The past few years have seen growing interest in African Music, within and beyond the continent’s boarders, thanks to a gradual evolution that has redefined the industry.Unlike before, African artists who were largely independent are now being sought by regional and international record companies as a key strategic step to widen their (that is, the record company’s) influence in the music world.
Among others such artists include, Tanzania’s Nakaaya Sumari, Congolese Natalie Makoma, Nigeria’s Davido and the recent Ali Kiba signing with global record deal company Sony Music Entertainment. While for most artists this may be considered as amongst the greatest milestones one would achieve in their music careers, it might be about time African artists re- evaluate major label record deals offered to them and the impact of the latter on their careers.( Allow me to play the devil’s advocate for this particular article, with the hope of reaffirming African artists that a major label record deal may not necessarily translate into more success.)
Most (if not all) of the decisions made concerning an artist’s music career are made by the major label record company, with a main goal of ensuring a return on their investment, just like for every other business. In an article dated March 21, 2009 on the Daily Nation, Tanzania’s Nakaaya Sumari, who had just been signed by Sony BMG (now Sony Music Entertainment) explains how she had done a couple of singles ready for release, but that they could not be released during that year as Sony wanted her to promote her album first.
In addition, Nakaaya went ahead to reveal that Sony wanted her to re- do the album that was by then complete, re- brand it and “make sure that it fits the international standards it requires”. And while the record company would finance the expenses involved, this just goes to show the creative restriction to an artist working under a major label record company.
In a different article dated May 28 2016 on the Daily Nation, Kenyan Rapper Xtatic signed to Sony Music Entertainment Africa revealed that she cannot release music without the label’s permission; neither can she walk away from the contract, unless someone buys her out. She goes ahead to explain that she signed a multi- album contract and that the label can extend it for as long it needs to, until it recoups its investment. “Because I can’t do anything musical unless it’s with Sony, I have put aside my music; I’m just doing an ordinary job now. One day I hope to mentor new talent, but for now I will focus on providing for my family”
Being signed to a major label record deal company (which has many other artists signed under it) means that an artist becomes a fish in a great sea amongst other bigger fish. This could sometimes inevitably lead to fighting for attention from the record label; which is resolved by the company alternating attention and time to its various artists, such as a whole year to promote an individual artist’s brand entirely (at the expense of other artists under the same label). This also means a detached working relationship between an artist and the record label, being a large company that will mainly have agents or third parties working directly with their artists. (Just like a big company has structure, making it hard for a mid- level employees to reach those working at top management level).
Now that I am done playing the devil’s advocate, I might as well share some of the perks that come with being signed to a major record label company. Needless to say, artists such as Ali Kiba and Davido who are now signed to Sony Music Entertainment have acquired an international stature and can use that to negotiate for higher pay with clients.
Artists signed to a major label record company no longer have to worry about the costs involved in producing and promoting their content, as that is handled entirely by their record company. This is in addition to the record company having significant contacts that they can use to further push their artists’ content, which would have been harder for an independent artist to do on their own. Due to the many artists that they have under their record label, they would also have the advantage of conducting business in bulk and therefore cutting down on the overall costs spent on individual artists (e.g distribution costs of artists’ content)
I am certainly not advocating for artists to let life changing opportunities pass them by, but this is just a call to weighing one’s options before choosing to ink that deal.