Questionmark Records is one of the major record labels in Nigeria. They launched Asa, Modenine, Silver Sadih, Streetmonks, Nnenna, The Cats and D’Accord’s careers before leaving the scene for a while. They are back with three new acts who are set to fully hit the music scene this year.
The label has also had a lot of issues with their artists and around the personal life of their boss, Kevin Luciano Gabriel. He reluctantly granted us audience at the Questionmark office and studio located on the second floor of Dream Plaza on Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Here he talked about most of the issues and his experiences with his artists. He also outlines his plans for his new artists and also states that the present ones are going to be his last set of upcoming artists.
Tell us about the new artists on the Questionmark label?
The new artists on Questionmark are Harrisong, a producer and singer who has done songs like “Yekelem” and done songs for Omotola, KC Presh, D’Supremes, a duo of ……….who have song like “Sepe Dey My System” and “Oya” on radio at the moment. Then there is Ego who has the song “Omolicha Nwa” which is also doing very well on radio. They are the three major artists on the Questionmark label at the moment.
What happened to your old artists?
That’s not a question you should be asking me. If you ask me that, then you should ask Kennis Music, Storm Records and the other labels that have lost artists at one time or the other what happened to their old artists. Having an artist on my label doesn’t mean that the artist would remain with me for the rest of their lives. Good business or bad business, artists would continue their journey somewhere else. Artists do not stay on one label forever. If they are not selling records, they either continue their journey elsewhere as artists or seek other careers. If they are selling records, they might decide to form their own label, as you are aware 96 percent of Nigerian artists own their “so called” record labels. Questionmark has been there and would continue to be there in many more years to come. It is platform and artists cannot stay under our label forever.
What particularly attracts you to artists and make you sign them?
What attracts me to artists is their talents first, their vocal quality and if they have production skills as well songwriting skills then they become bonus to us. Most of the artists that have been signed under Questionmark are talented in their various areas.
Are there particular types of music that you try to put out there?
No, I am a company. I follow the trend of the moment. If the trend is reggae today, I’ll sell reggae. My own personal taste of music might be different from what is en vogue but that is my person. The kind of music I want to sell is the kind of music people want to buy. They have all kinds of genres in Nigeria but the trend today is our own sound; our own local lingual in our sons. We are doing that but we are trying to keep it quality as much as we can because there are a lot of hits in Nigeria today that are good records but quality wise are nothing. And that is what I don’t indulge in. we try to make hits but we don’t sacrifice quality for it.
What is your own view of the goings on in the Nigeria music industry?
Nigerian music industry is doing well in terms of response. All over the world, Nigerian music is doing fantastic. Artists are being paid proper money for shows but record sales are still not doing as well as they should because there is no structure in place. Some people are trying to address that but we still depend on whatever the marketers tell us. We don’t know for sure how much we are making through the sales of our music but Nigerian music has put itself on the map internationally. Artists still don’t understand the business of music. Why would an artist just because of one hit single try to open a record label when even a Beyonce doesn’t have a record label? Artists need to learn the business of music.
Having been a music entrepreneur for this number of years, what is your advice to anybody going into the music business?
Music business is one of the most difficult businesses in Nigeria. Because a local man from Alaba is in the entertainment industry as well but what do we talk about intellectually or contract wise? There are also some talented artists who have not attended anything more than the primary school and you toss a contract to him and he also doesn’t understand it.
Anybody coming into this business should be prepared to face the situation where they would invest money in an artist and the artist would one day walk away from their contracts and they would be left with nothing. So, it is not an easy business. The legal section that deals with the issues of intellectual properties and record labels and artists is not effective. The legal system is new to some of these issues. Corporate bodies give shows to the same artist for five years. They don’t give any chance to other upcoming ones to climb their stage. But as we grow, we would get to understand these things more.
Questionmark has been around for right years now, would you say that you have achieved most of your objectives when you set out?
No, but the most important objective, we have achieved is that Questionmark is a household name in Nigeria and Africa. We are a big brand in terms of what we do musically. That is one of the most important objectives of any company when they set out, with the right products, we are back on top. We are working on products at the moment.
You made a name with the quality of your former artists, what should people expect from these new ones?
If people have been listening to radio, they would know that in terms of products, we are ready to make a statement. People should expect much from us this year and in the years to come because we are releasing the albums of our three artists this year.
Are there any other artists out there that you have your eye on and might be interested in signing?
I would sign any artist who sells records. I am not signing any new artist again. These are the last set of upcoming artists I would sign. To develop an upcoming artist is the most expensive venture you can ever enter. Most people don’t realize how much it could cost to develop an upcoming artist. If I sign an upcoming artist, it could take two to three years before they know him.
Nigerian artists don’t have that patience. Before three years, they start a fight disregarding that a lot of investment has been made on them, then they walk away. But if you sign a relatively established artist, he makes you more money fast and recoup your investment faster.
Is that not conflicting with your earlier statement that companies should give new artists a chance to perform on their stages?
That is different. You can put an artist on a show without even paying him or her. Just give them a chance to showcase themselves. It is different to allow an artist perform on your stage to pushing and developing an artist. You might have to shoot up to four videos for the artist before they even start knowing him or her and each video costs more than a million. To finish an album costs more than two to three million. And there is no guarantee that you will make a hit on the first album. So, when artists come out to claim that their record label owes them more, people should investigate it. If an artist become a star today, he did it by himself, if he fails, it’s the fault of the record label.
You are one of the music entrepreneurs whose label have had issues with artists, could you shed some light on some of them?
Most of the times they don’t get shows. I have also endured a lot of bad press because of them. For example, when J.T Tom West died, a tabloid carried a banner headline that read, “Kevin Luciano in Trouble over J.T Tom West’s Death” and then inside it was a different story. My father got a heart attack from that headline and I don’t even know anything about his death. There was also the story of me chasing Dejo Richards with a gun in this building and I was not even here at that time. About Asa, we are still in court over her issue and at the right time, the Nigerian public would get to know the real story behind our dealings with her.
But you released her album again in Nigeria after it had been released by her new record label?
Because the work was done with Questionmark! All the songs on the album except “Bibanke” were recorded in the Questionmark studio. So, why didn’t they sue us when we did if the work belonged to them?
In spite of all this, why do still persist in the music industry?
It is about the brand. We are the first to successfully take Nigerian music internationally but we never got any support from home. But I am a lion and nobody can kill my dream. I don’t die easily and I will continue going where I am going.
Coming back to our artists, we have over seven albums from seven different artists, which of them have blown? Most times it’s not the fault of the label but that of the artists. Since Asa left, she has never mentioned Questionmark in any of her interviews. She will only say that she used to be with one person before. She spent over three years with us and she never mentions our name anywhere, that’s not fair. I am not really the one to tell you Asa’s story because I am part of the story. Most people, especially the entertainment reporters in this country know the story but they will ever tell it as it is.
For Streetmonks, we had shot four videos for them, got them two nominations at the Channel O Awards, finished a fantastic album, spent almost N8 million on them and then they came and said they wanted a house. From where? They haven’t told sold any records yet at that time and they are making more requests. An artist can only make that request when they start making money for the label.
How can artists keep making requests when they haven’t sold any records yet or made any money for the label, because we couldn’t accede to their requests, they went back to the streets. They went to shows and refused to remit any money to the label. When artists claim that their labels are cheating them, it calls for investigation. Many record labels are fed up with antics of their artists and most of them have given up.
For D’Accord, they were given to by Nigerian Breweries to manage for some time and I fulfilled all my agreements with them. If they were very good, Questionmark would have continued with them. I could go on and on but these artist but let’s leave that for another day.