Wednesday, June 30, 2010

‘Not All Artistes Are Manageable’ – AUDU MAIKORI, C.E.O, Chocolate City Music

Most of the time we concentrate on artists, yes, because they are the visible ones who we get to hear and see. But behind every successful artist is a dedicated producer, manager, publicist and a lot of other background personnel whose special inputs brings us the final product of a hit song, a super video, a popular artist and so on.
I once chatted with the highly regarded boss of Chocolate City Music, Audu Maikoiri. A lawyer, he was the first Nigerian to win the British Council sponsored International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year (IYMEY) in 2007 and has along the way helped nurture the careers of Jeremiah Gyang, Jesse Jags, Djinee, Asa and the current rave, M.I. We talked about most of the strategies involved in artist management and the various challenges facing the Nigerian music industry…

From what musical background do you coming?
The music started from my father. When we were small my father was and still is a major collector of music. We had access to different varieties of music. My dad was also a choir master and his loved for music spread to everyone of us his children. We had various musical instruments at home and even had a music teacher. As we grew older, we began experimenting with our own sounds and today I am a music producer. That is basically where it started.
Do you play any musical instruments?
Not anymore. I used to play the piano.
How did you then get into music production?
I am not a technical music producer. There is a big difference between a technical music producer and what I am doing. When I was at the University of Jos, I and a couple of my friends had a club and I suggested Chocolate City and they accepted the name. Our task in the club was to go from club to club and talk to people about music. It also spread to other universities but most of its branches were not from us. That was way back in 1997. In 2001, one of my directors started an NGO where he encouraged creative people to come in and share their ideas. People used to come to us with various problems, especially, as regards music contracts and careers and we helped. So, eventually, in 2003, I registered Chocolate City as a company. 1n 2005, we launched Chocolate City Music.
How do you decide on which artiste to sign or not?
We looked at the quality of artistes not numbers. We never compromise on quality when signing an artiste. When M.I came along with Crowd Mentality, we still worked on it to get it to where it is today. I may not be technically inclined, but I have an ear to good music and can make informed judgments on music. I have been with music all my life. A music producer has to have an ear for music and how to handle the business aspect of it.
The Nigerian market is peculiar and when you say an artiste sold let’s say 30,000 copies, it is not the same with the situation in other parts of the world. How are you able to manage your artistes in the Nigerian situation?
Like you said, the market is peculiar but music is music everywhere. We don’t put out music that we don’t think is of international quality. Once we are sure the quality and contents of that music are up to the standards we have set for ourselves, the next thing is that we develop a strategy for selling that music. We use all the available information outlets at our disposal to promote the music. I think it is really a question of defining a product, branding the product, and selling that product.
What’s your take on the moral content of Nigerian music?
We know that Nigerians generally are not vulgar and we producers take that into consideration. We don’t put out music that does not agree with our audience into the market. We also synergize with lots of corporate bodies, so we mind the content of the music we put out there.
What about the videos. You know sex sells…
Yes, sex sells but I think there is a way out. You cannot run away from sex but there is no reason you can’t do a video that will send a message, even sexual message, without being sexually explicit. You don’t necessarily need to do video showing naked women and stuff like that. That is not our culture. In this part of this world, it doesn’t even make sense to shoot explicit videos. If we do that, how can we show them? If the NBC bans our video, how do we recoup the money expended on it?
How are you managing with the copyrights issues of your artistes?
I am a lawyer and I have adequate knowledge of the copyright procedure. There is nothing new about piracy. It has always been there even overseas. What we are doing here is the explore as many distribution channels as possible – from the internet, i-Tunes, to normal distribution so that we can be able to get our works across to as many people as possible and limit the effects of piracy. The job still remains for the Nigerian Copyright Commission. They are the right people to tackle the problem. There’s not much we can do individually. The customs also come in.
People import printing machines from our ports and what they should do is to demand licenses and purposes of the imports. This will go a long way in checking piracy. We, the artistes and producers can only try to out smart them and then sensitize the public on the issue.
What do you think about the proliferation of record labels in the country?
I don’t really think we have a lot of standard record labels in Nigeria. A record label’s job is not about producing records. A label also has the job of promoting its artistes both at home and abroad. It doesn’t end at organizing album listening parties. The record label works hand in glove with the artistes’ manager to develop and promote the artiste. The proliferation of these labels in the county without proper checks and balances will only lead to a decline in standards. A label should be big enough to promote their artistes so that the artistes growth will not be stunted or limited.
You won the award as the International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007, what was involved?
It is a worldwide project of the British Council. Every year the British Councils in over 110 countries selects ten countries to participate in this programme. The programme is aimed at developing music entrepreneurs, record labels, managers, etc, to sharpen their skills and help them learn what is going on elsewhere in the world and in other countries. In 207, I won it for Nigeria and got the opportunity to travel to the U.K to visit their music industries. At the end of this, the ten countries now compete among each other for the global prize and I won the global prize as well. The prize came with a cash amount of 7500 pounds which to be used for a collaboration project with the U.K. The project was executed last year. We discovered 30 Nigerian music industry people and sent them to the U.K to participate in a global trade event centered around music.
Are there other Nigerian music entrepreneurs that have won that prize?
This is the fourth year of the award. In 2006, Emem Ema of KUSH won. I won in 2007. Cobhams won it this year. But I am the only Nigerian that has won the global prize. The others won it at the country level. Nigeria has so many talents. More educated people are coming into the Nigerian music industry and that is helping the music industry. That we were able to win against countries like Poland, Malaysia and Holland shows that we are on the right track and that there are still more potentials waiting for their opportunities.
Are you still practicing law?
Yes. Law is in the blood because ever since I was four, I knew I was going to be a lawyer. Law gives me fulfillment. A kind of fulfillment which even music which I am very passionate about cannot give. In the label we are grooming people who would one day take over.
Let’s go a little bit private. Tell us about your wife?
Her name is Dr. Zeluwa. She is from Anambra State. We have been married for about a year now. She is a very wonderful person and has been my major backbone. She is in a large part involved in the management of Chocolate City. But is a medical doctor. She is very much in NGO work.
How did you meet her?
We were in Unijos together but we hadn’t met each other then. I met her in Abuja in 2004. I knew we were going to be together right from the first day she entered my car. She was the first female that didn’t complain about the volume of my music. I usually play very loud music in my car and she didn’t even notice the volume.
How did you get her into your car?
(Laughs) Like I told you, I am the president and founder of the Creative Writing Club in Abuja. So, we usually handout introductory forms to new members and welcome them afterwards. She had a headache during one of our meetings and I took her in my car to go buy her some pain reliever..
How do you know a good artist?
First of all, it is the music. Then the personality of the person comes in. The artiste has to be cool headed and responsible so as to be manageable. An artiste could be a load of trouble if he is not responsible and cannot be managed like that. You can be a good musician but you might not be a good artiste to manage. If an artiste takes drugs and indulges in all sorts of vices, he or she might not be a good artiste to manage.
Any advice for the artistes?
They should be hard working. They shouldn’t judge themselves by what others are doing. Most of the artistes that are hot now have been working on their contents for the past ten years. They should work on their contents so that when they finally come out, they will have something to show. Wherever you think you are now, work harder, there’s much work to do.

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