Sony Music. That name represented more to African artists than many others.
Their incursion into the Nigerian market was hailed and welcomed unanimously by the music industry. For many, this represented the breaking of a glass ceiling. African music has always had the potential to attract the biggest investors and play at the biggest stages. But Sony represented the manifestation of that.
Or so they thought.
Two years later from when they first opened their office in Lagos, the reverse is the case. Sony Africa, have offered almost nothing of value to African artist on the continent. And when they have tried to export talent, they have done it wrongly, or bungled it up.
Davido & "Son Of Mercy"
“First of all, I didn’t even want to take the deal because I didn’t need it,” said a rueful Davido in 2017. “I was doing tours all over Africa with 50,000 to 80,000, people so it was like why am I signing the deal?”He told Guardian.
Davido was signed in January 2016 to a string of press releases and hype. The statement from the music body revealed that the deal represented a step forward for Sony Music Entertainment as it grows its roots in Africa.
The deal announced Sony’s official presence in Lagos, Nigeria, and verified Sony Music Entertainment's decision to pursue new business via the introduction of on-the-ground operating entities in an expanded number of markets in the region. According to the company, the timing of the decision is based on the convergence of a number of positive indicators in Africa's economy and positive signs in the music industry. Davido was a shining example of this.
Sean Watson, Managing Director, Sony Music Entertainment Africa stated, "Working with incredible talent like Davido heralds a new era for Sony Music Entertainment Africa on the continent. We couldn't be prouder of our partnership with Davido and we are extremely keen to support his vision to succeed at the highest level in our industry."
All of this was just the first shot at domination. Sony Music has since stepped into various countries, snapping up talents.
But Davido wasn’t happy. The singer’s deal with them required that he made music a certain way, which robbed him of his creative freedom. Prior to Sony, the singer had plans to record and release his sophomore studio album, “Baddest.” After spending 8 months recording in the US, with cosigns from Young Thug, the singer grew restless. Sony eventually released their first African body of work, a 6-track EP titled “Son Of Mercy.”
The EP was a critical failure. Armed with lead singles ‘How long’ featuring US singer Tinashe, and the faux-patois ‘Gbagbe oshi’, it was met with resistance fresh out the block.
“They tried to fix me up with a producer and I decided to come home, but I’m still signed to them, it’s going good. They have realized how much potential is here because even when I am all over the world it is my African songs that even the oyibo people f*** with,” Davido said.
What this essentially meant was that for Davido, one of their flagship projects, he wasn’t doing it their way. In December 2016, he would later renegotiate and amend his contract with Sony, which gave him creative freedom back home. The result of this was phenomenal. Davido had his best year in 2017, winning the Best African Artist on numerous platforms, including the MOBO and a hat-trick of awards at the Soundcity MVP Awards.
Turns out Davido didn’t need Sony for anything on the continent.
Wizkid & Sounds From The Other Side
Davido's colleague and arch-rival, Wizkid, also got a deal. After speculations all through 2016, Wizkid’s signing with was announced. Breaking the news exclusively to Billboard on March 1, 2017, Sony informed the world of a ground-breaking signing
The Nigerian star signed a multi-album worldwide deal with RCA Records/Sony Music International.
"It’s hard for me to describe what I do, since I work with rhythms from Afro-Beat, reggae, hip-hop, dance hall and others," WizKid told Billboard in a statement. "What’s important to me is for music to be real, authentic, raw and timeless. I don’t wanna be boxed in to any one genre."
RCA Records chairman and CEO Peter Edge added: "We are thrilled to welcome Wizkid to the RCA Records family. He has become a superstar in the African music scene and will be a game-changer in bringing African music to the world. We are extremely excited to have him as a part of RCA and are eager for the journey ahead."
In July 2017, Wizkid, dropped the first album, “Sounds From The Other Side.” The 12-track project released by RCA featured collaborations with Trey Songz, TY Dolla Sign, Bucie, Major Lazer, Drake and Chris Brown, alongside production from Sarz, Diplo, Picard Brothers, Spellz, DJ Mustard and more.
