Music Publishing in Nigeria – With Unique Oliver.
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Music Publishing in Nigeria – With Unique Oliver.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

by  David Olayiwola  David Olayiwola

Music publishing is simply, the business of exploitation and monetization of musical compositions. It is the job of music publishers to ensure songwriters and composers receive royalties for their works, and also to seek opportunities for those compositions to be exploited. For this piece, i had a chat with Unique Oliver on the state of music publishing in Nigeria. Unique is the Licensing and Publishing Coordinator at Mavins Records/Mavins Global Entertainment.

We had a lengthy chat via WhatsApp Voicenotes, about music publishing, his work at MAVINS, interest in music supervision and his favourite soundtracks.

What’s your background in music?

One of the key factors that really shaped my enthusiasm for music is the fact that I grew up in Lagos. Lagos is arguably the entertainment hub of Africa hence you are easily exposed to different genres of music without stress. I learnt guitar at a very young age and being an instrumentalist meant I had to be in various choir groups so I started growing my experience and passion for the creative side of  music over the years. Interestingly, I got into studying law in university but there was nothing really related to music so I was really enthusiastic about the link  between entertainment and law”. During my sojourn at the University of Ibadan, I founded the Intellectual Property Technology and Law Club (IPTLC) where we focused on creating awareness on IP to the university community and the society at large. During those periods, I had to be on radio and TV educating the public on Intellectual Property. At the University, I also played at concerts, fellowships, studio sessions so technically I was in the music game but more on the creative aspect while building myself for the business aspect. 

In the Music Business side, I had a couple of internships at a publishing house (Green Light Music Publishing Ltd), an entertainment law firm (Technolawgical Partners), DSP (Boomplay) and was about embarking on the final internship with a CMO which did not work out due to unstable academic calendar but I was opportuned to network and acquire practical knowledge via interaction with Industry experts. These really shaped my learning so once I graduated, it was quite easy to go into the business side of Music.

Going into the business, I started from the angle of streaming, royalties and distribution analysis. To mention, my project topic was, “Examining the Nigerian Copyright Law on the use of Internet Technology for the Utilization of Music “. So it was interesting for me to move into Music-tech working in the business of Content Ingestion, Distribution and Royalties Data from Streaming. I served as a Data Analyst for a year before joining Mavin where I work actively in the Licensing and Publishing department as a Coordinator.

What is Licensing and Publishing?

Licensing and publishing are actually two different arms of the business. You can rightly say that, ” Licensing can exist as a sub-unit under publishing”. Now, music copyright is always divided into two; The Sound Recording (master) & the musical composition (Publishing). The musical composition is the underlying bits you hear in music for example, the lyrics, melody, beat. On the masters side, it’s the final product that you hear on DSPs and other placement platforms.

Licensing is the permission to use music on placement platforms like video games, film/TV, new media after obtaining the permission to use it from right holders for a license fee. Publishing involves the exploitation of musical composition with the aim of generating revenue for the right holders which includes composers & songwriters. 

What do the day to day activities look like for a publisher?

Our day to day activities include; Works Ingestion for Tracking by Admin Partners, Performing Rights Organisations (PRO), Mechanical Rights Organisations(MRO), Sync Agents and other  relevant entities. It also involves Administering Music Licenses and agreements ,the most popular one being the “split sheet”. We make sure all right holders sign and the split sheet is duly processed indicating the percentages they are entitled to on a particular song.

We also confirm deliverables on songs approved for release. Another activity a Publisher engages in is pitching the music for sync opportunities on placement platforms like videos games, movies, and advert campaigns. Royalty collection is another activity. We make sure that every time the music is being played, money is being made.

How Will You Describe The State of Music Publishing in Nigeria?

Music publishing in Nigeria. In terms of exploitation sources & enforcement, we’re not there yet. So, I’ll say we are a work in progress but the good thing is that the fact that our works are going global means that there are a lot of exploitation sources outside nigeria. So as much as the right holder’s music is being heard in various parts of the world through terrestrial and digital means then there is royalty available for collection upon successful registration with the right entities. In Nigeria, we do not have enough exploitation sources and the General Distribution practices carried out by the CMOs have not been really effective. I believe the CMOs are working, although they have their own challenges. It is the role of CMOs to make sure that we have more exploitation sources and payment is being enforced and remitted to the right holders.

