In June 2019, I went to shoot an unreleased BTS at the studio of one of Nigeria's prominent producers of the new school. We had just finished the shoot when the apprentice to a legendary Nigerian artist called this producer's manager to ask for a beat.
This producer's manager told this apprentice that his client would work on the beat and send it over. At that time, this producer already had two hits under his belt. When the producer's manager dropped the call, this producer's manager joked to him that, "When I ask am about the previous payment, him say make we work on top am (laughs)."
The producer then replied, "I for like nor send the beat, but wetin man go do?" When the conversation was over, I added two plus two and realized that the producer had made the last song that legend released. This led the music producer to get a deal with Kobalt.
The culture of artist entitlement towards producers in Nigerian music
In Nigerian music, artistes have a culture of entitlement and it runs deeper than anyone can imagine. Granted, certain artists don't have money to pay producers, but they are still entitled.
To the average Nigerian artiste, he is helping a producer by using his beat. To them, they are 'putting the producer on' by using his beat. The problem is that, when all artists think they're 'putting a producer on,' who will pay the producer?
Between 2008 and 2013, I was a producer. By 2010, I had started 'selling' my beats - or I wanted to. Yes, I was in my teens, but I never got paid by any Nigerian artist - not once. My fee at the time was just N5,000. The first time I got paid was $100 from a Detroit-based record company that gave me a production deal, I lost my mind.
The notoriety and success window for most producers is short - that's why I quit the job. It will shock you that some of Nigeria's biggest producers of the last decade cannot pay their own rent or afford basic amenities.
Some of them don't even own a car. Except you are Sarz, Don Jazzy, Shizzy, ID Cabasa or Gospel - who branched into playing live shows, 90% of your favourite producers are living below what they represent.
This is because artists use 'relationship' to cajole these producers, refuse to pay them their advance and royalties and then get angry when these producers ask for their payment.
Things have not changed - some of Nigeria's biggest music producers still have major problems. In 2019, Nigerian music producer, Northboi Oracle cried out on social media after Nigerian legend, Wizkid dragged his feet in paying the producer. You can read all about that HERE.
Eventually, before the song was released, Northboi got both his advance and split sheets. While Northboi has since, seemingly been blacklisted because he badmouthed the 'big bad wolf,' and his career now looks like a caricature of its potential, some Nigerians now say, Northboi was impatient.
To them, since Northboi eventually got paid for the one released song which was, 'Joro,' he would have been paid whenever the other songs he produced for Wizkid got released. That argument makes sense, but it's not foolproof.
Another school of thought argues that a producer should get paid his payment the moment an artist collects a beat and/or uses the beat. However, this polarizing conversation got lost in what rapper, Fresh L started on Twitter yesterday.
In the afternoon of March 3, 2020, the rapper took to his twitter and wrote, "U (You) enter studio w(ith) producer... before he even knack beat he’s talking about price. He’s tryna (trying to) give me his managers number... Nawa o! When I went to Pheelz house, he said we should create FIRST, the rest will fall into place later !!!! that shit moved me."
Even he couldn't have imagined the reaction that trailed that tweet. While his tweet housed the forgettable artist entitlement that has rendered the lives of Nigerian producers a nightmare, it also birthed two discussions that we all ignored;
- When should a producer ask to get paid?
- How should a producer be paid?
When should a producer be paid?
In advanced climes, producers get paid via advances and royalties. An advance is the producer's fee for taking his/her beat - usually, it also involves the cost of recording and/or studio maintenance. A producer spends money on his beatmaking apparatuses.
Royalties are the result of the use of the artist's beat for a released song. Record royalty for a music producer is about 4% of the record sales. This is equivalent to 20%-25% of what an artist earns on a record (single or album).
For example, when Northboi worked on Beyoncé's album, The Lion King: The Gift, he got paid $5,000 for his beats. When the album was set for release and one of his beats made the cut, he got split sheets that made sure he would get paid on that album for the rest of his life
Asides that, Northboi also gets royalties from Making The Gift documentary. That film documents the making of that album and Northboi didn't even feature in it.
