5 Things New Artistes Should Learn From Brymo vs Chocolate City

In recent news, Chocolate City served Brymo with an injunction, restraining him from recording, releasing or promoting any new music other than on the Chocolate City label. Brymo is reported to be under contract to the label until 2016. There will be a further hearing where Brymo gets to tell the court why the injunction should be lifted while the lawsuit – most likely for breach of contract – is ongoing. Until the suit is finally decided, here are a  few lessons that upcoming artistes can take away from the squabble.

1. PACTA SUNT SERVANDA (or Agirriment issi Agirrimenti o!!)

This latin maxim, that promises must be kept, is the lifeblood of commerce. The assurance that mutual promises will be kept is the reason for putting them down on paper in the first place. A contract is just a piece of paper with words, until things go wrong and one of the parties to the contract decides to ask the court to enforce what agreed. You are bound by what you have freely signed to.

Photocredit: fanpop.com

Photocredit: fanpop.com

If it is true, as Brymo reportedly alleges, that Chocolate City were remiss in their contractual obligations to him, his recourse would have been in the text of his contract. This leads us nicely into our second point.

2. LAWYERS ARE YOUR FRIEND

Lawyers and taxmen are loved by only a few. But it is absolutely important that a budding artiste seeks legal advice before signing that first deal. In fact, many of the contracts in circulation have a clause in which the artiste expressly states that he has sought legal advice before signing the contract. A lawyer – a good one, anyway – will ensure that a minimum set of obligations is required to be met by the label at various milestones, that a procedure for the artist to exit if the label defaults is outlined and, occasionally, that a buyout fee (as in football) is agreed so that if the chemistry between the label and artiste is truly bad and the artiste can afford it, he invoke the clause and leave.

But new artistes never have any money, you say. How will they pay for legal advice? If they truly have no learned friends, they could ask the label for an advance (recoupable by the label, obviously) to cover that cost.

3. WHEN A COURT ISN’T A COURT

Unless it’s part of some intricate PR strategy, there’s no point subjecting a matter to the court of public opinion that can only really be decided on by a court of law. No amount of public sympathy for you, however justified, can relieve you of your contractual obligations. Only the party you are bound to or a competent court of law can.

If you were failed, why did you not invoke the relevant clauses in your contract and seek proper termination. Since when did a unilateral public declaration terminate contracts? (Sidebar: I forget myself. I am a Nigerian after all. And our government has unilaterally cancelled innumerable contracts.)

So, before publicly announcing that you have left your label (which could be a breach of contract and entitle the label to damages in some cases), make sure that you either have a letter of release from the label or an order of the court to quash the contract. Otherwise, you’ll make your label angry – and you won’t like them when they’re angry.

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4. HOTEL CALIFORNIA

One  of my favourite songs of all time ends with the line “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Even without the interim injunction in place, this limboville is where an un-released Brymo would have found himself. Recording contracts are usually an exclusive business. This means that while the contract is in force, the artiste cannot record or perform music except as arranged by the label. To do otherwise would be an infringement on the rights of the record label and the law has these cute devices called “damages”, “accounts” and “destruction”. Damages – the court “fines” you for your infringement; Accounts – the court orders you to hand over all the profit from the sales of the infringing music to the plaintiff; and “Destruction” or, more correctly, obliteration on oath, the court asks you to destroy all copies of the infringing music. Or all three!

So you’ve left the label, but have you, if they still get the money from your music?

5. THE THEORY OF RELATIVITY

Time passes faster in the arms of a beautiful woman than in a prison cell serving time, was how one movie character explained E=MC2. The next 3 years could seem like 30 (for  Brymo) if the parties concerned are unable to resolve this issue quickly.

One way to sort this all out might be for Brymo to jejelly hand over the masters for the new album and claim back all recording and associated costs from Chocolate City. If they’re going to “own” the music, one could argue that they assume the burden for making it.

Conflicts will arise in the course of commerce and resolving them speedily is inextricably tied to the document creating the relationship.

 

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Is Streaming the Next Big Thing? – What Consumers Want

“In all countries, however, the most active music streamers can be found in the age group of the 18-24 years old.”

