New Age

The New Age needs to throw away the outdated rule book

Nothing works the way it should in Nigeria, nothing. Not even amateur music. Elsewhere amateur music is a cutthroat business with young, talented and ambitious musicians ruthlessly mowing down the competition on their way to nab that all elusive record deal. No better subculture illustrates this than battle rapping, a subset of hip-hop that consists almost exclusively of emerging rappers publicly decimating their rivals for the entertainment of an audience whose loyalty has to be won with skill and ruthlessness. This phenomenon spans across most genres, especially pop, which considering its commerciality and simplified lyrics and melodies should be encouraging of acceptance. The reality however is the pop-stan wars, rivalries endorsed by emerging pop stars so ruthless, people have been bullied into depression and self harm for deigning to question the supremacy of their idol.

In the Nigerian music industry what we have instead is a weird potpourri of emerging musicians, all aggressively forming collectives and communes, super groups and bands, publicly supporting each other, collaborating, endorsing the very people with whom they struggle for relevance. Many argue that this camaraderie (especially in Lagos, the country’s musical capital) is the result of privilege. Many of these new generation musicians are upper middle class and grew up as the first generation to grow up under the watchful eye of the internet and have come to equate the fleeting familiarity that having social media mutuals and sharing a pop culture canon tends to lend to new interactions. We cannot say for sure that is true, or even why, but we can say that it isn’t entirely why. This is what we think.

For one, there really aren’t any traditional record deals in Nigeria, proper legal contracts negotiated extensively between a singer’s agent and an interested record company. What exists in lieu of a record deal is either the exploitative ‘sale’ deals that the distributors like AHBU ventures of old offered artists like Psquare and M.I back in the day, buying off the rights to reproduce their music for a lump sum with the added threat of pirating the music if it isn’t distributed by their channels. Then there were the exploitative 360 deals often offered by record companies forbidding signees the ability to enter into independent endorsement contracts without remitting a good percentage of all revenue made during the duration of their contracts to their labels.

Without the lure of a label to sign to, there is simply no urgency for any emerging artist to find representation. Without representation and the guidance a label brings, these artists have had to look sideways for help navigating Nigeria’s volatile music space. These communes are working, for now. Singers like Odunsi The Engine, Ozzy B, Tay Iwar and Nonso Amadi (the literal vanguard of the New Age) have found international acclaim via the now popular streaming services, popping up on international charts they would have only dreamed about a decade ago. And in their own way, they are carrying their collectives along with them, sharing their music, featuring in their projects, harnessing the power of social media as a marketing tool. However, the New Age is getting it wrong in one vital way. They are still obsessed with traditional music distribution methods.

In Nigeria ‘no one’ pays for music. The numbers are probably closer to ten to one, when it comes to who buys music and who doesn’t.

The reasons for this are legion; piracy, poor distribution networks, misunderstandings between producers and artists, access to the internet. But the biggest disincentive for buying music is the disconnect between artist and fan. Our popular musicians are proficient at cloning trendy sounds/genres, with the speed and precision that is akin to piracy. There is little backstory, no personal connection or universal themes (other than big butts) that fans can latch on to and make the music their own.

Many of our hit songs are pretty much indistinguishable from one another and often musicians find that their fandoms are fickle, demanding that they jump trends with ease or get dumped for younger shinier versions of themselves willing to do what is needed to keep Nigerians dancing. This urgency means that albums are usually rushed and unremarkable, and singles are often dated by the period in which they were released. There are no classic albums from contemporary Nigerian musicians (save for 2face’s Grass to Grace and M.I’s Short Black Boy). If we are only chasing singles that lose replay value once the trend shifts from Afrobeats to hip-life, why should anyone spend their hard earned money buying it.

This is why it makes no sense that the New Age artists are also churning out individual singles, released arbitrarily by the truck load. The audience is too conditioned to seek illegal music and consume it as a perishable to get the cultural impact these artists are aiming for with their music. The fact that these singles are primarily released on streaming platforms like Soundcloud and Spotify doesn’t help either. It perpetuates the presumption that music should be ‘free’ and keeps the New Age artists in the red.

