Songwriting in Nigeria has been a very sensitive topic. The Nigerian music industry, with its unstructured copyright laws and lack of publishing, does not encourage it.
“A song I wrote for @iam_Davido drops tomorrow!! S/O to OBO for giving young writers like my self a chance!! I can't wait for y'all to hear "Like Dat" Another Monster Hit,” She tweeted.
The reaction to the tweet was instant and polarized. Nigerians were divided on her declaration. Many congratulated her for her efforts in working with Davido and penning a record for him. Others attacked her for jumping the gun, instead of waiting for the singer to make the announcement himself.
Elsewhere, a conversation raged among a set of Nigerian fans, who questioned Davido’s skill level in creating records. Many argued that his work can’t be rated as a success if he has external penmanship from a number of songwriters. Although Davido has not acknowledged Teni, the full writing credits of the song reveal that she was a composer, alongside Davido himself, Ayoola Agboola, Adeniran Adetunji, and Oluwaseyi Adekunle.
This isn’t the first time Davido is working with external contributors to make records. The singer has a history of contracting people to make records for him. The hook for ‘Pere’, his collaboration with Young Thug and Rae Sremmund, was written by Dammy Krane. ‘Gobe’, one of his greatest hit records, was written by a producer named Password. In 2016, his song ‘Gbagbe oshi’, was a record from General Pype. Also, there are unconfirmed reports that Tekno was heavily involved in the songwriting process for 2017’s smash hit record ‘If’.
During an interview with Kiddominant, the producer behind ‘Fall’, Davido’s songwriting process was revealed as hands-on. He writes his records but also contracts people who can properly coin his ideas into words, and credit them. Davido has never argued about this or engaged the people belittling his professional success. Instead, on occasion, he offers credits via social media, publicly declaring that music for him is a business, and he employs people to help complement his efforts with their writing.
This willingness to admit to using songwriters is rare in this market. Davido is almost the only the only Nigerian pop star who admits to this. Elsewhere 2face Idibia and Blackface are still battling over songwriting credits and publishing royalties. Blackface who was the leader of the defunct pop group Plantashun Boiz, was their chief penman. He is credited with being the writer of ‘African Queen’, and also contributed lyrics to 2face Idibia’s ‘Let somebody love you’, featuring Bridget Kelly.
“2Baba and Blackface do have a bunch of songs they co-wrote in their days as Plantashun Boiz. Both artists have collectively and individually recorded and commercially released materials from this collection,” Says 2baba’s manager, Efe Omoregbe in a press statement released as a reaction to one of Blackface’s claims.
One of Nigeria’s most popular songwriters is Omolara Ayodele. The graduate of Philosophy who is also a recording artist, has written and co-written hit songs for many Nigerian artists. Her credits include Praiz’s ‘Rich and famous’, Timi Dakolo’s ‘Iyawo mi’, and a number of records for Chidinma, Bez and Asa.
Songwriting is one of the important parts of the music business. A songwriter is a professional who is paid to write lyrics and melodies for songs, typically for popular music genres. A songwriter can also be called a composer. The pressure from the music industry to produce popular hits means that songwriting is often an activity for which the tasks are distributed between a number of people. For example, a songwriter who excels at writing lyrics might be paired with a songwriter with the task of creating original melodies. Pop songs may be written by group members from the band or by staff writers – songwriters directly employed by music publishers. Some songwriters serve as their own music publishers, while others have outside publishers.
“The demand placed on top musicians is crazy,” says Ogaga Sakpaide, a music critic, and PR executive. “They travel between countries on the regular, perform at countless shows. When they finally get free space, they are too tired to connect to their creative parts. That’s why songwriters are needed.”
In the USA and Europeean markets, this is an acceptable practice. Major labels and publishing houses recruit songwriters to pen records for their signed artists. Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’, was written by Sia. PartyNextDoor was the writer of 2017’s smash hit, ‘Wild thoughts’, a record owned by DJ Khaled, and performed by Rihanna, and Bryson Tiller. Elsewhere, Bruno Mars co-wrote Ceelo Green’s hit record ‘Fuck you.’
