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THE NOT-SO-SUBTLE DECLINE OF RECORD LABELS

The Nigerian 90s was an era that boasted the boom of music record labels in the country. With Afrobeats in its formative era, a lot of artists were hankering to refine their music, redefine the Afro sounds, and pack aphorisms and political protests within the textures of their songs. So, the existence of record labels proved instrumental in the growth and sustenance of the careers of many singers. Publicity, marketing, and general funding were something that a sole individual could not handle by themselves. A lot of these artists could, very well, sing, but understanding the true business of music was another thing entirely. Premier Music was one of the popular labels in the 1970s as it was fundamental to the release of big hits such as Segun Bucknor’s “Who Say I Tire”, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe’s “Osadebe ‘77”, Gentleman Mike Ejeagha’s “Akuko N’egwu Original Vol. 1”, Alex O’s “Celebrate” and Charly Boy’s “Funka Dalia”. The legendary King Sunny Ade was also tied to Island Records. It was simple — if you wanted to be known as a singer, you needed a label. However, with the fame came heavy shackles of contractual binds that almost always meant that the labels could retain rights to the artists’ songs, haul a larger chunk of profits, and stifle their creative independence.

 

An even more popular record label which would dominate the early 2000s arose — Kennis Music. Created by Kenny Ogungbe alongside other investors, Kennis Music was truly “Africa’s No 1 Record Label”. Anyone who knew the superstar, 2face Idibia, certainly knew Kennis Music. While 2face can be described as the poster-boy for Kennis Music, the record label nurtured other talents such as Baba Dee, TheRemedies, Sound Sultan, Tony Tetuila, etc. However, the less-than-fair conditions experienced by these artists caused a breach in their business relationship with the label.

 

Even with all the dubious publicity that record labels were getting, budding artists during that period were in desperate need for labels because it was proven that success as an artist came in a nice-sized package of a record label deal. While artists like Wizkid, Vector, Kizz Daniel, Runtown, etc, acquiesced to this, they immediately sought liberation from the labels that they were signed to after gaining significant ground in the industry.

 

Nevertheless, the shift in technological advancement and modern inventions have created huge avenues where newer artists are able function within their own means. Compared to the former days, it is much easier for music artists to release their music and push it into the mainstream market with little help from a record label. Most times, it is as easy as recording a song and uploading it on streaming platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, Boomplay, Audiomack, etc. It does not end there, of course, and that’s the reason the role of social media in the promotion of songs can never be undervalued. A lot of recent acts who swerved from the more traditional process of signing with a record label before breaking into the industry with great success include Omah Lay, Ric Hassani, Tems, Portable, Maleek Berry, Wavythecreator, etc.

 

Despite the controversy surrounding labels, there are still major record labels in Nigeria such as Davido Music Worldwide (DMW), Mavin Records, Star Boy Entertainment, YBNL Nation, Chocolate City, etc, that seem to be advancing fairly. The impact of record labels in the growth of the Nigerian music industry is one too great to ever go unappreciated. Regardless, the harsh climate that pervades some strict contracts hampers the potential and creative control of artists. Thus, a lot of artists seem to be shunning the validation of record labels, choosing instead to move along with the digital tides. While going independent may come with its own financial hassle, it is a major way for artists to organically strike a bond with their audience and explore their creative abilities to greater lengths.

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