Music Business Research

The question if streaming is the next big thing for the music industry will be eventually answered by the music consumers. Several studies were conducted in past few years – most of them commissioned by music industry bodies – to assess the future potential of music streaming. It is essential for music streaming services and the copyright holders (labels and music publishers) if consumers are aware of streaming services, if they are using them frequently and if they are prepared to convert from Freemium to subscription models. Therefore the results of the studies are important indicators for the future development of the music industry. Although they provide different and even contradictory results – due to a different methodology – they help us nevertheless to understand music consumption behaviour in the digital age. In the following I would like to review some of the studies published in the past three years.

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Cracking Digital Music in Nigeria

One of the courses I treated with the greatest disdain in University was GES 101. I can’t  remember the official title of the course now but I do remember that one of the topics was language and how culture and technology affect language. This has been proved true and become more evident as we march forcefully on into the 21st century.  Until about 5 years ago, tablets were medicine, tweets were onomatopoeic sounds, swiping meant stealing and streaming was something only a river or estuary did. The secondary (?) meanings that all these words and many more have acquired, one could argue, are actually close to achieving primary status now.

 

The advances in technology have presented new challenges for distributors of entertainment content. The market is swinging firmly away from scheduled to content to “on demand” or “a la carte”, where the user/consumer merely pays for access and is thereafter able to determine the order in which he will watch or listen to the content.  The consumer could also decide to purchase the content outright, and with purchase comes the ability to move content between storage devices. Delivering content in this manner will require the consumer to have enough space to store his content library. Thus, advances in digital broadcast have also been accompanied by exponential growth in storage technology.

 

A result of all this progress is that while my dad still has a collection of vinyl records occupying roughly twenty cubic feet of space somewhere in my late grandmother’s house, I can carry infinitely larger amounts of music around on a device no larger than my palm. This is good for the honest consumer but it makes piracy a whole lot easier.

 

Forgive me for being Captain Obvious so far, but a context needed to be set.

 

Piracy – in this context, the unauthorised distribution or selling copies of music – has always been with us and will probably always be with us. The problem is worse in many African countries, including Nigeria, where the government’s anti-piracy efforts are extremely feeble where they exist at all. Today, anyone can be a pirate, as is evident with so-called “offline downloads” being the primary concern of many labels and artistes in Nigeria.

 

“Offline downloads” is the copying that goes on, frequently for paltry sums, from laptops or external hard drives to USB storage devices. It has been reported that the “content aggregators” (with sincere apologies to legitimate content aggregators) charge as little as one naira per track copied.  With more and more cars and even portable radios coming with auxiliary USB audio sockets, one can see why members of the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) are alarmed.

 

The Nigerian industry is also peculiar in the way its revenue stream works. Piracy killed record sales decades ago. The industry tried to solve this problem by selling record masters to distributors at the major piracy centres (tragically ironic, right?). Even at that, many emerging artistes are willing to give their music away for free on popular blogs and websites in return, hopefully, for exposure and recognition, which ought to translate into touring and performing income.

 

Thus, music is largely freely available on both the supply and demand sides of the music equilibrium. How then can digital translate to money for the local, large-scale distributors?

 

The challenge before Iroking and Spinlet, Nigeria’s two main digital distributors – the companies adopting the Spotify/Deezer models of monetising content – is to convince a large enough number of people to agree that paying for music is worthwhile.  In a country of 160 million people with a median age of 19, the market is certainly there. Potentially.  However, even Spotify, with its 24 million users (6 million of whom are paying subscribers) is yet to turn a profit, in its 7th year of operation. iTunes, it is claimed, is running barely above break-even (another great infographic here for dataheads), though Deezer claims to be profitable.

 

These companies exist in countries with mature copyright enforcement systems, where music royalties have been a dependable source of livelihood since forever. This means that there already exists a culture for paying for music. In spite of this, however, musicians are complaining that the revenue from streaming isn’t anything to get excited about. According to Zoe Keating (crossover classical musician) these are the different streaming rates that various distributors offered her (very useful table, actually). So, if neither the streamers nor the streamed are making money (though this point is heavily disputed), what’s the point of this business model? What will the point of this business model be in Africa, in Nigeria?