Songwriting in Nigeria has been a very sensitive topic. The Nigerian music industry, with its unstructured copyright laws and lack of publishing, does not encourage it. Although many songwriters exist, rarely are they ever credited or earn royalties from their records.
Nigerian artists regularly fail to publicly recognize the input of songwriters for their records. Rapper A-Q puts the decision on the shoulders of the fans who regularly shame musicians for seeking help to improve their craft.
“It’s because of the fans. Nigerian fans attack people on social media too much. They call you lazy, they call you undeserving. It’s not been a part of the culture, so they need education. They will make you look stupid,” A-Q says.
A huge factor in this is the Nigerian mentality that people won’t rate and respect an artist if they share credits with anyone. It’s a mentality that originated from the popular fan-conversations, and reinforced by the musicians themselves. Davido has routinely been shamed by fans on social media, over his decision to employ and credit songwriters.
“Nigerians don’t love to share the glory with anyone else,” says producer Dapiano, who created the beat for 2baba’s ‘Gaga Shuffle’. “They don’t want people to get credits for any part of the records and so they don’t give credits. But you also have to understand too that many of them can write, and they can’t sing or record something that someone else wrote.”
Ezegozie Eze, who is the General Manager for Universal Music Nigeria, believes that the problems of songwriting in Nigeria are the fault of the artists and the songwriters. “The artists don’t understand the way the global industry works. And also, the songwriters are not demanding credits. Many don’t even know that they have to discuss publishing instead of one-off payments,” he says.
One reason why songwriters deserve credits and more is the area of publishing. This is where songwriters who own their copyright cash out heavily.
Songwriters can sign to publishing houses to manage their royalties. If you are a songwriter and you have a publishing deal, the music publishing companies will manage your songs and make sure that all of the royalties to which you are entitled are being collected. They will usually actively move to make your songs "work harder." In exchange, the music publisher will get a cut of income generated by your songs.
“Some Nigerian songwriters get this memo, while others simply don’t. There is an increasing awareness of it,” says Fawehinmi ‘Foza’ Oyinkansola, an Entertainment lawyer and managing partner at Technolawgical Partners. “My worry is that they know but they don’t understand the specific details of these deals. I have worked with people who have written for the biggest stars, and although it took a while to sign, we did. People are aware now.”
A very popular producer and songwriter who requested that his name is left out of the story, revealed that he never works on any record without signing the necessary papers and involving his lawyers for publishing. “I can’t produce and write songs forever, so these things are what I can make money from in my old age. You never know where your record would be used commercially, and you need to cash out.”
As the Nigerian music industry grows, more songwriters are demanding more than just credits. They want a part of the publishing pie.
Education is the most basic solution of this. Music industry practitioners, the talents, producers, songwriters and stakeholders need to be properly aware of international best practices. They have to adapt it and find solutions to the problem.
“Full on education,” says Universal Music Nigeria GM, Ezegozie Eze. “We need to publicly celebrate and showcase songwriters who have made wealth from writing songs for artists. Also songwriters need to acquire knowledge to understand that one-off payments isn’t the end of it. They need to demand for publishing and credits, so they can get royalties. Award shows too have to be inclusive of writers, and celebrate songwriters for penning records for other artists.”
Another solution is the formalisation of songwriting, the formation of cooperate societies and unions to protect the rights of songwriters. Nigeria needs a body of songwriters that can collective enhance their position, and create standards and rules for engagement.
A-Q says: “Songwriters should form a coalition, make it a profession and educate the public. Artists should come out more. More songwriters should pitch their music to people who are losing direction, and can’t make great hits. A lot more should step out.”
For Teni, who was instrumental in the creation of Davido’s ‘Like dat’, Nigerians simply need to advance in thought and understand this.
“Greatness is a collective effort! Rihanna, Michael Jackson and all the greatest artists of all time have writers! It's time for Nigeria to embrace this!” She tweeted.