developed environments, an artiste may not be largely known but would have a core fan base that consistently patronise him on iTunes and other platforms. These artistes sometimes make up to 20 or 30 thousand Dollars a year playing club gigs and getting royalty money and that takes care of family and bills. Nigeria is a developing country and this is not the situation here. Lets look at iTunes for example, consider the number of people that have access to the Internet, then how many have "atms" or do Internet banking… then think of those that can actually afford to buy music. I am not trying to discourage you, I am simply saying we have a long way to go but we have started crawling. That may be a slow start but it is a start nonetheless. Now we need to figure out how we can walk… and then run! 




My advice to artistes, new labels and managers would be to explore the many platforms available. Do some research and ask questions. Spinlet, IroKING, MTECH, MCOMM, Starfish, Youtube etc. These are some of the existing platforms that provide income-generating opportunities for artistes in Nigeria. Use them. But remember that they just platforms, not banks and not promotions companies. These platforms are ways to reach your target audience but they cater to various other artistes so you as an artiste still have the responsibility of creating the needed demand for your music and driving traffic to these platforms to generate the needed income for your livelihood. 





So while we are happy that COSON is in existence, we must also consider that it is new and not everything is right yet. We have to ask questions, engage them during their numerous forums and seminars, suggest solutions, email them, call them, find out how they operate, visit their office, know the people in charge... basically be a part of this development. 


For the Music to Pay, We all have to put more work than registration!

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