According to information gotten from Chart Data, a music statistics company in the US which collates data from various sources to provide figures from album sales, Wizkid’s “Sounds From The Other Side” didn’t fare too well in the US.
According to data gotten from Chart Data, “Sounds From The Other Side” sold a meagre 6,286 units in its first week in the US. That’s broken down into 2,672 pure album purchase, 6,079 song downloads, 4,510,897 song streams. All of these make up the first week sales for Wizkid.
How important are an album's first-week sales? In the first calendar year of an album's release, first-week sales accounted for 24.5% of an album's sales in 2010, according to Nielsen. That was up from 22.8% in 2009, 22.1% in 2008, 20.4% in 2007 and 18.6% in 2005.
So, in the true sense of it, Wizkid’s ‘Sounds From The Other Side’, didn’t pull enough numbers from the other side.
That album was never marketed in Africa, or designed from Africans. The press rounds for the project took Starboy across the US and Europe. He was plugged into the media PR machine, and he had features and interviews from London to New York. His album listening/release parties and sessions held in London and New York. Nothing came to Africa. Wizkid has never talked about that album on the African continent. And it didn’t get plugged in here.
With a lack of promotion in Africa, and a blatant refusal to make it a priority, Wizkid’s career back home took a dip. Although he would later end up with the MOBO win for Best International Act, only ‘Come closer’ made a dent back home.
And to get his groove back on the continent, he had to circumvent his Sony deal via using Mutay of Legendury Beatz to release ‘Manya’. The record was literally his saving grace in 2017.
In 2018, so far he’s focusing on Africa and teasing new material for the local market. Sony would have to do with promoting the album he gave to them in 2017.
Ycee and Distribution Saga
Ycee’s deal with Sony Music Africa is a classic case of how Sony Music can do very little for an artist in Africa.
Tinny Entertainment, the record label which is home to Ycee, Bella Alubo and Dapo Tuburna have terminated their distribution deal with Sony Music Entertainment Africa.
The label announced the termination of their contract via a statement published on their official; website. The statement signed by the label’s management states that “we are the sole owners of the copyright in any and all of our music and can exploit our music on any and every platform.”
Read The Full Statement:
Tinny Entertainment signed a license and distribution deal with Sony Africa for the distribution of some of YCEE’s music globally, in the hope that SONY AFRICA would take their music to the next level.
“We would like to state officially that we terminated our contract with SONY through our lawyers, Olaniwun Ajayi LP, by a letter dated 5 December 2017. Henceforth, we are the sole owners of the copyright in any and all of our music and can exploit our music on any and every platform. We have realized that it is best to undertake the distribution of our records by ourselves, as a Record Label and that Made in Nigeria across board, is the only way to be above board.”
As a Label, we are pushing out great music this year starting with “Say Bye Bye,” “I Wish” and our YCEE and Bella Collabo EP, “Late Night Vibrations.”
We thank you for the love!
On October 21, 2016, Ycee, via Tinny Entertainment signed an exclusive deal with Sony Music Entertainment in South Africa.
According to Sony Music, the deal saw the rapper’s first EP, “The First Wave” released under the label in 2017. Michael Ugwu, General Manager, Sony Music West Africa said: “I'm extremely proud to welcome Tinny Entertainment and the amazing talent that is Ycee to the Sony Music Entertainment West Africa family."
He said he had monitored Ycee’s growth over the year and he was the future of hip-hop in Africa. "I've watched this team grow over the past few years and I am amazed at how they have navigated the industry to reach this stage.
"Ycee is the future of hip-hop in Africa and we will be front and centre of SME West Africa's strategy as we take Africa to the world," Ugwu said.
The Nigerian rapper took to twitter to point fingers at the label’s executive Michael Ugwu, alleging that he is “eating everyone’s money.”
Ugwu who tweets via his @iam_magicmike account is also the founder of FreemeDigital, a digital distribution company which describes itself as “Nigeria’s foremost online digital music distribution network with a growing array of artists, labels, comedians and content creators across the region on our platform with radio rights to all content licensed.”