The good thing is with the integration of the internet and internet platforms as new exploitation sources, there is a gradual increase in revenue generated from the publishing side. Apart from the normal payment the distributor pays the record label or indie Artist, the publisher receives royalties for the reproduction and performance of that song on DSPs. Facebook as an exploitation source for example pays for the performance of the song on its platform. Most of the exploitation sources available for Nigerian right holders are digital and not really the traditional platforms like event centres, clubs, cinemas, commercial hubs, barber shops etc. These traditional platforms are expected to pay what is called a blanket license but this isn’t fully enforced here so the music publisher is left relying on digital platforms for mechanical and performance royalties.

Lastly, we’ve not really had a lot of sync opportunities in Nigeria. Sync remains the most lucrative source of income for a Publisher as the sync business involves the Needle/laser drop and blanket license method which ensures the right holders get paid one-off for uses in the movie, ads or whatsoever placement platforma and the rights holder also receive income form CMOs for subsequent performance of the Ads or Movie via Cue Sheets. The Nigeria Publishing Industry can make great progress if all these are checked. The Afrobeats export story is incomplete with just Live performances and Streaming alone; it also needs to be exported through movies, animation, video games and every other form available; that is what “Afrobeats to the world” should mean. It should be an all round export.

For Upcoming Creators & Composers with little leverage, how easy is it for them to get publishing deals?

They don’t have to sign publishing deals to make income from publishing. They can actually work hard as an indie pending when they’re able to get an exclusive or non-exclusive publishing deal. For a right holder that’s just coming up, the best they can do is register with the relevant CMOs and make sure he has his IPI for identity sake. Then, he should make sure he has enough work (with royalty points) for leverage and at the same time ingest those works with the CMOs. Then the next stage is seeking a publisher that’s scouting for composers and songwriters.

What is self-publishing and is it a better alternative for independent composers?

Self-publishing is limited in terms of having access to exploitation sources. There’s a limit that an indie composer network can take him to, so having a publisher actually relieves them of that and helps them focus on the creative part. So, self publishing is great but at the same time, there’s a level where the composer can do it all on their own. At that point where your catalogue is “rich” in terms of usage, it is very advisable to sign up with a publisher.

Does MAVIN publishing company acquire rights from holders outside the recording label?

Mavin as a company signs in composers to the publishing arm of the company. Each deal is unique to the right holder. However, Content Acquisition is not alien to the business as long as the IP Valuation is on the green side.

What is the future of publishing in Nigeria and the world at large taking into consideration the rise of platforms like tiktok, fortnite, virtual concerts etc and companies like Hipgnosis, Merlin?

There are a lot of events going online with a lot of online exploitation sources coming up. A lot of  internet applications requiring the use of music are being introduced every now and then. The future of music publishing is quite interesting and lucrative because as long as Motion Pictures exist there’ll surely be a need for music and if music will be used, the right holders must get paid.

Can a composer solely live off publishing?

This is technically relative. 1 million per month might be perfect for some and might just be “uber” money for others. Anyway, It’ll be very difficult for a composer to live solely off publishing although it is one guaranteed source of passive income. If the composer catalogue valuation is in billions, this is possible though.

What Educational Background, skills and experience is needed to work in music publishing?

At the moment, there are not really any specific educational requirements. First degree should be enough to qualify to work in publishing. More importantly, what qualifies a person to work and succeed in music publishing is adequate knowledge of Music Copyright. Copyright, on its own, is a business. It is what makes publishing relevant. There are a lot of books on copyright. In Nigeria there is the “Nigeria Copyright Law” by Bankole Sodipo and “Copyright & Neighbouring Rights and the New Millenials” by Tony Okoroji. We have a lot of courses on copyright too on Berklee, Coursera & Udemy.