If Ed Sheeran’s % and Drake’s More LIfe have taught us anything, it is this, albums make more sense as an artist than singles, more songs means more opportunities to gain streaming revenue and find audiences, it means more avenues to reach and court audiences and it means more money. It also means more material to perform live. Offline interaction the form of concerts, performances and tours is how artists will sustain fandoms in the age of streaming, and the New Age artists, many of whom who have been active for more than a year only have a handful of singles to their names, some even as little as a feature on another musician’s song, withholding music from audiences as part of an elaborate roll out plan doesn’t work. It also doesn’t bode well if opportunities to perform present themselves and artists simply don’t have enough material to justify themselves a spot. How do you build a fandom if you don’t have any music to offer them.

Music has evolved and our New Age needs to not only evolve with it, they need to design the evolution to suit the musical future they see for themselves. They can only do that if they forgo the conventional

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  • Adoga Jeffery

    Good article Edwin.
    I think creating groups and communities among friends with common interests and goals can very much helpful, but equally have the potential to do even more damage if there is no transparent competition involved. If there is little or no challenge, eventually there would be lack improvements in their work.

    Also, I’m glad we’ve gone past the age of falling for threats of piracy, with the availability of digital platforms that aid in distribution and sales of musical content. But as you have it, not many are aware that they can make moves as an independent party; having only to partner with distribution agencies like MCOMM, Terragon, Betazoo etc, if need be, and generate revenue from digital sales. I have listened to Odunsi, Tay & Co., and i was pleased to find their works on monetized streaming platforms, also doing very well if i might add.

    And to the privileged new generation of musicians are aware enough to take advantage of internet resources (popular streaming platforms); well enough to create necessary buzz and organically grow a fanbase before any chances of promotion come, it is only fair that the music they put out is worth its value. Put into consideration that these are creative minds with a conscious logic towards the activities of the country and the world as a whole. They must do their part to send the message accurately to their listeners, no matter how small. A retweet and a repost can go a long way. Nothing is stays hidden on the internet.

    A question, how do you think our popular musicians are handling the rapid emergence of new age concepts and sounds?

  • 1/2 man, 1/2 amazing

    This article is interesting and revealing but also greatly flawed and I’ll explain…

    Edwin’s analogy of indie artists stampeding established acts and getting their due elsewhere is alarmingly flawed. It’s untrue. It’s a misconception created and sold by the Majors as part of Thor ploy to control or get a chunk of indie movements in different ways or forms as it’s still evolving.

    Read on Chance the Rappers expose after the Grammys. He was paid half a million dollars by Apple Music for coloring book. These ‘indie’ artists he’s lauding still use the help of the majors in one way or the order. So basically, you claim you’re indie but need or use major label infrastructure (advances, publishers, distribution, marketing and press, radio etc) for ‘success’, that’s a scam or a farce… flip it whatever way you want to. IT ISNT INDIE… at least not yet. I’ll explain further.

    P.S. Also read about Chance the Rapper (and many other indie artists around the globe and even more so in our part of the world) refusing to pay/ compensate his producers (in the hiphop sense, the beat maker or co-writer who is legally entitled to own 50% of the music BY LAW) and collaborators and the lawsuits and compensations etc. Can one truly be successful when the numbers they rope in are in reality just ‘half’ because that half belongs to somebody else who you refuse to compensate either deliberately or out of ignorance?… the numbers WERE skewed.

    Apple is the largest retailer of digital content on planet earth; music, books and film. Go figure. They’re the vanguard of Major presence in the digital era. It’s not debatable.

    Also your analogy of a lack of originality or the sameness in today’s music is def ONE of several factors responsible for decline in music buying culture, but certainly one of the major factors; however, albums ARE NOT the solution…
    solutions must be Artist-specific. Part of the sameness you speak about is also as a result of mimicry (style, format, marketing etc).
    In the digital era, it’s easy to create or express ideas or self more easily than it ever was at any time in history… very empowering!; however, like everything else, there are always consequences. Fewer people are skilled musically and tend to limit their expression to using similar or similar sounding software and computer programs further relying on pre-defined algorithms to express their ideas; don’t get me wrong, learning to play an instrument won’t guarantee you’ll be better at expressing yourself compared to someone who doesn’t have formal training but it definitely opens up a lot of possibilities for someone who is creative and that can make a major difference… Artistes today are NOT developed enough and just ride a wave because they drop a couple singles and become an Instagram sensation… there’s a whole lot to that!.

