When I started my career managing and promoting artists in 1996, the industry was very crude. It was the time of Daddy Showkey and Baby Fryo and Fada U-Turn, the age of Dele Taiwo and SSP and co.
There was only one private radio station and just a few private TV Stations. DSTV was for an exclusive few, with no Nigerian channels.
It was at a time when most TV channels resumed at 4 PM and closed by midnight. Of course, there was no social media; no Youtube or Soundcloud or iTunes. Heck, there was no iPhone, not to talk of App stores! Samsung had not yet made a smartphone. Netflix? Come on!
We didn’t have mobile phones.
Growing up in Okokomaiko, I befriended a young man who helped his aunt sell petty stuff in a kiosk around Pako Bus Stop. That young man would go out every night, crawling night clubs around Ikeja and Apapa, hoping to get the DJs to play his music or, if luck were to smile on him, give him a chance to perform a quick track. His name was Father U-Turn. And he was not alone.
The standard practice at the time, if you wanted to score a hit, was to hustle all the nightclubs. Everyone who became big did it. As the reggae/ragga guys were combing the clubs, their Fuji and Juju counterparts were hustling around Opebi/ Allen to Stadium and Ojuelegba. You had no voice if you didn’t have a platform. And that platform was either a performing spot or a nightclub. OGBC 2 and Ray Power have added blessings, and I don’t think they get enough credit for the role they played in introducing Nigerians to our music. No one became someone in the late nineties who didn’t owe their success to some OAPs and presenters at OGBC or Ray Power (and later Star FM).
You had to do the leg work. I would leave Okoko and head to Alagbado, the home of Ray Power, hoping to catch Steve Kadiri or Baba Kura Abba Jato. Of course, we soon resorted to camping outside the gates of AIT/RayPower, just to see who was coming in or going out so we could make our pitch. It was the same at MBI where Emma Ugolee and Joke Jaiyesimi held it down. The same, when Silverbird and Rhythm opened in what was then ‘faraway Lekki’.
To become widely known, to get airplay, an interview, or anything at all. You had to get off your ass and go everywhere. And if you were not getting played by Steve Kadiri, Dennis ‘The Menace’ Ogi, Emma Ugolee, Dorcas Awuru, Baba Kura, Keke and D-one, Shy Shy Shyllon, JAJ, Kwame, and others, then your music wasn’t going anywhere.
To make money? You’re either on the road with Benson & Hedges, performing in universities, at night clubs, headlining for a DTD Sunday beach gig, or the likes of Lekki Sunsplash and Star Trek. There were no endorsement deals, and in fact, music and film were not favoured by multinationals for consumer marketing.
I ran into one of the major agency CEOs in 1998 at the lobby of Daily Times in Lagos, having tried unsuccessfully to get an appointment to see him for months. When I made my pitch: seeking a Pepsi sponsorship for our forthcoming Youths Award for Excellence in Music (YAFEM), he looked me in the face, patted me on the back, and said ‘Young man if you were doing a sports event maybe I’d have been able to help you. But we don’t currently do anything with music.’. That’s over 20 years ago. Today, Pepsi’s romance with sports stars continues, but as you’re aware, it’s no longer exclusive — here and abroad, the brand, like many others is in bed with major music stars, and the mutual benefits are clear.
The coming of more private TV stations and the local content law ensured that local entertainment got more airtime. The success of AIT Jamz, with The Remedies, riding on the back of Keke and D-One, and the emergence of The Plantashun Boiz made local pop music cool again, and everyone tuned in. Some of the OGBC and Ray Power guys moved to other stations (especially Star FM and Rhythm) and took the culture with them. Of course, there was Pintos on Allen and Motherlan’ on Opebi.
Home videos continued to struggle commercially, while TV soap operas continued to penetrate households. There were no cinemas or big production studios, and most of what Nollywood made was for home entertainment. The Ejiro Brothers, The Amata Brothers, Opa Williams, and Kingsley Ugoro, were some of the men ruling the scene with home entertainment while Lola Fani-Kayode, Amaka Igwe, James Iroha, Tunji Bamishigbin, Wale Adenuga and others dominated television.
Did we make the best of the music boom of the 90s? Did we make the best of all the fantastic TV series and home videos of the 90s and early 2000s? Did the artists, creators, producers, financiers, and even consumers get the best of value possible? Even the organisations…?
I don’t think so. Apart from those who relocated to seek better opportunities abroad, I can’t point to many practitioners from that era who became or remain truly successful as a result of their work. And most of the organisations are either dead or out of relevance. The works? That’s a story for another day.
But this is 2019. And we’re witnessing another boom. This time, the barriers have been pulled down. You can be in Lokoja and become a national hit by way of Instagram. You can become a leading actor by selling yourself on YouTube or Facebook. Radio or TV no longer break the big stars; social media does. The fans now hold the power, and everyone is noticing.
How about monetisation? The streams are now so multiple that it is difficult for any one label or company to dictate the tunes. With the internet, telecommunications, app stores, streaming services, and VoD platforms, came an opportunity for creators to take control in ways hitherto impossible.
But, what does this mean for consumers? As we chase content we love on platforms where they’re domiciled, what’s happening to all the data being collected?
And what does it mean for the creators and performers? Are they now getting paid in full? Or do they still hold the short end of the stick when they give out their content for free on social media platforms with the hope of getting corporate patronage? Even when they get paid by streaming and VoD platforms, are they being fairly compensated? Who in fact, gets paid? Who should? Will today’s entertainers end up becoming super rich and comfortable or will they end up like many of those before them? What do they need to know, to avoid obvious pitfalls?
Who will talk about the platform owners and business organisations? Are they actually profitable? Is the business model working? The entire industry now rests, from a revenue perspective, on Corporate sponsorships, Streaming services, VoD, Touring, Cinema, and performance fees. Nigeria has only about 150 cinema screens, not a single concert venue, a rapidly depleting VAS sub-industry, and just a few production studios (if we can call them that).
There’s an opportunity to build something that can truly transform the industry. And that’s what technology provides. From comedy to music, film, fashion, and media, how can we make sure that we build a future where our products are available to consumers where, when and how they want them? How can we make sure that experiences can be customised and personal? How can we create a system where the big funds are pouring into the creative sector because it’s been demonstrated that the industry means business?
What roles do the big Telcos have to play? How do the banks come in? And what does ‘Yaba Valley’ have to show us?
It’s time to build the future, And you’re all invited.
Adekunle Ayeni is a Nigerian public relations practitioner, journalist, trained scientist and businessman. He is the publisher of Nigerian Entertainment Today. He is also the founder of Black House Media, a Public Relations firm, and ID Africa, a digital marketing agency. He is the convener of the Nigerian Entertainment Conference.