It is imperative that artists and creative professionals get their fair share of their wealth, argues Joshua J. Omojuwa
I once received an interesting contract from a publishing platform. Often times when I get a contract, I prefer to browse through before engaging my lawyer. I was distracted by some provisions in the contract. Part of the contract read like, “grant worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, license to use, reproduce, copy, display, promote, summarize and reformat” my work. In essence, the contract was asking to use my work however they deem fit, forever and ever but I declined an ‘amen’ to that.
This was not the worst part of the document. Despite enjoying a friendly email exchange with the source, the emails stopped when I replied to reject the contract offering corrections to what was initially proposed. Going by the number of people I saw post that they were signed to that company, many people indeed signed their amen. The distraction comes from what you are being offered, when the meat of the matter ought to be what you are giving away. This has played out a number of times in our creative space, especially Afrobeats.
Afrobeats has become a force of nature, a genuine global phenomenon that has now centered Nigerian art on the global stage. From playing on the sidelines, our art is now enjoying mainstream attention on radio, global TV platforms, at music festivals, on global charts and relevant award ceremonies. We are enjoying a lot of the glitz that come with the success, however, we are missing out a lot on the value chain and the money that comes with it.
Almost everyone has heard about some talented artist who whilst looking to make something of their talent, sign their rights away. They are often victims of just paying attention to the show side of the business when in truth, the business side of showbiz is what keeps the wheel moving. As a country, we have become that naïve artist.
We have the talents but in the absence of a clear intention and plan to build wealth on the back of this genre, we are now firmly in a position where whilst we own the art culturally, we do not own the money generated by the art. We do not even own most of the rights to the content anymore. This is the next level issue Nigeria as a country must address if we want the benefits of Afrobeats to spread amongst our people, instead of just a few superstar artists and their minders abroad.
Owning our stuff, in the context of Afrobeats, is about realizing the potential that Nigeria holds in the music industry. It is not just about creating exceptional art but also about building a sustainable, profitable ecosystem around it. As the genre continues its ascent on the global stage, it is imperative that Nigeria ensures its artists and industry professionals receive their fair share of the wealth generated. By focusing on intellectual property rights, music publishing, financial support, and international collaborations, Nigeria can transform its musical success into economic prosperity.
Furthermore, the government has a vital role to play in creating a conducive environment to the growth of the music industry. Through sound policies and infrastructure development, Nigeria can cement its status as a global music powerhouse. As we speak, we cannot boast a concert venue of international repute. We have a lot to do across many fronts in this respect.
As the world continues to groove to the sounds of Afrobeats, Nigeria must ensure that the rhythm of financial success reverberates within the country. By taking ownership of its art, Nigeria can transform the lives of countless artists, creators, and industry professionals, spreading the benefits of Afrobeats far and wide. It is time to step up and claim what is rightfully ours. A great place to start would be to strengthen our IP laws. Intellectual Property is the foundational of creative wealth.
This also applies to Nollywood and other forms of creative content from Nigeria. The advent of streaming platforms has had a telling impact on how we make our movies. The pressure of creating excellent art fit for streaming platforms has meant that the industry now attracts private investors who often times get to smile to the bank. Actors are better paid, even though, relative to the financial outcomes of some of these movies, they ought to earn a lot more. In the end, we are seeing standards improve as the standards demanded by the streaming platforms mean that the bars are getting raised regularly.
We must now pay attention to the deals that transfer this art in exchange for money. In an industry that for many years learned to do plenty with little, it is easy to get carried away by the prospects of several hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars. We cannot afford to measure the value of our art based on where we are coming from, that would be self-defeating.
There are lessons to be learned here from legendary Nigerian artists of the 70s and 80s who sold the rights to their music to international record labels and never really got value for their talents. The art gets to be translated into various forms including movies, new music and new platforms, yet those who made the art have no part in the earnings.
Platforms will evolve, your art is eternal, when you sell the rights, understand not to sell in perpetuity for starters. That is the essence of good lawyers. Whilst I didn’t need a lawyer to see I had been sent a shoddy contract, I’d have needed a lawyer to commit to it even if they agreed to my corrections. Because lawyers are trained to see what you cannot see. The same way a good producer hears layers and notes in a song when a lawyer only hears a monotone, they see things in a legal document that you cannot see. If we are going to make the most of our creative talents, we must look to build structure around it. Structure, in every sense of the word.