Let me start by saying I’m not a music professional or music Guru who has been part of the music industry for umpteen years and knows the A-Z of what goes on in the Nigerian music industry or “Music scene” as some call it. I’m just a “drunk 65% of the time” basement/bedroom based music producer/hobbyist who is passionate about music and everything that has to do with music. Maybe one day I might be one of those “Music Gurus” with all the experience in the world(I hope), but for now , what I’ll be talking about here is just a mind dump from what I’ve observed and what I think can be worked on.
2012 wasn’t a bad year for music in and from Nigeria and Nigerian artistes, The Industry(or “Music Scene” if that’s what you want to call it) didn’t regress, but……It didn’t grow either. It became monotonous and stale,fans complained about loss of excitement towards “Nigerian Music” and at some point it began to look like music coming out of Nigeria was about to peak out due to this stagnation. Yes, there was an increased entrance of musicians, homegrown and returning from other parts of the world into the Nigerian music scene, but did we really grow in terms of quality of music, creativity, professionalism and the image we give to the rest of the world ? I don’t think so. I Just thought there were a couple of things that could and should have been improved on in 2012 in order to make the industry stronger,bigger and more exciting that were neglected. So, I’ve decided to dump my observations here on areas I think can and should be improved on this year.
1.ORIGINALITY : As an artist, would you rather have just 1 hit that sounds like all the other big songs around just because that style is the In-thing and end up fading away fast because there are many other songs like yours that can give listeners the same feeling they get from yours because everyone else is making that same style of music, or would you rather have a hit record that will last for a long time because it sounds like no other song that’s out at the moment and pulls the attention of people away from the style everyone else is doing, and no other song gives listeners the same feeling? The choice is yours as an artist.
A wise man in the music industry once said to me, “The best way to make an original hit record is by turning off the radio”. Use radio, blogs and TV as reference points but don’t let them dictate what a hit record should sound like to you. Be creative, carve out your own niche, focus on your own identity and create your own sound. Music in Nigeria won’t grow if everyone just wants to take the easy way out by just copying anything that’s in vogue and trying to emulate the same thing. We won’t grow if everyone keeps trying to sound like everyone else.
2. ARTIST DEVELOPMENT : Just as a house built on a weak foundation will collapse in no time, no matter how much potential you have as an artist, no matter how talented you are, jumping head first into your music career without sacrificing and spending time to develop yourself will cut the career you think you have short in no time. No one is really doing any developing these days. People aren’t really going around looking for and picking up the young man with the great singing voice in church or on the street corner who might have the most amazing voice but knows nothing about song structure and song arrangement and just needs to know how to put a song together. Everyone is just looking for a ready made product to market, an artist who already knows how to do those things own his/her own. That’s why the need for development is even more essential now.
If you really want to have that edge, you have to show that you are ready for the industry, you can handle things on your own, not just come up with one “accidental song” with a catchy hook and beat, and then you can’t back it up with another song because you never took out the time to develop yourself as an artist, never spent time honing your craft and knowing yourself as an artist. Season yourself, practice practice practice, teach yourself how to write songs, find out what styles work for you. Don’t just loop a beat by mistake playing around with the music production software you only started using two weeks ago, record on your laptop with your friends on a drunk Friday night and think you’ve arrived! If you take a look at majority of the artists in the industry with longevity and consistency, you can trace back their history and see that they didn’t just show up out of nowhere with a catchy song one day, they worked their way to the top by getting better and better. How well you develop yourself is the difference between “HAVING IT!” and “MAKING IT!” and this development does not only involve music, it’s the whole package, it has everything to do with the artist you want to become, your personality, your performance, your IMAGE.
3. IMAGE : If the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti was an Afrobeat artist walking around and performing in jeans and a shirt or a suit like every other regular Tom,Dick and Harry and speaking with a faux American or British accent, while still putting out the same quality of music he was putting out, do you think people all over the world would have embraced him and his music the way they did?..NO. When you think of Fela, you think of Afrobeat music, and when you think of Afrobeat, you think of not just the music but Fela and everything about Fela. The way he dressed, the way he talked, the way he danced. Even without his music his image is stuck in your mind, but at the same time you can’t listen to his music without thinking about his image.
One of the biggest mistakes artists have been making is the failure to have a compelling image that is congruent with their music or the music they plan to put out. Too many artists underestimate the importance of image and believe “It’s all about my music”. If it was just about music, then music videos,shows, press conferences and Interviews wouldn’t exist, people would just sit home and listen to your music forever without knowing or caring to know who you are, but that’s not the case. You have to give your fans a part of you that can stay glued to their minds when your music is not around in order for them to think about your music for a long time, an image that comes up in their minds every time they play your music. Believe it or not, if you look like every other artist out there, people will assume that you sound just like every other artist out there and might not give you a chance. If we want to push out our music globally, if you as a “Nigerian Artist” want to make your music spread out globally, you have to be able to give out an image that’s in line with the music you are trying to give out to the world. You don’t just want to be “One foreign artist who made that good song”, you want people to know you as “The Nigerian guy who has that good song”. You don’t what to pitch your material to a foreign audience and have them saying “But he’s just like this or that artist over here” when you’re trying to sell yourself as “An artist from Nigeria” and not just “An artist”.
