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Rotimi Keys: Relevance is currency in entertainment

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Rotimi Keys


The Nigerian music industry is currently flooded with artistes and producers, both well known and unknown, who are hungry for success and putting in the requisite work to succeed.

Sadly, except for a few like Don Jazzy and his likes, most of these producers behind hit songs are rarely known, as they are behind the scene. One of such individuals is Rotimi Akinfenwa, who is better known as by his moniker, Rotimi Keys.

Though not loud, his works speaks for him. With over a decade of experience in music production, it is safe to say that he’s not a stranger to the Nigerian music industry. He has worked with notable names in the industry, including Yemi Alade, Simi, Cobhams, MI, Tosin Martins, Emma Oh My God, Nikki Laoye, Midnight Crew, Pita, and major corporate brands.

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Speaking on his journey into the entertainment space, the Chief Executive Officer/Creative Director of SonG23 Productions, said he started from the church, but eventually branched out to secular music.

“I started early; I was introduced to the choir in my church at the age of six and I picked up my first musical instrument at nine. My passion for learning how to arrange music led me to sit down a lot with my church keyboard. I taught myself to arrange music using keyboard workstations and listening to a lot of music growing up.

“Since then, it has been passion and the will to be better than yesterday that has kept me going. There was no Youtube or social media when I started, so I learnt a lot and developed myself by listening to a lot of music, and trying to learn from everything and everyone I met along the way.”

Over the years, Rotimi has honed his skills from working in a couple of studios to being agency producer for one of West Africa’s largest advertising agencies, before I eventually starting his own outfit, Song23 Productions.

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Deeply involved in a lot of music and sound design for advertising, some of Rotimi’s biggest works include, immediate past Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s election theme song, Ambo o, MTN’s Life Is Richer theme song, Konga’s Happiness song, MTN Project Fame theme song, Gulder Ultimate Search theme music, Jumia Nigeria’s theme song (2014) and others.

“I have always believed in high standards as obtained in other parts of the world, and attention to detail in production delivery; SonG23 was set up with this in mind. Of course, I picked up a lot from some of my musician friends along the way as well. That’s how I started,” he stated.

Commenting on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the music industry, the producer extraordinaire said, “It’s no longer news that the loss that has been recorded in the music industry over the past few months has been huge. Even worse is the fact that COVID-19 came suddenly and unexpectedly.

“So, almost everyone was caught unawares and no one had a chance to prepare for it. This season has brought to limelight the fact that a number of things need to be changed or reviewed, especially as regarding music business and creatives welfare in Nigeria.”

While some artistes and music composers may have used the time to create new works in order to remain relevant, many have been inactive and redundant.

“It is very important that artistes strive to stay relevant and be in touch with their fans and in the industry as a whole, because in this industry, ‘relevance is currency,” he said, adding, “In this age where the attention span of a lot of people is short, it is very easy for people to forget an inactive musician and move on to the next available star. Beyond just releasing music and videos, artistes also need to keep in touch and have top-of-mind awareness with their fans in other creative ways, especially on social media. It’s not easy ‘picking off where you left off’ with your fans if they feel you’ve neglected them for so long,” he noted.

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The producer cum singer admitted that with the pandemic, digital concerts is now the new source of revenue for many artistes, as those whose earnings have declined significantly since the virus outbreak in March, are now exploring the capabilities of YouTube and Instagram as a means of earning gig fees.

“Those who are not jumping on that train yet may be missing out on a lot. This pandemic has shown a lot of artistes that they don’t need to be physically in a concert venue to entertain their fans. Also, fans have realised this too.

“Live Streaming is the way now and the future. Apart from free shows on social media, very soon, fans will be able to buy tickets online and pay to attend virtual concerts online and in high definition (HD) from any part of the world. And this will go beyond COVID-19 season. Every artiste who plans to be around for long should already be plugging into this.”

On how the pandemic has affected him, he explained, “For me, I have been taking advantage of technology long before this season. I have also been very particular about letting my musicians take advantage of technology and remote recording long before now. A lot of the session musicians who work with me from different parts of the world have created mini studios in their homes, from where they can either connect to my studio virtually to get work done or record materials for me and send. It’s not as smooth as being in the studio physically, but it has got a lot of the work done,” he said.

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According to the singer, who featured in Kelele, a track off Yemi Alade’s Mama Africa album, there are loads of amazingly talented young minds in Nigeria who are looking for opportunities to express themselves.

“I felt the need to, in my own little way, connect with some of them — songwriters, musicians, singers and more — and give them opportunities that we never had. That way, they can be exposed to more opportunities to express their creativity. And through this hunt I have met some amazing individuals.”

He continued: “I think that a lot of the new breed of musicians have what it takes to hold down the industry like the greats, but they will have to prove themselves by staying and thriving on the scene for long, not just showing up on the scene and disappearing from the scene after a short while. Also, a lot of young creatives need to understand the business of longevity in creativity, not just chasing after short-term fame.”

While urging budding artistes and entrepreneurs in the industry not to seek the glamour, he said, “seek instead to influence your industry. Building a great brand takes time; so don’t try to rush ahead of yourself. Keep at it diligently and you’ll surely get there. Being popular is not the same as being successful.”

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