The Nigerian music industry is probably one of the most interesting yet difficult businesses in the world. It has always been competitive, and these days, income is becoming harder and harder to find. Music as a whole is one of those vocations that gets in your blood and keeps you dreaming throughout most of your life, unless you do something about it. A person with great dreams can achieve great things. Making a little money playing music on the side isn’t so hard, but in order to turn a passion into a career, you have to want it more than anything else. Though there is a ton of luck involved, many factors can be influenced to put you in a position to launch a musical career.
You can’t make it in this business unless the music you make is EXCEPTIONALLY good. ‘Good’ means that it has a market (beyond your loyal friends and family) and that you can create a standard substantially higher than average.
It’s a harsh reality to face but, looking at the law of averages, it stands to reason that not everyone will be above the center line. If enough unbiased people are telling you that what you do is impressive, do everything you can to become even better. Devote time, effort and – yes – money to fueling your dream. If nothing is ventured then nothing is gained.
When people hear your joint for the first time they will be expecting a certain level of audio quality. You need to ensure that your productions are well recorded, mixed and present the musical content in the best possible way for that all important first impression. Did you get your track mastered? Why not? Mastering is as important as mixing. Even if your music is presented as a low quality MP3, it still needs to be well mixed/mastered and arranged to capture the listeners attention the first time it is heard. A weak mix without impact will not be able to do your melodic work justice.
Never assume that your music will have so much appeal that it will sell itself. Quality alone is no guarantee of success – we all know of music that we think deserves a wider audience while, conversely, we also hear music whose success seems inexplicable. These successes and failures can be explained by a single word – PROMOTION.
People who don’t know your music exists can’t buy it and that’s true even if it’s the best song ever written. Like the Warri adage; “na who buy form dey win Miss World”.
Any and all ways of letting potential fans know of your existence must be explored. Ignoring promotion in favour of churning out new material will guarantee that your fan base won’t expand beyond your friends and family.
As your profile grows, it might be time to bring in specialist marketing/promotional personnel. Generally, such people are hired to raise the awareness of your product.
Specialists like this spend their lives keeping in touch with people you’ll find it hard to reach yourself, such as newspaper and radio journalists, pluggers, music bloggers, gig bookers and other essential Nigerian industry contacts. You’ll effectively employ them to take your product to market and work as hard as possible to ensure that awareness of your record moves a few crucial rungs up the ladder. Often, the momentum generated by a few months of carefully planned marketing can be sustained by you thereafter.
CREATE A CATCHY IMAGE
Most musicians in Nigeria severely underestimate the importance of their image. Yes, music is about ‘music’, but music business success is about a total package that includes music, image and visual during live performances, among other things that need to be fully developed and integrated in a congruent way.
It is undeniable that image plays a dominant role in the Nigerian music industry. Once you enter the realm of the music industry, you instantly have to consider perception; how are you perceived, and what are you transmitting. I would almost go as far as saying that image is just as important, if not more than the music itself. This is because certain bands (going back to Psquare, Flavour and D’banj) have proved that once you get the imagery right, the music does not have to be that good anymore. Image is an aspect of the music industry that is often overlooked by many musicians, and it could be argued that a strong image is what separates commercially successful musicians from others.
RISK AND INVEST
You need enough cash flow to support your music career. Like it or not, it takes money to build a music career.
One thing that all successful musicians have in common, is that they have at some point invested in their music career. This could be by buying studio time, paying to press up their CDs, paying to get their website made, buying musical instruments, paying a professional promoter, or by buying advertising of some sort. These are all things that cost you money, but can help you make more money in the long run.
A good works man needs their tools, and they shouldn’t be afraid to spend to get them. Having said that, throwing money at your music career and expecting to make a profit back won’t work. It’s not about spending the most money, it’s about spending wisely. Invest in things that could move your music career forward, but have a good idea of how this purchase can benefit you. If you’re not ready to invest, something’s wrong with your project.
There’s an old expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In music this is often modified to, “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” The truth is, it’s not about that either. The most important aspect of connections within the music industry is how deep are the current relationships you have now and will develop in the future. You don’t want to simply know people or be known, you want people who know you to have a real deep connection with you so that you are always on the top of their mind when opportunities present themselves.
Connect with as many people as you can because relationships drive music careers more that anything else, even talent. Music is a “who-you-know/who-knows-you” kind of business. The quality and quantity of your relationships will be the primary engines of your progress. Try developing creative projects with fellow-musicians. Perhaps you can combine your live show with two other acts and present the package to a local promoter. There is strength in numbers. Finding the right combinations takes experimentation.
