Alaba vs big-money deals: Why even major labels cannot save Nigeria’s chaotic industry

The ripple effect of  a high-tension information world like ours on the music industry is becoming more and more evident. Digital distribution has broadened the reach of the soundscape and locally grown artists are breaking into charts in foreign markets easier than it was a few years ago.

To emphasise our point, Available singer, Ayo Jay got signed by Sony-RCA records last week in a series of chain reactions connected to the success of his Your Number single featuring Fetty Wap in foreign markets. It is noteworthy to mention that this is a single that got mediocre attention in Nigeria but still acquired a cult-level listen outside the country. If anything, this is an indication that we have an unalloyed sound that can be marketed and sold anywhere in the world.

Nigerian music has been decried for a lack of industry organisation and an arduously functioning pre-existing structure. Some of the problems created by this is a chaotic industry where music leakages through piracy and free downloads make it impossible to collect numbers and statistics.

Contracts are  flouted without consequences and collection of royalties is even more difficult because there is no emphasis on copyright or protection of intellectual property.  This, of course, is the reason the consequences of  big-money corporations in the same market with all of these problems is an important discourse.

The rise and rise of Alaba

After music goes through a series of recordings, production and rigorous mixing and mastering, the next thing to do is to get the music to the people that will consume it. The absence of such a key element in the base industry structure became evident after many foreign major labels previously set up in Nigeria closed up shop in the 90s due to economic and political instability.

This left a gaping hole for music distribution since the culture had imbued other subcultures and hence was still producing music that needed to be distributed. Alaba marketers have since stepped in to take away this burden. Though the system has neither been completely effective nor rewarding, it has allowed the local distribution network become an integral part of getting music from the artists to anyone who wants to listen to it within and outside Nigeria. Clearly, their place in the industry can not be challenged or undermined.

How this affects major label deals?

While distribution in other countries with established networks may not be affected by the Alaba syndrome, In Nigeria, any player coming into the game will find it nearly impossible to get anything done without the help of Alaba marketers.

Many Alaba major marketers today are former pirates and bootleggers who made money off the confusion created by the lack of a functional distribution network. The industry’s recorded losses at the hands of pirates who have no investment in the music caused labels to find a way to incorporate some of Alaba’s major players into the business. Today, Alaba functions as a publishing and distribution arm of the music industry that neither remits royalties nor declares its actual sales numbers, but has a nearly unbeatable market network that stretches as far as Central and East Africa.

If major labels are going to sign Nigerian artists or formalise the distribution and sales of music without involving  the Alaba marketers, the dark days of music piracy will return and new problems will be created.

Going Forward…

Be it Sony, RCA, DisturbingLondon or Universal Music Group, the first thing that everyone must know is there is no point fighting Alaba. Instead, big labels must evolve measures to incorporate them into the system ensuring everyone is paid at every step of the way. If Alaba is given legitimacy, they will do their business in the open, declare profits and loss, and numbers will be easily collected and tracked.

There is also the salient fact that Alaba marketers are the only players in the industry that will ensure that the Nigerian economy is not short changed from the proceeds of the music. Think about it, if major labels open shop in Nigeria and sign up artistes that give great ROI, do you really think the money will be considerably ploughed back into the economy? No, they will take it back to where it came from.

Call us paranoid, but this is the same business formula that MTN and chain stores like Shoprite have used so we won’t be surprised to see it happen again. The incorporation of Alaba marketers for distribution and publishing, however, will have deep pockets stretched to pay these marketers who will now become official record publishing companies earning oyinbo dollars for Nigeria.

The long-term plan,however, is to synthesize the industry to a point where homegrown labels can handle their own publishing and distribution. That dream, however, needs a lot of hands to get dirty and nobody wants to do that.  Not if your signed acts can still up and leave the label anytime they want.




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