by Uduak Oduok
I recently worked on a draft article dealing with COSON’s billion-naira lawsuits against Wazobia and Cool FM. Radio stations are also important stakeholders in the music industry and certainly any steps taken to protect copyrights of artists, cannot do so in a way that is highly detrimental to radio stations. The COSON lawsuits against the aforementioned radio stations, in my view, create complex issues that deal first with the role of COSON as a performance rights organization and second the protection of radio broadcast rights and organizations in Nigeria. It is an interesting balancing act and I hope to share my thoughts soon.
First, hats off to EME Records. EME is killing it on all fronts. They are making statements without really saying a word. A couple of smooth moves they have in place which serves as Exhibit A for industry persons to pay attention to:
1. They have their legal counsel negotiating all of their important contracts.
2. They focus on their strengths and outsource the rest to others.
3. They pick the right talents and they educate and mentor their talents on the business of music and personal and corporate branding.
4. They get out of the way and allow those who they have entrusted with EME obligations to do what they need to do. We saw their agreement with Cokobar/Ropo Akin. They got out of the way and Cokobar executed like wow!!! Cokobar got the hype going and engaged their database of connections. Most importantly, they hired a solid videographer, did solid edits on their video clips and pushed on and offline, primarily through media, bloggers, radio etc.
5. Finally, the future of business is really about collaborations. You can’t do it all. There is strength in numbers. So collaborate with like minded partners and make things happen. We have seen EME do it so well.
EME is about the business of EME, as it should be. However, let’s talk about one of its recent partnerships with Spinlet, a new digital distribution company out of Finland with offices in Nigeria and the USA.
EME recently had its release of its EME All Stars Album. “The album is a 22-track LP that features E.M.E boss Banky W, WizKid, Skales, Singer and songwriter Niyola, DJ Xclusive and Masterkraft,” according to FlyTime TV. Again, it employed many of its winning strategies including collaborations with many “friends” of EME. EME chose Spinlet as the exclusive platform it wanted to distribute its All Stars Album free music, consistent with its existing partnership with Spinlet to move their relationship forward.
DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION IN NIGERIA’S MUSIC INDUSTRY
This is where it gets interesting. Digital distribution is the future and as I have said in the past, the fight/litigation will be “all up in here.” What is interesting in Spinlet’s dealings with Nigeria’s record label is that Spinlet goes from non-exclusive agreements and relationships, which it still has with many labels, to a seeming push towards a monopoly via the EME album. I think it is a preview of what is to come.
So, check this out. Spinlet, without the internet traffic to boast its place as #1 in terms of digital distribution, gets exclusivity on the EME Album. It offers 75,000 free downloads and credits to new users.
As a distributor, Spinlet’s job is not only to distribute. Its job is to strengthen its marketing and promotions for its brand and that of the labels that do business with it such as EME. However, again it is a new entrant so how will this happen? Spinlet gets the sub-distributors (music blogs like 360nobs and Notjustok) to do the lifting for them.
Clearly, Notjustok.com typically gets exclusives and then the rest of the internet follows. Notjustok also sells music/albums (sub-distributor) and has sold albums for artists and labels in the past. If Notjustok is now unable to deliver its exclusivity but it is sending its millions of unique visitors to Spinlet, what does that mean for music blogs in the future? Remember my article on technology companies that are about to eat the lunch of African music bloggers? This scenario is a great example of it.
Is Spinlet headed towards a monopoly on the internet when it comes to Nigerian music? Spinlet it appears has paid a few music bloggers to push the EME All Star Album and also the “Spinlet Featured Song of the Day.” In the long run, if all of these blogs drive traffic to Spinlet, Spinlet will be able to stand on its own and truly be that #1 distributor it claims it currently is.What happens to these music blogs then? Are they insignificant in the final analysis in Nigeria’s music industry? If your money is going to Spinlet and Spinlet cuts you a few change every now and then, what’s the plan for the future? How can you stay competitive?
Should these blogs insist that labels and artists give them a piece of the pie since they have the larger traffic? For (Spinlet’s) fellow digital distributors what does this mean? Truspot has 70,000 + facebook users compared to Spinlet’s 8,000 +. How come Nigerian labels and artists have not really tapped into such strong pull and technologically progressive digital distributor to sell their music? Is it poor marketing on Ike Orizu/Tru Spot’s part?
What does this mean for the industry? I certainly want to hear your thoughts on all of these moves happening in terms of digital distribution.
Finally, still on distribution, one of my pet peeves has to be new entrants, mostly technology companies, who enter the market place and promise they can and will curb copyright infringement in the marketplace. Spinlet is one such company. How exactly has Spinlet curbed piracy issues in Nigeria? I fail to see how piracy on the ground has changed since Spinlet got in. On the ground, Spinlet has engaged in event sponsorship to increase its brand visibility. Nothing different from what other brands do. How exactly has this curbed piracy?
