Not many people are aware of how digital music distribution works in the Nigerian music industry. From music streaming platforms to social media campaigns and the interactivity between artists, their record labels, and music distribution companies, a lot seems to happen underground.
In this interview, Choc City rapper, A-Q who prides himself as a music entrepreneur talks about the nitty-gritty of digital music distribution, his philosophies and his doubts, and how music albums of nowadays are no longer what they used to be since social media seems to be the ‘ultimate driver’ of music content today.
He also talks about why upcoming artists prioritise reach over revenue when carrying out the promotion and distribution of their music.
Please tell me briefly about A-Q, your real names, growing up etc
My name is Gilbert Bani. There’s nothing much to me. I’m from Abia state. I grew up in a fairly average home in Surulere Lagos.
You refer to yourself as a music entrepreneur. Can you describe in details what that means?
Music entrepreneur because I’m concerned about the business of exploiting the music as much as I am about producing it.
Let’s talk about digital music distribution in Nigeria. I understand that artistes seem to be getting peanuts for their hard work just because music distribution companies are ripping them off. Ycee once accused executives of these digital distribution companies of ‘eating everyone’s money’ thus leaving artistes with peanuts. Do you think that’s true?
I can’t speak about Ycee’s situation, but it all depends on the contracts you sign with them and your knowledge about music distribution. A lot of artists are mostly creatives and don’t know about the business, hence they are mostly taken advantage of.
I always advise that they seek help from someone who is sound in the business before going into any agreements or work with a manager that understands the system.
Let’s talk about the role telecoms companies like MTN have played in digital music distribution and streaming. Pulse once alleged that MTN and Music Plus use fraudulent metrics like deducting internet fee from the gross amount realised from streaming music even though the customers already paid for their data before streaming. From the artists perspective, do you think telecom companies in Nigeria are contributing to the deterioration of digital music streaming in Nigeria?
I don’t know about the MTN’s metrics and the Music plus being fraudulent. Artists were getting paid and I did not hear consumers complain about their data consumption.
The Telcos are very important for the consumption of music because music is predominantly consumed via Mobile phones and the telcos provide internet data for direct access to streaming apps.
Also, for the local-based music streaming apps, we do not yet have a quick, easy and safe payment system like PayPal to easily subscribe to the apps. Therefore, the Telcos provide a safe and easy means to subscribe to using mobile airtime as currency.
The vibe I’m getting is that a lot of distribution companies in Nigeria are only middlemen who sign with labels to manage the distribution of an artist’s music on a particular streaming platform. Can’t the labels bypass these middlemen and treat with the streaming companies directly? Is it mandatory that labels and independent artists must go through them?
It’s not mandatory, but there are conditions you have to meet to have direct deals with the DSPs (Digital Streaming Platforms) and most labels don’t have the catalogue required to become direct distributors.
The NCC is in charge of regulating music distribution in Nigeria. And NCC should, more than anything else, look after the providers of these content and make sure distribution companies don’t rip them off. Do you think the NCC is doing enough in this regard?
I don’t know if the NCC knows enough to do anything about digital music distribution but if they do know enough then they are not doing enough to protect the digital distribution rights of artists In Nigeria.
To provide solutions you must identify the problem first.
In your interview with BoomBuzz, you spoke about how a music artist needs to unlearn a lot of stuff he had learned about music down to production if they want to survive the streaming era. You talked about 2-minute music, thriller ticktock and maybe even twitter challenges as strategies that work in digital music distribution. You also said you can’t adopt all of that. As a music entrepreneur, isn’t that you giving yourself some bad advice? Isn’t that you refusing to unlearn and relearn? Isn’t that you do the same thing you admitted artists must not do if they want to survive the streaming era?
The reason I said all of that was because I said God’s Engineering was my LAST album in the interview. Apart from being an artist, I’m a Label head at Chocolate City and I’m responsible for artists. I don’t have to do all of that because music right now is not my primary source of income.
