In Nigeria’s thriving music industry, it’s evident that artists signed to record labels have the potential to rise to dominance compared to their unsigned counterparts. In fact, the more prominent the record label you join, the higher your chances of success in your music career.
Nigeria’s indigenous Record labels, constituting a distinct sector within the country’s music industry, have undeniably played a significant role in the remarkable success of the entertainment scene, an industry that employs over one million Nigerians.
From Storm Records (now Storm 360), founded by Obi Asika in 1991, to Mo’Hits, established by Don Jazzy and D’Banj in 2004, indigenous labels have not only vied for talent with globally established counterparts but also deserve recognition for shaping the music industry into the $19 billion sector it is today.
Being a record label and providing young talents with the platform to flourish is no easy feat. As veteran Nigerian singer and producer Cobhams Asuquo emphasised during the Nigerian Entertainment Conference (NECLive) in 2018, a proper label necessitates substantial funding. He stated, “When I say funding, I mean enough money to see through the entire contract or artist’s career calendar.”
Interestingly, in a recent interview, Don Jazzy, the founder, and CEO of Marvin Records, revealed that he invests up to N100 million in the development and promotion of a new signee within a year. He stated, “If I spot an artist now that I like, off the top of my head, I’m thinking [about how to spend] N50 to 100 million in a year to help them make significant progress.”
Certainly, these platforms have provided Nigerian talents, such as Rema, who recently won the inaugural Best African Music Award at the 2023 MTV VMAs, mere days after clinching African Artiste of the Year and Album of the Year at the 16th Edition of the Headies, with the stage to showcase their craft to the world.
However, the music industry, much like many privately-led sectors in Nigeria, such as telecommunications, which faces limited government intervention or direct control, is a booming sector. Its exponential growth requires the implementation of robust laws that don’t obstruct its delightful expansion onto the world stage but safeguard it against potential catastrophic implosions.
The tragic passing of Nigerian artist Ilerioluwa ‘Mohbad’ Oladimeji Aloba, whose controversial death has brought to light the alleged mistreatment and intimidation he endured at the hands of his former record label, Marlian Records, underscores the urgent need for a thorough investigation into the contracts rising artists sign with labels.
Mohbad’s demise on Tuesday, September 12, 2023, just months after revealing that his colleagues at Marlian Records were threatening his life, has sparked outrage among Nigerians who demand justice for the talented singer.
In a widely circulated video, Mohbad’s mother revealed, “My son lived in perpetual fear until the day he died. His troubles began when he joined Marlian Music. He ceased to be at peace since that day.” She further disclosed that she had received multiple calls reporting how her son had been physically assaulted by Naira Marley and his associates.
This situation raises a crucial question: What kind of deal did Mohbad sign with Marlian Records, led by Naira Marley, an artist often in the spotlight for the wrong reasons?
Should musicians like Naira Marley, who was once arrested by EFCC over internet fraud in 2019, be allowed to own and run labels just because they are singers? Could it be argued that being signed into record labels led by controversial figures can have an array of psychological effects on young, and up-and-coming artists?
At a time when Nigerian musicians have taken center stage in global music and have brought a positive reputation to Nigeria, record labels with shady deals should not be allowed to dim the light that the country’s music industry has ignited and appears to be leading the way for other African countries.
In the past, artists like Kizz Daniel, Runtown, and Vector have had disputes with their record labels. While it may seem that these artists simply used the platform and left when fame came, their stories suggest oppression and suppression.
Although the entertainment industry can be rewarding, it is also one of the most competitive endeavors that can push young artists into signing deals that not only restrict their freedom but can also pose a threat to their lives.
For instance, Kizz Daniel claimed that his former record label, G-Worldwide, took the lion’s share of the fruits of his labor, a similar allegation made by Vector when he accused YSG Entertainment of not doing enough to promote his music.
Perhaps the truth about these breakups may not be fully known as both parties accuse each other of breaching contracts. There’s a need for industry stakeholders to urgently ensure that contracts signed by artists adhere to Nigerian law and are devoid of any form of mistreatment.
As young artists eagerly embrace new record label deals, potentially marking turning points in their careers, it’s essential to ensure that these contracts align with the Nigerian Labour Act of 2004 and other relevant laws. Additionally, considering that artists are often young when they sign their initial record label contracts, involving independent lawyers in the negotiation process is vital.
Human rights lawyer Inibehe Effiong emphasized the importance of legal representation, stating, “As an upcoming artist, you should have and retain a lawyer as an integral part of your career. If you’re in entertainment or any business for that matter and you do not have a lawyer, you’re taking a significant risk that may result in irreparable losses.”
The Nigerian music industry’s growth and success have been remarkable, largely due to the contributions of record labels. However, ensuring fairness, transparency, and adherence to the law in artist-label contracts is crucial to prevent cases like Mohbad’s and to sustain the industry’s positive momentum.
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