4. PERFORMANCE : It’s mind boggling to think of the fact that in an industry where majority of the musician’s income comes from shows, artists still neglect the importance of a great show and the importance of sharpening their performing skills. Your music may be good, but a live show requires more than just that. If people only want to hear your music, they’ll just stay at home, lay down throw in your CD or click on your MP3 and press play and never come out and pay their hard earned money to watch you perform. If you want to be remembered, give people something to remember when you perform. Don’t just come out there and mime like it’s S.S.2 social night because you’re gonna get paid anyway. Let people know they are guaranteed satisfaction every time they have to pay to see certain artists or trek miles like Moses and Aaron in the bible to watch artists perform.
5. SOUND : The truth is(and the human ears can testify to this), a track that is 40% in terms of content and concept but 100% in terms of sound will always top a track that is 100% in terms of content and concept but 40% in terms of sound. A lot of the music coming out is good in terms of sound, but some aspects can still be worked on. Too many artists focus on loudness instead of clarity, and when a song is mixed and recorded too loud, the listener gets tired of listening quicker. That’s where the importance of good mixing and mastering come in, to bring in that clarity and sonic perfection. Yes, your song might sound great to you and your friends after you record it, and it might get posted on the blogs, but is it radio ready? would it get played on big radio stations all over the world based on the sound quality?
6. BALANCE : Thanks to the gift and curse that is the new “Afrobeats” tag on music coming out of Nigeria, there are actually people who believe “Afrobeats” is the only kind of music that came out of Nigeria in 2012. Can’t blame them though. “Afrobeats” is all that was circulated, because a) everyone was trying to make that kind of music because it was popular, and b) It was the only kind of music in rotation for the most part. Contrary to what many think, there’s an audience, a fan base for many different genres of music in Nigeria, not just one big umbrella “Nigerian Music”. Yes some are bigger than others, but there’s an audience for Neo-Soul/R&B music, an Audience for Rap, An audience for Gospel, an audience for Alternative Rock, High-life …….not just an audience for Afro Pop/Dance music, and there are artists who make and perform these kinds of music and they have their fans who consume the music they release. But when the fans can’t find the music because only one kind of music is being circulated they lose excitement and many of the artists who make music in these other “less popular” genres end up forcing themselves to make the music everyone else is making and circulating, The result = Stagnation. That Balance is very important in order for the industry to grow. We need different radio and TV shows for different kinds of music, different events for different kinds of music, not just jam-packing everything under one roof and putting it all in a box, making it seem like only one kind of music is made in the whole country.
7. OVERUSING SOCIAL MEDIA AND THIRD PARTY SITES/UNDER-USING OTHER MEANS OF ONLINE PROMOTION: It’s really frustrating to me when I try to get more information about a major artist who I’m a fan of , but can’t find anything about him/her besides what appears on his Facebook page and/or Twitter account. And what’s even more frustrating than that is when people can’t find your music anywhere else but on the blogs where they were posted and the links you put up on twitter. Social Media sites are just one piece of the online marketing puzzle, they are just a tool. Your success is defined by how many fans you have, not how many twitter followers and Facebook friends you have. Build your own website, build your promotion as an artist without focusing solely on third party sites which you do not control. It’ll make people take you more seriously and intensify your fan base. When the big shows and events start rolling in, big industry players and promoters are more interested in your website traffic and popularity than the amount of twitter followers you have.
8. OFFLINE MARKETING/PROMOTION : Despite the obvious importance of online communication, it’s just one part of the whole package. As hard as it is to believe these days, there are people who are into music but not just into computers and the internet as much as you and I. Think of them, they’re fans too, and they need to know what’s going on with you as an artist. Intensify your promotion offline, put yourself out there, create logos and other promotional materials to giveaway. Make shirts, hats, pens with your logo on them, stamp your brand on anything you can. Just assume you don’t have any form of online promotion, let your offline promotion be that serious and intense.
9. BETTER CUSTOMER SERVICE : Just like in every other industry, the customer should always come first. Music companies and labels are the manufacturers, the artists are the products and the fans are the customers. Music consumers need to be given more options. There is a lot of good music out there that’s not being heard because fans don’t have a say in determining what kind of music they want to hear and what kind of music they want to be circulated. We just let DJs and Blogs determine what a “hit” is. More contests, giveaways and marketing surveys would be really helpful. Artists live off fans and need to always treat the fans with care and respect, find out what they want and do the best you can to satisfy their needs. Don’t get carried away by success and fame and put yourself on a pedestal.
