‘We need a structure that separates artistes from business side of music’
Locating his Lekki office on this day was difficult; the street numbering was a bit confusing. But for the ingenuity of his security guard, who saved the situation, one would have continued wandering the street in search of a house number that is no longer there.
His name might not necessarily ring a bell, but few minutes of conversation will tell you how much Chidi Okeke, the founder of Mcomm Solutions and Services knows about the Nigerian music industry; the Anambra State native is well grounded, especially when it comes to naira and kobo of Naija music.
A veteran entrepreneur in the entertainment and music industry in Nigeria, Okeke’s Mcomm Solutions and Services is a technology-driven company offering a wide range of content, mobile technology and music-based solutions and services across the African. A graduate of Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), he specialises in communications and thus setting the trajectory for who he has become today.
Upon graduation from school, young Okeke started out at MTech 17 years ago, a company that provided services to GSM companies when mobile phones initially stormed the Nigerian market. Though he was brought in to join the networking department, he moved from there to the business development unit and took an interest in music, which eventually became his focus.
His career advanced within the company leading to high profile assignments such as the setup of the Abuja office to expand local operations. He then grew to assume international responsibilities in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. Within eight months, MTech became the number 1 VAAS provider in Ghana.
Done with that task, Okeke came back to Nigeria to lead the MTech Group as Group CEO. During his time as Group CEO, he successfully implemented turnkey solutions that allowed MTech to grow while focusing on the music industry. An entrepreneur with significant experience across multiple regions, this enables him to give insights into the challenges in the industry. One of which is poor access to talent development opportunities in the industry.
With his vast experience spanning over 17 years in the entertainment and communications industry, Chidi, who has been behind most major music projects for A-list artistes, laid out his plans for the rejuvenation of the industry to fight off the bludgeoning charge from other countries in Africa.
Reviewing the lot of the Nigerian music industry in the last 5 to10 years, Okeke asserted that outsiders in the business of music might still be seeing boom in the industry. Though he placed Nigeria on the top of the log in Africa when it comes to music business, he, however, warned that the rest of Africa is fast catching up at a pace that is both scary and worrisome.
“Nobody knew what really happened in 2018, there was a huge drop in revenue across board in the music industry. Toward the end of 2017 and the entire 2018 revenues from Caller Ring Back Tune (CRBT) streaming and concerts dropped significantly because of the fall of naira to the dollar. This brought an interesting twist that saw artistes taking their performances abroad where it became more profitable to generate revenue.”
He observed that other African countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania and are gradually catching up fast using technology to deploy their content to the world, adding that the biggest challenge in Nigeria is lack of defined structure.
“Here, you see the artiste being in charge of his business when he should be more concerned with the creative aspect and allow professionals to take care of business for him. In developed countries it is the corporates that set up structures not the artistes. It is not an artiste that set up Sony Music, Spotify or Apple Music; it is the corporates that understand the business of music and set up structures to make money for the artistes. All they do is set up platforms and allow the artistes to create content through their talents.”
However, in Nigeria the reverse is the case. The artiste appoints managers and even dictates the business tone, which in most cases affect the growth of the business.“Artistes like D’banj and P-Square made a truckload of money back then because they had a semblance of a good structure behind them,” he said.
According to Okeke, lack of proper structure in the industry remains a major challenge to both arties and stakeholders.“Through the various stages of music development in Nigeria in contemporary times, a major challenge is lack of structure. The structural gap is in the business side of the industry, ranging from artiste’s management to record labels, legal issues, skill sets, production quality, human capacity, talent management, lack of corporate bodies and government support and a lot more. The absence of these elements make the industry concentrate on pushing contents that are perceived acceptable to the people to determine the popularity of the artistes. This is also making the industry operate below its actual potential and if the right structures are in place, there will be growth.”
He continued: “A country like the US started just at the level Nigeria is now. Overtime, they built structures that helped them overcome their challenges. They invested in infrastructure – studio, equipment and training of their people from the business managers to the artiste management and talent hunt business development. We have the numbers, which is good for the industry. We have the can-do spirit that drives every artiste through entrepreneurial mind set. However, this will not be sustainable without the right structure in place.”Okeke also observed that other countries in Africa are fast rising in the music stage by leveraging on technology, which is key for the growth of the industry.
“They have the skill set through training and they have a bit of structure to support them; technology and training are the solution. We need a structure that separates the artistes from the business side of the process. Our artistes need to have open minds for thorough training; vocal, performance rehearsals, use of advance equipment in production, adaption and understanding of use of software for production.”
This, he said, will allow the artistes concentrate and focus on the creative side, while leaving the production, marketing and distribution to the business managers, who are trained to handle such task. “Our artistes and music producers need to attend courses for 2 – 3 months at intervals to understand new trends in the industry both in technology for production and musical training to enhance creativity and quality of lyrics and content produced. This will attract the corporate bodies to assist in setting up structures to support the industry if they see it a good business to invest in where the entire ecosystem will benefit. We need to start having these conversations in the media space, government circles, corporate bodies and international investors. This investment must be medium and long term. We should be deliberate to avoid short term expectation of returns if we must grow the music industry as a sustainable sector,” he said.
As part of his solution to the distribution challenges being faced by most Nigerian artistes, Okeke has created UduX, a music-streaming platform with clear monetisation allocation to all stakeholders, who put their music on the platform. This, he noted, will help solve the problem of piracy and revenue sharing formula for artistes, owners of the platforms, investors and listeners.
“Riding on the platform of technology and making deliberate efforts to start having the right structure gradually, we have created the platform that enables artistes monetise their talent and earn. The platform gives everyone value for their investment in the music industry; it promotes local content primarily. This platform was developed by Nigerians for Nigeria but with a global standard that will make it compete internationally as a music content aggregator,” he said.
According to Okeke, the platform can track locations of listeners and mined data of what they listen to, to create a playlist of different genres of music for different people based on their preferences.“It is an all-inclusive music platform. It was built with learning from different music streaming and download platforms that already exist. It is not perfect, and we will keep improving on it to make it functional for users. UduX is not an exclusive platform but promises to be the most valuable for people to put their content on it. We’ve been working on it for about three years now and it will be launched this year,” he assired.