It all began when Ugwu quoted a portion of Dremo’s ‘Ojere’ song for a tweet which read as: “Nigga ask about me nigga ask about me...I'm a hustler am a am a hustler”
Ycee quoted the tweet and created a thread filled with allegations of fraud, theft and deception. “That's what you call what you be doing to artists now ay?” he replied to Ugwu’s ‘hustle’ tweet.
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From there things went very accusatory, fast. Ycee indirectly accused Michael Ugwu of ripping artists off via digital music distribution and streaming.
“Ever wondered why these execs running digital sharing companies live like they signed all the artistes?” Ycee asked. “Cos they eating everyone's [money].”
“ wassup! How's business? Booming? You milked anyone new lately????? Oh and don't forget More like slavery digital No wonder yall always smiling in that office,” Ycee tweeted with a crying emoji.
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In 2016, following its business deal with Davido, Sony Music Global (Sony Music Entertainment) extended its business operations to Nigeria. The music corporation opened an office in Lagos. To serve as a bureau for its West African operations. Michael Ugwu, who was the former CEO of Music Company, iROKING, was named as the General Manager of West Africa.
In October 2016, Ycee signed an exclusive deal with Sony Music Entertainment to release the rapper’s debut EP, “The First Wave”. Ugwu who brokered the deal and was pictured with Ycee at the signing had glowing words of praise. "Ycee is the future of hip-hop in Africa and we will be front and centre of SME West Africa's strategy as we take Africa to the world," Ugwu said in a press release about the deal.
Less than a year since the ink on that deal went dry, and Ycee took shots at Ugwu’s job at Sony Music. “@iam_magicmike "I run Sony music west Africa" running it to where? Running it straight into the ground! And you don't even give half a shit!”
“Funny how we all know these niggaz ain't straight and we just keep quiet... meanwhile they raping us in silence. Omo nawa o. Don't even know how this dream started and you just wanna reap completely of man’s hardwork and sweat? God forbid!”
Michael Ugwu later repsonded to Ycee. In a series of tweets, the music executive indirectly declared his innocence, and explained more legal means of resolving disputes rather than social media. check out the tweets below.
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On January 29, 2018, YCEE released a collabo EP with label mate Bella Alubo titled 'Late Night Vibrations'.
Pulse has reached out to Sony Music Entertainment Africa for comments. None has been offered.
Strategy Problems And More
Sony Music hasn’t exactly found a way to operate on the local terrain and provide value for themselves and for the artists where it matters. The Nigerian music industry, and by extension, Africa, is different from the familiar and structured European and American markets. Down here, the metrics are different, the numbers are calculated differently, and distribution is mostly mobile and digital.
Sony failed to crack this initially, for a very long time.
In 2015, Sony Music showed up at the door steps of our continent with fresh new deals and a desire to do business with the top acts from Nigeria.
This move was happily embraced by the A-list stars who had achieved everything that there is on the continent, and had become jaded. They had already started hungering for the goodies that lay across the oceans and different markets.
The US market, which is one of the biggest music markets on the continent was always the Holy Grail of the markets. Everyone wanted a piece of the cake, a share of the spoils, and for our artistes, a stab at that glory.
These markets didn’t just feed their vanity and caressed their ego, if properly done right, it was a profound business opportunity for all the artistes who wanted to go through the glass ceiling and strong doors that held them back.
Sony Music provided a glimpse of that opportunity, wielding tailor-made contracts that were designed for every artiste and every level. Ayo Jay had a deal that was designed to amplify and generate profit for his buzzing single ‘Your Number’. Davido was put on a recording deal, Wizkid has similar, Tekno’s was designed for a three-single recording deal, Ycee got contracted to release his EP with them.
While it appears to be great news that these artistes are signed to international deals, they are also giving up certain parts of their business. They are losing millions in local streaming revenue.
The Nigerian music industry is run on an independent structure, which gives our artistes flexibility and control over their music. We could sign deals with anyone and everyone, depending on what they were bringing to the table. We could also freely compete locally and on the continent, distribute our music to wherever we want it to hit, and more.