10. PROFESSIONALISM : Contrary to what some think, the life of a music superstar can’t always be as glamorous and “rock star-ish” as it appears on TV. To get gigs that pay at home in Nigeria and abroad, an artist must exude a high level of professionalism often less glamorous than the lifestyle he/she portrays on TV and in music videos. Because most artists get paid to play or perform music for people, they have to get better at doing what those people want, be good at taking directions. Artists, Be on time for your shows, Keep your word, Perform the amount of songs you were paid to perform, don’t show up for a show or to meet with clients visibly intoxicated, be respectful to your fans. Promoters, Keep your word. Pay the artists the amount of money you agreed to pay them at the exact time you agreed to pay them. Get the venue prepared for the artist before the show. Don’t book 25 artists for the same show in one night without adequate preparation and have the fans attacking you because only 6 of those artists showed up. Sometimes it’s frustrating taking directions from people who don’t know much about music because they’re not communicating with you the right way, but as a professional you should be able to keep your cool and know how to adapt. Keep a calendar and learn how to keep to time. Not many things are more frustrating and embarrassing than tardiness, and in this highly competitive music industry where everyone is scrapping and scrambling for whatever shows are available, You’ll lose work if you can’t keep to time and keep track of things.
Ultimately, Preparation is the difference between a professional and an amateur. An amateur practices until he gets it right, a professional practices until he never gets it wrong.
11. CONSISTENCY : You go to the gym for 4 months, consistently, you start gaining strength and muscle, you start looking and feeling better, and then you just stop all of a sudden, and never go back for a year for whatever reason. You’re gonna lose all the strength and muscle you gained, and when you eventually go back, if you do, you have to work even harder than you did before to regain what you lost.
As an Artist, think of your career that way. If you release good music people like and get yourself buzzing for 6 months, and then all of a sudden you get too comfortable and disappear from the scene for one year, People are going to start forgetting about you. It’s like that in every field. The more you fade away from your career and fans, the more your fans and your career fade away from you. Whatever you do, be you a DJ, Producer, Artist, Blogger, consistency is the big difference maker that separates you from everyone else. Be consistent, always aim to be better, don’t get comfortable because you put in 110% effort in the beginning and got a lot of fans and now you think you can just do whatever and give your fans whatever and they’ll just accept it. Stay hungry, Keep working. Even when you’re not doing what people know you for, put yourself out there, stay in the news for positive reasons, do positive things the fans will enjoy.
12. ARTIST-FAN INTERACTION AND RELATIONSHIP : Few years ago, what an artist needed to have in terms of publicity and relationships was a publicist and/or manager, promoters, salesmen, and booking people. If all these people were in order, then getting and keeping the artist out there was a success, without the artist needing to maintain relationships with too many other people. Today it’s different. Artists need to get used to new, different kinds of relationships now and it’s very difficult for some.
Thanks to technology, artists have become way more accessible now. And many artists, even the ones who entered the industry in the twitter age are not used to it. Some artists still believe in their minds that the artist is just an artist and as such the most the fans should get about them as “humans” is whatever they see about them as artists, what they see on TV and at shows. Unfortunately, it can’t be like that anymore, thanks to this place called “Cyber Space”, the Internet.
Unlike it is at your show, where fans pay to come watch you and you keep them on their seats, give them instructions and pretty much take control of everything, on the internet, on twitter, on Facebook …..because spending time with an artist is free, anybody can jump in and boo you, tell you to shut up and walk out…….and a lot of people will. It’s not easy dealing with this, but you have to. Whether you like it or not, artists have become more human to fans now, and you have to get used to the resulting fact that you’ll have to engage in way more relationships with different people than the average artist did five years ago. Yes, you can hire a publicist or whoever to blog and tweet for you to avoid your feelings getting hurt, but nobody who is not you can be you on the internet 24/7. Eventually it’ll become very artificial.
You just have to deal with the fact that as an artist you’re gonna have to communicate with people more these days, some good, some bad, but you just need to get better at it. Try to be as professional as possible while also trying to be as “human” as you can when you interact with fans on the internet. Be open, listen to your fans, some will criticize you. Listen to constructive criticism and pay attention to what fans ask you for. Don’t just go around and start blocking people on twitter because they tell you “You’re not putting out music as good as you used to”, Yes, many people are disrespectful and just want to annoy you for their own pleasure…..Just ignore them, don’t get pulled into any silly mess by silly people on the internet.
13. GETTING UNCLE VEE AN INDUSTRY JOB 😀 : Yes! *Adjusts Neck Tie* I bring a level of professionalism that is…….OK, let’s just cut the cheesy interview pitch. If any of you Industry “Big Wigs” get your h̶a̶n̶d̶s̶ eyes on this, Dear Mr. Asika, Mr.Maikori, Mr. Demuren, Mr. Micheal Collins Ajere, Mr. Oyebanjo, Mr. WEST!….A brother needs a J-O-B. : ) (Forget the “Drunk “65% of the time” thing mentioned above abeg, I can work on that)….
Yours Truly, Vershima Inienger.