But for any budding artist looking to have a career in music, these strategies are important and from my experience from being not just and artist but as a label exec, I can show you a few tricks to generate revenue.
These tricks I had to learn by unlearning and re-learning new things
Let’s talk about “God’s Engineering.” You said it’s going to be your last album. You also said artists don’t make albums as you know them anymore. So, does “God’s Engineering” being your last album mean you are no longer producing your own music or does it mean it is your last album as you understand albums to be?
God’s Engineering is my last album as I understand albums to be. The way music is distributed directly affects the way music is created. I believe everything these days is seen as content, social media is the driver and how your content thrives on social media directly impacts on the DSPs.
You can’t just post links these days, you have to do more with your presentation and content.
Still on “God’s Engineering”, how do you intend to distribute the album and the awesome rap songs you have in it?
We had no choice but to distribute God’s Engineering digitally only for now because of the Covid-19 situation. We had plans of packaging hard copies of the album and putting the signs in pen-drives with a lyric book and an invitation to A-Q headline gig but all of that can’t happen now.
Let’s talk about your record label, Hustle Ink. How many artistes do you have, (I know of when you signed Omah) and how are you making sure your artistes aren’t been ripped off by greedy music companies? Are you distributing their music yourself?
Hustle-ink is now just a management outfit for me. When I signed the deal for 100 Crowns with Chocolate City I could no longer carry out Label activities with Hustle-ink. I can’t have 2 labels, there will always be a conflict of interest if I do. I’d like to turn Hustle-ink into a home for songwriters someday. Help them monetise and get them the best publishing there is out there.
In your interview with BoomBuzz again, you talked about how artists who came to cypher over at Beat FM had to come crash at your place. You sounded like you have a problem with radio promos and maybe with Beat FM promos in particular. Radio is one of the most popular and traditional electronic means of promoting and maybe pushing music out there. Why do you sound so disgusted when you talked about that episode?
I wasn’t talking about Radio, I was talking about brands that use rappers for their activations and shows and not pay them anything, not even logistics to help them move around comfortably at that time. I thought it was totally unfair hence my reaction.
Let’s talk about piracy for a bit. Is it still such a big problem or has that problem been overtaken by more legal ones within the music distribution pipeline?
Streaming is not the problem, it just doesn’t generate as much income for local artists. Most foreign artists are distributed globally in different countries so the revenue is enough to sustain the business, whereas, in Nigeria, streaming platforms can only cater for Nigerians and few African countries.
Even though the music can be accessed globally but there is no revenue to handle global promotions. Hence the clamour for foreign labels to set up here and the necessity for artists here to become global superstars to have sustainable careers
There is music streaming and download sites like TooXclusive and NotJustOkay. How do artists make money off these platforms?
Artists don’t get money from those platforms. Distribution is the last phase of promotion. The more platforms you can get your music on, the more audience you can reach.
Upcoming artists often prioritise their reach over revenue because they believe if they become stars, the revenue would automatically come running in. So they have their music everywhere including blogs that post them up for free.
You have over 15 years of experience distributing not just your music, but those of other artistes like Loose Kanon and Omah mentioned above. What has changed now and 15 years ago? What kind of advice would you give younger artists trying to find their way in this complicated world of music and it’s digital distribution?
This is the best time since the music industry was created to be an artist. Artist is the most powerful in the music business structure now, everything is in their hands. Tech in music has its pros and cons on how it affects the industry and it has given the artist all the power.
Never has there been a time that you can make a song in your bedroom and have it up for distribution the next day with global access. All Promotions can go on social media with direct conversion on the streaming platforms.
My advice is simple; understand the power you have as an artist and know how to use it. Do not give that power to any individual or enterprise for less than what it is worth.
A-Q is currently signed to Chocolate City under the 100 Crowns label. His latest album, God’s Engineering was released on March 20, 2020. His latest project, the #MonsterVerse is a rap contest to discover new rap talents. You can follow the trend with the hashtag.
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