Our artists lose all of that freedom and flexibility when they sign to an organized label structure. They are now bound by numerous rules, contracts and deals from the parent body. This gives them zero control over their music. From the recording process, down to the way the music is distributed and listened.
For distribution, they are still selling their music in the global digital stores and streaming platforms such as iTunes, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify and others, just as they were before the Sony deal.
But Davido and Wizkid didn't get to sell their music in the local markets and platforms for a long time after they penned deals. Davido’s ‘Son Of Mercy’ EP or any of its singles couldn't be found be found on MTN Music Plus, for many months, neither did Wizkid’s ‘Daddy Yo’ appear. The same thing happening for Ycee’s 2016 single ‘Link up’, which was his first release under Sony Music Africa.
Without the ability to sell their music in the local market, these Sony Artistes lost millions in local revenue.
Digital music downloads and streaming in Nigeria is the most favorable source of revenue for local musicians. A report by auditing firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) in 2015 said revenue from music sales in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, was $56 million that year, and predicted it would grow to $88 million in 2019.
PwC also said Nigeria's entertainment and media industry had an estimated total revenue of $4.8 billion in 2015 and was likely to grow to $8.1 billion in 2019, making it "the fastest-expanding major market globally".
Ringback caller tones currently generate at least a third more revenue for Nigerian artistes, than streaming on global digital stores.
But Sony Music artists are missed out on that for a while.
Michael Ugwu, general manager for Sony Music Entertainment West Africa, told Reuters in 2016, that Sony Music is working on setting up partnership deals in Nigeria with telecoms companies MTN, Airtel and Etisalat [ETELZS.UL] since opening an office in commercial capital Lagos in February 2016.
But that deal wasn't completed for many months.
This is because Sony Music was still stuck on working out a deal with the local telecommunication companies, and they are pushing for a new model for revenue sharing in the local markets. Being an international record label, with a huge catalogue of the greatest artistes, they believe they are in a strong position to influence that, and get a better deal than the local players.
A staff of a local streaming service who spoke to Pulse on condition of anonymity, revealed that Sony’s proposal is still in the pipeline. “They are looking to change the established dynamics of revenue sharing of the system, and these things will take more than just meetings.”
The conversations on the deals have dragged on forever, and until they were sorted, Nigerian artistes forfeited that revenue stream. This meant no caller ring-back tunes (CRBT) and others.
Also, there was the small matter of promotion on social media. Facebook has developed an automated system to identify and remove copyrighted content, much like YouTube’s Content ID. This has majorly affected fan-made cover versions, whose creators are unlikely to have cleared their use with songwriters and publishers.
With Sony Music looking out for use of their material online, Nigerian artistes signed to them had to forfeit organic promotion via social media. Instagram and Facebook flagged videos that contain parts of their music. So also did Youtube, and generally every other platform where fans can show love and spread the word about the music.
“Sony Music is still working its way up to operate at the local level in Nigeria. That’s why they don’t have these deals which would help give their artistes more leverage”, an industry insider who asked not to be named said.
So yes, our artistes signed a deal with an international music giant. But by signing on to these contracts, they are lost the ability to operate at numerous local levels, for a while and also losing millions in local streaming revenue.
Patnerships and revision of their models for Africa would work. While they have sorted local distribution on their end, they still cannot provide African artists with any true value on the continent. Their initial allure was the promise of blowing an African artist in the US and other markets.
This hasn't happened for Wizkid and Davido, their experimental guinea pigs. Although they made efforts and did their leg-work, the first projects didn't exactly catch fire. instead, the artists are still prominent in the African communities, where they can grow and maintain their profile without Sony's help.
Without a clear success story with their African prospects, local artists are beginning to grow wary of these deals. They can plug themselves in the same places that Sony can, and push their music with the same energy and investment. Why exacly do they need these deals?
"They do nothing for you that you can't do for yourself. Instead they just offer you money and tie you down," a popular Nigerian artist who declined the use of his name for this story said.
What Sony needs is a total revamp of their strategy. African musicians have lost the novel feeling that the record label provided. And as the projects go by, and the successes aren't recorded, with the numbers not impressive, creatives understand that conquering the local market is best done with a local team. Not a major player.