How Victor Okpala Went From A Music Critic To Executing The Rollout For Runtown’s Tradition EP
A little over 365 days ago music journalist and pop culture commentator, Victor Okpala was viewed through the lens of controversy, credits to his then-weekly music breakdown show, Vibes with Victor through which he offered unfiltered views and evocative “informed opinions” (as likes to put it) on all things related to the music industry.
Scrutinizing the career moves of popular musicians, initiating thought-provoking dialogues, critiquing new music, and conducting fiery interviews are some of what he was known for. His critical style of journalism was usually met with social media blowouts. A typical example was his infamous 2018 interview with Nigerian pop star Skales which saw the singer walk away mid-way into the conversation after things got heated.
These days, Victor Okpala is rarely seen critiquing music, discussing pop culture happenings or conducting interviews. He now works in the capacity of a “solution-provider”, offering communications and content solutions to significant brands like Gidi Fest and a slew of music heavyweights. Okpala is credited to have orchestrated and executed the rollout for Runtown’s recently-released 6-track EP dubbed Tradition. “I decided to transition from a talker to a doer” he tells The Guardian during a recent chat.
Can we at this point call you a retired Journalist?
I think it is important for me to start by saying that I never viewed myself as a Journalist. The show Vibes with Victor was very research-driven so I can understand why people call me a journalist.
I am just an Inquirer. I have been asking questions all my life and because I love music and gravitated towards the industry, I expectedly began to question everything that was happening in the music space. So to your question, yeah I won’t be mad if you call me a retired Journalist, but I am an active Inquirer. This is what fuels everything I pursue.
Speaking of pursuit, what prompted you to pursue a different interest?
I wouldn’t say I am pursuing an entirely different interest. I just figured that there’s already a lot of talking going on and I had gotten tired of being the voice that kept on echoing the shortcomings of musicians and how things should be better done.
Although I mostly offered researched suggestions, I realized that it would be nothing compared to the effect I’d have if my talk was backed by actions. Look, I had done about 70 episodes of the show, typically 5 minutes each. If you do the math, that’s up to 350 minutes, which is equivalent to three full-length movies of talk. I just no longer wanted to be an observer and commentator. I decided to transition from a talker to a doer. I’ve now stepped into the room to improve the output through my knowledge and expertise.
How would you describe the role that you now play?
I am simply a solution provider. I have set up an agency called, NABSolute. It was coined from the phrase; Not A Basic Solution. Our assignment is to offer strategic communications, content management and creative solutions. I think that from a content standpoint, the music industry is in a great place but how we market, document and communicate our products/brands is largely mediocre.
A typical Nigerian artiste doesn’t know how to effectively communicate. Many times, they have good intentions but lack the expertise to properly communicate it. Many of them also get into some ridiculous deals and partnerships that they should have no business partaking in because they lack cohesive knowledge of their target audience and brand fit. The ultimate form of marketing in the Nigerian music industry has become the overplayed dance competitions that you see all over social media.
Marketing in the music industry is far from innovative. As a matter of fact, there is no marketing at all. Artist A copies what Artist B does without analysing to determine what effect it would have on his brand. Marketing should be bespoke, it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing so through data, consumer behaviour and content, we are helping them execute their communication goals.
How was the experience working with Runtown? Can you breakdown the campaign?
Runtown is one of the few artistes that have a well-defined identity. Not just sonically, he knows what he truly wants and he is surrounded by a team of open-minded people. He is not so much of an extrovert. In fact, I’ll define him as a person that likes to make a statement without saying a word. So we had to make sure that the rollout for the EP aligns with his personality. Everything was done in stealth mode.
On our first meeting, I figured that he had interests that transcend the music space. He shares a lot of concern for the struggles of every day Nigerians and this is unknown to the consuming public. So I decided that the first step in the rollout would be to create an outlet for him to speak on these societal issues. Again because we know he isn’t so much of a talker, my team decided that the most effective way to communicate his thoughts would be to have them written and published as an opinion piece which we did via The Guardian.
After that was out of the way, we created www.runtownmusic.com and announced the EP through a document that could be accessed from the site. On the day we unveiled the website, we received a lot of kickbacks from his partners in South Africa. They were insisting that we distributed the pre-order link to the EP instead of the website URL we were pushing. It was a pretty intense situation but I had my way and we pushed the website instead.
On the website, fans were asked to submit their emails to receive a message from Runtown, of course, the people who did were able to access the document that revealed the title of the EP, the cover art, tracklist, release date and pre-order link. It was experiential and earned us wide media coverage.
The key thing for me was data. I wanted us to be able to collect the location and email addresses of his fans whilst creating a memorable announcement. The website that was created was able to do just that. We received hundreds of submissions and were able to communicate every phase of the rollout through direct email marketing to those fans. We got a lot of pre-orders and the data of his fans as well and this helped amplification throughout the rollout period.
Runtown is one artiste whose achievements are somewhat under-announced so we made sure that the consumption metrics of his content before and during the rollout were documented and amplified. We distributed these data using specific influencers and reputable data-driven social media accounts. The EP became number one on iTunes upon release, number one on Apple Music 24 hours after release and number one on Boomplay five days later.
We represented these stats in consumable content formats and disseminated as news materials whilst pushing the EP. The email list we had acquired was very instrumental in distributing all the information because they were received by his actual fans who then took it upon themselves to make noise about it on social media.
We were also specific about our media representation goals. Every platform whose tone was a good fit for Runtown’s brand received timely updates and swift responses to interview requests. We are now in the post-release phase. In the coming weeks, we will be announcing his tour and other things.
So what’s the future for your company, NABSolute?
Although we have begun operations as a strategic communications and content management agency, that isn’t all that we will be doing. For Gidi Fest 2019, we offered content marketing services through a youth-driven debate show that we created and produced. We are already collaborating with more show producers to offer creative solutions in stage design and art direction. We will also be exploring tech adoption to solve monetization problems and much more.
It is also important for me to say that, we are not focused on A-list musicians alone. We began working with a rising singer, Idahams in the last quarter of 2018. He has since gone from obscurity to having one of the most streamed single (titled No One Else) of 2019 by a breakout artiste. It has garnered over a million YouTube streams and nearly a million streams on Spotify. His Instagram page has also grown astronomically by up to 200% since we started working with him.
Regarding our operations, there happens to be a very vibrant freelance culture in Nigeria and we are leveraging this culture to build a team of go-to experts in various content creation and tech-inclusive processes. Everything we do is driven by the need to solve a problem. That’s our modus operandi.
What about your show, will you resume commenting on music and other pop culture happenings?
Honestly, I don’t know yet. I still receive emails and DMs from fans of the show. We even have a WhatsApp group that accommodates a few people that truly love and support the show. I don’t know what to say to them because I honestly don’t feel like talking.
I did Vibes with Victor for a little over a year and six months and a part of me truly feels like the show has already fulfilled its mission. I think that at this point, it should serve as a template for someone else to run with. When I truly have something to say, everyone will hear from me. Right now I’m just focused on building solutions and fulfilling a bigger purpose.