 

To understand profitability in the business, one must first understand how the service is priced. Most digital music distributors, in addition to outright sales, have a free (advert-supported) service, a limited subscription service (ad-free, but limited number of streams), and a premium subscription service (ad-free, unlimited streams). Therefore, first of all, the difference between outright sales and streams must be taken into account.

 

A physical CD in Nigeria is usually priced between N150 and N1,500 (not counting “deluxe” editions).  This pricing model can easily be adopted for digital sales. A stream, on the other hand, occurs when a track (not downloaded) is listened to for at least 30 seconds. The minimum listening period varies (some agreements say 45 seconds) but the first problem streaming has is how you quantify a listen. Do you randomly estimate how many listens can be extracted from a CD before it becomes unplayable? If a 9-track album costs N150, this equates to about N16 to “own” each track for life. How many times should a streamer be able to listen to a track before his use translates to N16 for the artist? Is this even the metric that distributors and artists/collecting societies use?

 

Speaking of collecting societies, one must commend COSON and the efforts they have made thus far in ensuring that music makers receive royalties for the use of their music. It is not clear however, whether they will function as an aggregator in respect of their dealings with digital distributors. Their primary revenue targets to date have been radio and tv stations, hotels, events venues, etc. and this category of people should rightly pay COSON a licence fee. However, should an Iroking or a Spinlet pay COSON a licence fee, given that each artist enters into a licensing agreement with the digital distributors? If yes, would that not effectively be double licensing, as the artists will collect under their individual licensing agreements, regardless of whatever fee COSON extracts. More importantly, was it the intention of the artists when joining COSON that the collecting society would take over all licensing activity? These are the issues that will need to be clarified as digital music expands in Nigeria.

 

The Value Added Service (VAS) companies that collaborate with telcos to sell ring-back and call-back tones are currently the silent winners in this quest to monetise digital music. Personally, I would never willingly activate a ring-back tone but I am a single subscriber in a pool expected to surpass 128million by 2014. The VAS market in Nigeria is currently valued at over N78.5bn and “may actually be moving towards $1bn in the next three years” .

 

In addition  to all that’s been said here, artists should consider ditching the “listen for free” model and start steering their fans towards platforms where listening generates them money. This may mean starving the blogs of some content and some blogs therefore going rogue and becoming pirate broadcasters (lawsuits, yaaay!!) but if physical sales are dead, then digital must reward maximally.

As for who will win the race to crack digital music in Nigeria, Iroking and Spinlet need to take on and subdue Deezer and Amazon first and hope that Spotify doesn’t decide to expand its operations to Nigeria before then. The catalogue is everything!

 

 

 

Soldiers of Fortune – A Review

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I’m glad I bought a copy of Max Siollun’s Soldiers of Fortune. Many might say it merely rehashes a lot of information that was already in the public domain but I would strongly disagree. Even if that assertion was true, a compendium of all the information from a pivotal point in the nation’s history can never be a bad thing.

My personal repertoire of the events that have shaped our history has never been more than superficial. No nuggets of particular insight, unless I was chanced to be in the company of someone “in the know”. Soldiers of Fortune puts into perspective many things I was either too young or too unsavvy to understand at the time they happened.

The book’s preface sets the context for the history it recounts, with a summary of transitions from independence to the civil war to the overthrow of the Shagari government, shortly after its “re-election”. Relying on a wide range of sources, from ‘hagiographic autobiographies’ to interviews given by the various actors, the book then surgically considers the events leading up to each intervention by the military, including the unsuccessful ones.

What surprised me most through the book? For one, some coups were instigated by civilians, one of whom became a martyr for democracy, another a perennial applicant for a gubernatorial position in the Niger Delta.

Secondly, there is absolutely nothing new under the sun, especially when it comes to government proposals. The proposed “entertainment tax” in Lagos State was deployed by the Military Governor of Ogun State in the early 80s. A single 6-year term for executive office holders had been mooted (and rejected by the government of the day) since 1990 or thereabouts.

Thirdly, the June 12 intrigues will surprise a few readers, although I must admit, I found the portrayal of IBB as both orchestrator and victim of the annulment somewhat confusing. It also seems history has been unkind to Prof. Nwosu, chairperson of the electoral commission that organised the elections. I find a quote attributed to our Senate President particularly interesting.