Online, Spinlet, like others before it, has created another medium that artists can share and sell their music but we get into an even more complicated discussion on copyright infringement of digital music online. I am unsure if Spinlet intends to have a radio station streaming music much the same way Gidilounge, Iwantairplay etc. have. If so, then what’s really good on payment of digital music royalties to Nigerian music labels and artists, given it does business in the USA? There is so much to get into with this whole digital distribution thing specific to Nigeria’s music industry.
The same discussion goes for IROKO Media/Partners by Jason Njoku. Njoku is already streaming music online at Iroking.com, is it in compliance with US and UK laws as to payment of digital music royalties? Njoku has offices in London, not so?
Independent of the digital music royalties discussions, I honestly do not know what Jason Njoku and/ IROKO is doing specific to music on YouTube. Like Spinlet, IROKO claims to be “Official Number One Home for All Afrobeat and Nigerian Music.” I am no techie gal but I doubt the infrastructure much less the business model supports such a claim.
From all I have seen and observed so far, IROKO is , at best, an official number one bully when it comes to its insistence on getting into Nigeria’s music market and laying its hands on the piece of the pie. Where were these persons when the music bloggers and Nigerian music fans were building the industry one post, mp3 and video at a time? Why does Njoku/IROKO think that a YouTube model where he does not own the YouTube platform gives him a monopoly over video sharing of Nigerian music? He acts worse than even the American music record labels and he is not even a label.
For the artists and labels, how does Njoku’s IROKO TV really promote your brand? Everything Iroko is doing for you on You Tube, You Tube makes directly available to you as a content provider on YouTube. You can block others from using your video, you can make money directly without sharing the revenue with anyone. Literally everything IROKO does on You Tube is available to you directly. So, why would anyone enter the kinds of agreements they are entering with IROKO?
Please don’t say, “Oh he has Iroking website.” Really? The strength of IROKO is in its movies. For the music model, I am unsure what exactly IROKO is doing. It has no real connections in the music industry, unlike Spinlet, to even connect Nigeria’s music industry professionals to other important acts in the UK, USA or even the Carribean. With respect to branding, all of the branding to date that has occurred has been IROKO’s branding of IROKO.
IROKO logo greets you on their videos, IROKO asks you to follow IROKO on its website (of late they are now saying follow the artist in a small barely visible url). IROKO does interviews of artists and so what? What is difference when compared to every other media outlet, blog etc. that has done interview of artists and uploaded on YouTube? It is mind-blowing for me that many Nigerian artists are signing exclusive and a few non-exclusive deals with IROKO TV.
Many are focused on the upfront deposit fees they demand and they do not think about the bigger picture including monies they can make down the line from other avenues. They also cut fans out as Iroko’s method limits sharing of their work on popular sites. You go on Notjustok, Jaguda etc. a video clip was up. Now it is blocked because Iroko (blocked it). They don’t follow up with Iroko’s own clip, they go somewhere else. Worse, if IROKO is sued for copyright infringement (or something else happens) and they go kaput (disappear) on You Tube because You Tube does not want the headache as the litigation progresses, artists, what’s your plan B? You have moved everything to IROKO Youtube channels. What will you do? 100,000 views (and your money) puff! Gone with the wind?
Exclusive digital distribution deals on a borrowed platform i.e. YouTube makes no sense. As an artist, you want your monies coming from right, left, center, front and back on and offline. Offline, you limit the geographic markets i.e. PSquare’s South African distribution deal limited to South Africa. Online, you do not limit yourself with an exclusive deal. Itunes, CD Baby, Orchard, Notjustok, Truspot, Iroko, Spinlet, Ghanamusic and the list goes on should all be contenders in bringing you money for sale of your music.
I am just scratching the surface. I never land sef. Swamped with work but I’ll be back to continue where I left off.
Have a great weekend.
(NOTE: Feel free to strongly disagree with me as I am sure some of you will. I’d love to be enlightened so share your views.)
Ms. Uduak Oduok is an Attorney and Partner at Ebitu Law Group, P.C, ebitulawgrp.com. An industry insider as well as a publisher (Ladybrille) & journalist, her practice areas include business litigation and fashion & entertainment law. For more information about her or the topics she discusses, visit her at www.africamusiclaw.com. Otherwise, to solicit her for speaking engagements, business consulting offers, press interviews and/or radio/television legal commentary, email ([email protected]).
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute an attorney-client relationship with Ms. Uduak Oduok.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.