Around 5:00pm on November 24, 2019, I got a WhatsApp message from an industry OG. He is a journalist who now once ran his own studio in Benin City. He is also a PR Consultant and his name is Chuks.
Our conversation somehow reached the discussion of when an upcoming artist can request performance fees. After a few reluctant attempts and a busy schedule, here is my public take. Music is a business and an offspring of capitalism. Sometimes, it could be of altruistic leaning, but usually, it's about quid pro quo.
Music and quid pro quo
Labels sign artists because they want a share of the artist's potential, talent or existent market share/listenership. Artistes make music for the money. AS Jay Z said during his Breakfast Club interview, "If you don't do it for the money, then keep it in your family..."
While some will have objections, Reminisce hit the nail on the head on 'Faaji' by Falz, BOJ and Ajebutter22. He rapped, "I don't do it for the passion, I'm doing it for the money..." Some do it for the passion, but even those people expect some financial gratification.
As former Head of Editorial and Editor-In-Chief of Pulse Africa, Osagie Alonge always says, "It's good to have a passion. But should you go hungry for the rest of your life over passion?" He is not here to discuss this, but the simple answer is 'heck no!'
Asides artists and labels, music is big business. In the late 2000s, American artists generated a whopping revenue $27 billion. In 2019, Live Nation has generated over $8 billion from its touring investments - a 3% increase on year-ending June 2018 revenues. Asides that, other people who work in the industry rely on the money to go round.
Managers, Lawyers, business advisers, make-up artists, spiritual advisors and so forth all rely on the artist to make money. That's why the biggest acts are an oil rig for people with roles in their entire brand. In the year-ending June 2007, Forbes estimated the veteran producer, Scott Storch made over $6 million from direct beat sales.
He was charging a whopping $80, 000 per beat. Songwriters like Rico Love, Ester Dean, Dr. Luke and Stargate make money from their songwriting exploits. They don't have day jobs. In Nigeria, Northboi got paid $5,000 for his work on The Lion King: The Gift. Most producers now command between N100,000 and N1,000,000 depending on their track record.
In essence, this writer is saying, music is a multi-faceted business and it should be treated as such. But conversations then arise about when an upcoming act should start treating the music like a business? When should the artist start commanding performance fees?
First, who is an upcoming artist?
'Upcoming artist' is the most polarizing descriptive in Nigerian nigh global music. Creatives have a bloated opinion of self, so they want to be referred as something they're not. A lot of them also feel lile 'upcoming' is condescending. But sadly, you cannot be more than what you are.
'Upcoming' and 'fast-rising' are semantics. They both connote your lack of notoriety in the mainstream of any industry with consistent excellence over a period of time. You don't stop being an upcoming artist after your first hit. You might also still be an upcoming artist after your first year in the industry.
So in my opinion, a person will stop being an upcoming artist after they are able to consistently produce excellence over a period of 18 months to two years. That excellence will encompass music, branding, endorsement, touring and so forth.
Second, when can an artist then start branding himself?
Look, it is easy to say that an artist should start branding himself as an artist from the start. It is also easy to say that an artist should start commanding performance fees from the start. However, idealism is different from reality. That first two sentences of this paragraph represent idealism.
The reality is that; just like an artist will usually need to put out freemium music to garner a following that he can then use to pivot to premium music, an artist might need to graft before he can get a structure. The truth is, it's not set in stone. Some artists are lucky that from the virginal stages of their career - they have people who believe in them.
But for other people, they have to work before they can get the appropriate people behind them. However, it is advisable that an artist has a structure behind him from the moment he realizes he wants to make music for a living .
While speaking with Oye Akindeinde, the Chief Executive Officer of Symfy Nigeria on December 4, 2019, he says, "We have been trying to get young artists to realize the necessary things. The moment you realize you want a career in music, you need a structure behind you. The first thing you need is a team that consists of your Lawyer who could be your business manager, your manager, and your publicist - at least for a start."
Those people might not be suitable for you as you scale, but they will get you somewhere. The idea of a team enables an artist to squarely focus on the music while leaving expertise to the experts to get him the best deals possible. Of course, you can be a DIY expert like Atlanta rapper, Russ, but even Russ had people on his team during his DIY/Wolf era.
When should an artist demand performance fees?
The problem then with Nigerians is that we are both entitled and ignorant. We are also quite myopic. We advise artists to have a structure, but when it comes time to pay them, we behave like we are helping them. Part of helping an artist is paying them in cash or in tangible kind for their service to you.
Yes, like an artist will need to put out free music to garner a following and test the waters to find his/her sound, an artist might need to perform at free shows to get himself out here, create awareness for his/her music and improve his/her stage craft. In fact, almost all artists in the world performed free shows in the early stages of their career.
However, if an artist is not going to be paid for his performative services, he has to be the one who offers his services to a packed roster of performers as an afterthought. In those situations, the artist might not be able to demand performance fees.
But even in those situations, while the organizer might be under no obligation to pay the artist, he could pay the artist something for encouragement or for recognition of the blood, sweat and money he put into recording the music.
When a show organizer calls an artist to come perform at his show, it means he recognizes that the artist has something worth seeing. It is also a subtle recognition of that upcoming artist's music and stage craft. More importantly, it also means that such show organizer recognizes that the artist has something that his crowd might or would want to see.
In that case, the show organizer is not helping the artist. The best case scenario for that stingy show organizer is that the both he and the artist are helping each other. However, the artist didn't offer, the show promoter reached out. In that case, the artist must demand his fees and be paid his fees. If the artist also requires the show organizer to speak with his team, then so be it.
It doesn't mean an artist is big-headed, it means the artist is organized. If you can't deal with the hassle, then please go and pay Davido.
This story will get a lengthy feature in January 2020. It will document the plight of five upcoming acts in Nigeria.