While Fresh L sympathizers might argue that the said producer whom the rapper criticized shouldn't have led a creative process with issues of payment and they might have a point, the entitlement in Fresh L's tone is the problem.
It is the kind of tone that suggests that an artist is helping a producer by using his beat. There's also a reason why that 'upcoming producer' is discussing his payment - he doesn't want to end up like all the other producers.
It's almost like Nigerian artists don't realize that a producer is entitled to ask for his advance. In a dysfunctional industry like Nigeria's, it shouldn't be a problem that a producer is making an artist know that he won't give out free beats.
Yes realistically, a young and new producer might not get an advance as he tries to build a portfolio. But not asking for advance and relying on relationships is how Nigerian producers never get to ask for payment from some of their biggest clients.
It's also what fosters the culture of artist entitlement. If the artist won't pay an advance, he should pay a fee.
This then leads us to...
How should a producer get paid?
Yes, Fresh L's sympathizers might also argue that a producer shouldn't be discussing his payment by himself - he should have a management team that tracks that. They could also argue that a producer should only get paid his advance and given split sheets when a song is set for release.
They will have a point because sometimes, some beats are collected and recorded on, but they never get released. For example, DJ Snake's 'Lean On' was offered to both Rihanna and Nicki Minaj who toyed with the idea but ultimately dropped it. However, that's not the producer's problem. The producer has given an artist the beat.
How would the artiste feel if said producer gives that same beat to another artist? A Twitter rant will be the result of such. Thus, the only reasonable argument here is; should a producer negotiate deals by himself? Shouldn't he have a team for that?
Bella Alubo alluded to same and she had a point. However, there should not be a problem with a producer's request for his payment right there and then.
'Let me negotiate with your team' or 'let's talk after I drop this vibe' is how certain artists have gotten away with not paying producers. They lag and lag till postponement becomes empty bank accounts and unpaid rent.
Yes, a producer should should have a management team that negotiates deals on his behalf. However, an artist with a mindset of payment shouldn't have a problem with an apprehensive producer who takes matters into his own hands in Nigeria.
A compassionate artist will see things from the producer's perspective. On the other hand, an entitled artist who has been heavily defined by the culture of artist entitlement towards producers will pick offence.
Even if the artist doesn't have money to pay in that space because he's an upcoming artist, then he should be polite and beg the producer to wait for his advance and split sheets once the song is set for release - however, I won't advise any producer to do this, it's 2020.
Nonetheless, that 'when the song is set' works fantastically for Rexxie. In his words, "You can't let personal relationships hinder business. I don't negotiate deals with artists - when the song is set for release, my team will negotiate my payment and royalties. I get paid."
The culture of silence and sycophancy
As an aside, the case of Northboi shows that the culture of silence, indulgence and sycophancy is why Nigerian producers will continue to have this problem in Nigeria.
Since he had issues with Wizkid, the producer's once promising career has gone downhill. During the debacle, one of Nigeria's greatest producers even joined the bandwagon of subs against Northboi.
Killertunes failed to see the bigger picture and took side with Wizkid. Sarz then subtly hailed Killertunes. None of them saw the bigger picture and how Northboi was fighting for due process and better treatment of Nigerian producers.
Instead Northboi's fellow producers chose silence and indulged the erring artist who wouldn't have had a problem with such due process if it was about paying Metro Boomin in the US.
Northboi's fellow producers were probably even ignorant that Northboi was simply fighting for due process. Yes, it is understandable that in an industry like Nigeria's, a relationship with Wizkid is solid gold for people like Killertunes and Sarz.
But in the grand scheme, due process will pay them more than sycophancy ever will. In fact, they won't need to be sycophants if due process is established in this industry. Until producers start seeing the big picture and band together to establish an unassailable code, they will continue being sycophants.
For that, they will need an association and guidelines. But then, the big producers are too comfortable sucking up to big artists. It's not entirely their fault either because the bag must be secured.
While it's a complicated conversation, those producers also suffer from a lack of vision.