On a personal note, I was at secondary school with the son of one of the officers executed for the “failed” 1986 coup. Siollun actually singles out the officer for being implausibly linked to the plot, having no soldiers or weaponry under his command. I remember the son cursing out Babangida on a few occasions.

Still on 1986, the tragic irony of the case of the officer who was executed for not reporting the rumours he’d heard was very sad. This man had informed General Buhari about rumours of a coup in 1983, not knowing that Buhari himself was at the centre of the plot. Buhari had him arrested and locked up for several months. When he got wind of the Orkar coup, he rightly(?) decided to keep mum and paid for it with his life.

In addition to his meticulous reconstruction of events, Siollun frequently provides analysis to explain rationale and sometimes fill in the gaps that the dramatis personae have left in their accounts.

If there are any lessons to be learnt from this book, it is that all incisive criticism of today’s government is a good thing. Not rabid, senseless expulsion of hot air, but line-by-line examination of government policy. We must also shelve blind nationalism and vainglorious pride – IBB was saluted for rejecting the IMFs conditions but imposed even more stringent conditions than the IMF had requested anyway. So, to all those who keep getting the word “activist” spat at them as if the appellation were some deadly plague, keep the pressure on. Additionally, it is clear that a whole generation will pass before the country’s political landscape is devoid of (de)militarised politicians – many of the beneficiaries of the system from 1983 to 1993 are alive and well; and loaded. Finally, until the Northern part of the country experiences real economic development, some of the thinking of its elite as reported in Soldiers of Fortune, should that line of thought still be prevalent, means that fiscal federalism, devolution of power from the centre and virtually almost all other constitutional reform as it regards the political status quo are an extremely long way away from happening.

My one grouse with the book is its use of endnotes instead of footnotes. I find endnotes impossible to use but this is a person foible and should not detract from the quality of Siollun’s work.

Beat by SARS

Nigeria Police Force

Nigeria Police Force (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of all the lawyering I have to do, my least favourite “beat” is the police station. Every once or twice a year however, there’s either a distress call from someone whose relative needs bailing or there’s a need to follow up on some matter or the other for someone who’s commissioned an investigation. Neither is a more pleasurable visitation than the other because, as far as the police are concerned, you’re there to negotiate an extraction, be it of a suspect or documentation. Note I said negotiate and not demand, because it’s not law – it’s all a transaction. Bail isn’t free and neither is getting the police to properly do what they ought – investigate and solve crime.

My first post-call visit to a police station was with the Director of Public Prosecutions in Calabar, during my NYSC year. The smell was rancid and there were half-naked men, begging with all the energy that was left in them, that we buy them bread from the girl walking past, hawking. We didn’t (how does the head of prosecutions buy food for suspects while on an official visit?) and it seems one of them broke into tears. I have either carried that rancid stench with me in my head over the years, or all police stations have that combined smell of putrefying bodily waste and grey matter.

Another time, an idiot driving a long vehicle swerved in front of me without warning and took off my entire front bumper. The whole world, including the police at the scene, knew he was liable but he refused to accept (not being the owner of the truck), so we ended up going to the police station. Apart from having to pay a N5,000 “VIO Fee” (there was no inspection) to “bail’ my car, I was shaken by another incident that occurred while I was writing my statement. A man was brought in in cuffs and told to sit beside me on the bench. Apparently, someone had a stabbed a trader and run into this man’s shop and, somehow, he’d allegedly helped the stabber escape. About 10 minutes after he arrived, still sitting beside me, word reached the station that the stabbed trader had died before reaching the hospital. “You’re in big, big trouble, this man,” the arresting officer said and then dealt him that vicious Police/Soldier/MOPOL slap we’ve all heard about. I swear an air tsunami blew from the man’s face to mine, causing my  face to sting.

This past week, I was at a SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad)office, to follow up on an arrest for theft and the ensuing investigation. There were lots of men walking about with automatic weapons and guns always make me edgy. More than this, I was being given the runaround because I was trying to negotiate my way out of a 10% recovery fee. But shhhh!  no one in authority is to know about this . And if you believe our President, quoting an Adolphus Hitler, corruption only exists because we don’t stop talking about it.