In order to not only compete, but succeed in this hyper-competitive musical world, it’s absolutely vital to be on top of your game at all times, and be consistently raising the bar for yourself. And in order to make the most out of it, you have learn to really enjoy the process of improving and practicing as well. You can never be ready enough for opportunity. Your live shows can always be better, your songs can be more amazing, and your playing can only improve. As the CEO of your own musician business, you can learn how to run the company more effectively, reach out to more fans and be an more effective social media marketer. Don’t hold yourself back by not being ready. No matter which genre of music you’re passionate about, it’s essential to practice your craft every day. By doing this, you will continue to improve while others stagnate, eventually being better than others at what you do. Be professional. Practice, practice, practice – then go for it. Over prepare.
This might be the most important element. A career does not appear overnight, and especially not one in the arts. Even artists such as Davido or Sean Tizzle, who seemed to appear in an instant and blow up the charts out of nowhere, had been planning and preparing for that time for years.
Whatever your musical craft may be, as long as you are making steps to improve every day, you will eventually be one of the best out there. However, it could take years before you’re capable of competing against other professional musicians.
Are you constantly striving to be a better player, more inventive, creative, original or simply become perfectionist with your core musical skills? If you are not, someone somewhere is, so step to it and ensure you always put every thing you have at your creative disposal into your end results.
The bottom line: Instead of becoming preoccupied with trying to “BLOW,” focus on growing your career gradually.
Rome was not built in a day and it is naive to think that success can be achieved within a very short space of time. Two years is a realistic span of time when using constant means of promotion to obtain some penetration within any given market or scene. People do not identify with a brand until they have seen it more than 3 times on separate occasions. So make sure you keep your foot on the pedal for as long as you can to try and break through into spaces where you need to be seen and noticed.
First, we should look at what sells and what is successful from this standpoint; music fulfills the needs, wants, and desires of any group of fans because they IDENTIFY with it. and they like a song because they can sing along. The one thing that all successful acts have in common when they cross over to mass appeal is GREAT COMMERCIAL songs! (Whether or not you personally ‘like’ hit songs or not has nothing to do with it.)
Today there is a lot of what some critics call ‘shallow and immature’ lyrics and disposable party jams out there on the charts… yet, no one who bought that music would cop to that criticism. The people who buy the latest sounds bumping at the clubs bought that music because it gave them some kind of pleasure. It meant something to them.
It is hard to sell some kind of genres in Nigeria except you plan to make the lyrical content indigenous to an extent. You are only as good as how successful you are.
When it comes down to it, being a professional musician is really all about entertaining people. Entertaining the public as a life commitment involves getting yourself into a deep sense of personal commitment to your art, and the business of your art. It seems to me that artists who are able to do that have come to grips with the notion that success is more an internal experience, and not necessarily one that will be satisfied by a money-hungry music industry that defines success only cash
Looking at the work habits of most big stars, I think they all have an entrepreneurial entertainer inside them. That’s what allows them to succeed in all areas of the business. That is what keeps them going during the fifth interview/show of the day, and all the other crap that has nothing to do with music and everything to do with the business of music marketing.
Should the day come when you sense you have made it, know that the pressure to keep producing sellable music is huge. So you need to find a balance inside yourself. A sense of timing that lets you know when you have to take a break, or eat and sleep right. Successful musicians have to be healthy and ready to create/perform on demand. For example, you may have to hit the road for nine straight months, then make a world-class album immediately following the grueling tour, followed by endless media encounters along the way.
Be honest with yourself regarding what things you are and aren’t willing to do to be successful with your music.
Make sure you honor your business commitments and always act professionally.
Again, make sure you keep your artist side healthy and creative.
Take days off, and take time to noodle around that new song idea that just popped into your head. Such activities will help keep the artist inside you healthy and able to nourish your creative juices.
Should you ever become a successful musician (by your own definition) making money strictly from your music, remember that being a famous musician is not a “normal” life. To survive and thrive in the public eye requires a special set of skills. The good news is those skills can be learned and developed. Every little bit you learn now will benefit your career plans down the road. Believe in yourself, and never stop improving.
Your hard work will pay off eventually, AMEN.
James Ndu is an independent music business consultant based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: email@example.com Twitter @JamesNdu