    And to focus on the album… it’s one of the solutions… or maybe not. This must be tailored to the artist and not just treated as the ‘magic button’ to salvage bad record sales.
    Yes, an album takes a lot of skill and expertise to put together and is slowly becoming a dying artform as it must be sequenced, arranged to be more than a ‘mixtape’ or a random grouping of tracks but must take the listener on a journey. In context of the creative or artistic vision. Highs and lows, plateaus and peaks… That takes a lot of experience and skill for everyone involved in the process… and money
    The artists don’t make money… how can they put an album together? Many can’t even afford the time in discipline and practice to perfect their act and concentrate on putting out singles (or EPs or Albums) of high quality etc?

    Edwin used ed Sheran and drake as examples to validate his point which defeats the reason for writing the article meant to address the ‘new age’ or specifically indie artists: These two acts are signed to two of the largest majors in the world. They have entire corporations behind the funding, development, creation and marketing of their projects… Not to mention that they’ve been at t for at about 6 or so years churning out fairly great material relentlessly Touring, putting out press releases Etc and so developing an organic global grassroots following… Not just going ‘Viral’. Infact, let me further elaborate that personally, I followed ed Sherans concerts and bootleg tapes before he was signed to a label. When he was still a busker and had a following to stage shows, venues were usually overbooked and a few times, permits had to be acquired to allow fans who couldn’t make it into the venues to experience it outside with huge LED screens… why wouldn’t a label want to affiliate with such power which was achieved as a result of hard work, dedication and a plan that took years!. This was at least 6 years ago. I witnessed it personally.

    That amount of dedication and building of an underground following for years while maintaining a pretty solid back catalogue or repertoire takes time. And hard work. And dedication. And commitment. And A PLAN!. How many of our new age artistes know music business?, how many are truly committed and sacrifice of a chunk of their time in their waking life to improve or develop their skill as artist’s?. I work with and have worked with a great many in the past and the numbers aren’t impressive. Most are just blinded by the glamour, want to avoid hard work and discipline or ‘structure’ and gravitate towards cheap thrills… music and music business is hard work. A lot of it. Many major label artists don’t feel as much pressure but the pressure to make sales to balance sheets (or pay an advance back to the label) but a lot of the pressure is absorbed by the team… a team sometimes in the thousands all around the world. Indie artists and major artists who do music for the love without compromise on quality hardly sleep irrespective of the size of their team or how successful they are…

    Edwin did have a point of mentioning that without a repertoire, it’s not likely to get bookings etc.

    True!.

    I saw one of artist’s you mentioned perform live in Ghana and it was a disaster. It reminded me of entertainment nights when I was in secondary school. If the ‘new age’ (I’m not particularly fond of this title… I’ll save my reasons for a later thread.) must take the world stage, we must know that artistes are multi-faceted and development must also reflect that.

    An artist may get streaming numbers and be shortlisted on beats radio/ Apple Music and that’s major!. Super super major especially for an indie artiste from these parts but make no mistake, someone on their team is doing something right to complement their fresh sound. It could be a tireless manager, sibling or friend loosing sleep for months with A PLAN, or even better, expertise or familiarity with music businesss and some music business connects. ALL or MOST of what I just typed ARE true. They worked for it. Add the fact that ‘afrobeats’ (I again hate this title as it’s stupidly misleading) is the new inspiration in pop culture in the U.K. And some parts of North America making it ever so easier for myopic label heads to once again appreciate African music… music they’ve exploited for almost a century.

    As Stated earlier, these artists will need more material to make sense of all this attention and success soon enuff. The artists have to be ready and developed for this spotlight, else, the bricks may easily come tumbling down when fans see them perform live. It’s one thing to enjoy their studio recordings at home and an entirely different thing to see these ‘new age’ artist’s perform live… I won’t pay to see most. I’ll be happy with a Spotify or SoundCloud link for now… this can be borderline problematic when downloads are almost a thing of the past, physical copies don’t sell, music business infrastructure is nothing but a fairytale and streaming proceeds are pitiful… one of the surest ways of sustenance and economic empowerment for artists will be to be a developed live act. Music is simply coming full circle once again, after all, even before the Internet, music has always had a global audience… the internet should simply be used as a tool to make it more accessible, thus, the discipline of neglecting artist development in any way which is now the norm has to be seriously looked at.

    I frequently rant and share industry tips from time to time… want to visit the belly of the beast?, sure. Instagram/ Twitter: @iambeatmenace