While waiting, one police officer, who also finds time to farm, began to complain about the lack of real government support for farming. He ridiculed last year’s telephone intervention, as well as this year’s fertiliser reforms. “They’ve taken our names, for over 5 weeks now, no fertiliser. But I’m sure they’ve used our names to process the money.” Then he segues into how he used to be on patrol at the ports, guarding the fertiliser silos. “They take over 70% to the North”, he alleged, “but it doesn’t even stay there…it crosses the border into Niger and Chad!” Those evil Niger and Chad borders again.

Another officer walked in and complained that the place smelled “like a bloody hospital.” I reckon he was from another division. “Oh, there are robbery suspects next door”, he was informed, “and they have bullet wounds. They get treatment while in custody.” I squirmed a little more.

 

All in One Place: The Limericks of September

NIGERIA – CURRENT AFFAIRS

Our problem is not electric

Though without it, things are hectic

Those things that disturb

Will no more perturb

Once we go biometric

 

We’re lucky to still be alive

Still huffing to try to survive

This week just went past

Dark shadows were cast

As BH snuffed three forty-five

 

He said it with little compunction

It’s proof of our abject dysfunction

It wasn’t a joke

Our prez took a poke

“Nigerians celebrate corruption”

 

So, twitter mirrors life

With all its toils and strife

As we harp on marriage

A Gusau entourage

Of 8,000 want to be wifed

 

They gathered from far for Aliko

Days after the rip from Atiku

To honour the man

Their oil masterplan

No plans of their own, brains like Tico

 

Is Shekau dead or alive?

Does he have 4 lifetimes or 5?

JTF say none

His lifetimes are done

But man, his last video was live.

 

So Jonny the prez rang the bell

A big deal for him, we can tell

But For Those Who Have Died

Whose Bodies Were Fried

The Gong Was, alas, their Death knell

 

Old Goody is off to the Apple

In posse of 600 people

Or 8 score and 10

It’s beyond our ken

The number is simply not simple

 

All over our people are dying

The bombers our fears multiplying

The kill in God’s name

Or so they proclaim

And yet, His Agape defying.

 

CHARLES TAYLOR’S APPEAL

Charles Taylor is not feeling well

He’s finished, far as he can tell

No freedom no more

A 1yr term for

Each diamond to Naomi Campbell

 

Ol’Charlie appealed at The Hague

Convicted on grounds that were vague

Least that’s what he held

His appeal was quelled

A 50-year Term is his plague

 

DAVID “THE HEAVYWEIST BOXER” HAYE

Haye was to box up with Fury

No longer, he’s got an injury

But knowing that guy

He cut up his eye

So he could vacay to Missouri

 

THE ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Our friend Paul Di Canio got canned

For reasons we all understand

A sole point in five

Machismo alive

It’s time for a gaffer more bland.

 

DiCanio of Wear has been sacked

Tho clearly no Chutzpah was lacked

They said he was mad

Ciao bella,good lad

As only 1 point has been racked

 

Moyes has aged since May

His white hair’s turning grey

Though used to the boos

Can’t walk in those shoes

Can’t make his players play.

 

Manuel and David Moyes

Must worry’bout their boys

And all of the fans

Online and in stands

There, making angry noise

 

The scousers today, game was bent

Lost to the team from the Solent

But Suarez is back

Next week in attack

They must not lose hope or relent

 

José & this matter with Mata

The former does not like the latter

A pity, because

Last season he was

Blues’ best,that’s the truth I don’t flatter

 

Le Prof has finally spent

On class, and not just on rent

From Madrid a thrill

They gave us Özil

To thrive, from whence Bale went.

 

Did you see the fantasy sale

That’s making all football heads wail

The priciest man

In Galactico land

Is Gareth (not Christian) Bale

 

POPE FRANCIS

Habemus a Papam so liberal

A real right wing champion & General

He prays for the gays

No judging, he says

There’s grace for all, urban & rural

 

JAMES AND FK

From London, more Efe bravado

Though he’s still incommunicado

His homes will be sealed

For it’s been revealed

He owns a whole third of Oando

 

The placid interval was short

His mind was to become a fort

But as she denies

Alleges he lies

He’s asked her to meet him in court.

 

He’s had an epiphany

Result of his infamy

Loving or lost

Booming or bust

Discretion’s best says Fani