Understanding structure is also important, Understanding how the CMOs perform, Understanding the relevant entities & organizations that work well with the publishing industry. For a start, I’ll advise anyone to get the industry bible, “All You Need to Know About The Music Business’ by Donald Passman and Ann Harrison “Music: The Business” for a complete understanding of the music business from the perspective of the American and European structure respectively. Afterwards, they can get other books that talk specifically about publishing – relevant rights a composer has, exploitation sources and collecting societies. 

Music Supervision in Nigeria?

We have very few Music Supervisors in Nigeria as it is quite difficult differentiating the role from a DJ and Music Tasters if you do not understand what the role entails. Beyond selecting Music for use, there are a lot of technicalities involved and it’s a plus if this individual has a knowledge of the Creative process and Business process as it will be easy to spot where the music should breathe and where certain music notes and sounds are not just a good compliment. 

A music supervisor is involved in everything and works closely with the music editor, film score composer and licensees.Music supervision covers every sub-department which includes, music editing, film score, commercial music licensing/Clearance and finally, the soundtrack album, if available. 

Music Supervision is yet to be fully recognised in nigeria when compared to other territories for example we have the Guild of Music Supervisors in UK,Canada, US etc and there is the Emmy Awards for Outstanding Music Supervision

As a big fan of soundtracks, I’m curious. What informs the decision in selecting particular songs for certain movies, video games, ads etc?

Music supervision is something I’m very interested and delighted in considering I have a background as a creative. In music supervision, what influences the selection of music from the creative standpoint is things like the mood, tone, setting, the movie characters etc. These are essential factors that influence the selection of music for movies, TV shows, video games, podcasts etc. On the business side, what influences this selection includes the budget, accessibility to right holders for the particular song and, finally, the clearance process (this can be quite technical and can cause problems if not handled properly). There are some songs that take longer time periods to clear so rather than using those ones, why not use one that can be cleared in 24 hours at a one-stop shop. 

While it’s easier for people to reach out to artists and labels, 80% of the time, they do not control 100% masters & publishing. In such instances, you’re speaking with more than one person for just the clearance of one song.

What should a composer (producer/songwriter) keep in mind when making music for Film, Video games etc?

It’s advisable not to tamper with creativity. It’s better if it comes out organically. Not every song will actually fit for the same purpose. Most of these songs are defined on a case by case basis. When it comes to “sync-able” music, there’s always emphasis on the lyrics. Some lyrics that are too specific may not go far in sync while lyrics that are broad and can be used for a lot of context will go a long way. Beat wise, up tempo beats can be used for certain scenes, Slow instrumentals and acoustic versions can go for romantic moods and scenes that involve a lot of slow music (Remember “Can’t Stop Falling in Love” in Crazy Rich Asian Movie) Dramatic music can be mid-tempo. More importantly, it’s about creating music that works – that can fit into any scene and increase the user’s attention and not distract them from what is happening on the scene. Broad music will go a long way.

There are other things required. For example, lyrically, the audience for some movies do not fall above the maturity age so it’s advisable to make music that can be listened to by people of all ages. Also, the chorus plays an important role, Something  the audience can chant during and after the movie. For example “Bella Ciao” in “Money Heist” and Sound Sultan “Motherland” in “Up North”.  

So I’d advise Composers and Songwriters to continue creating music. Collaboration is always key. They should  have a lot in their catalogue that appeals to different emotions and audiences.

What are your favourite movie soundtracks?

“A Star is Born”, I enjoyed “Bridgerton” . I love the creativity and how the songs were personalized to reflect the classical era. “Living in Bondage” is actually one of the best soundtrack albums to have come out of Nigeria.

Closing Comments?

The music industry is actually becoming big and we are so excited to mention “Afrobeats To The World” but it’s important that people that play a role in the creative process, the brains behind a lot of hits out there, need not just to be recognized but they need to benefit from publishing revenue. It’s important that we have more exploitation sources on the publishing side of the business so everyone can benefit from the Afrobeats success story.

Connect with Unique Oliver on:

Instagram, twitter & LinkedIn

About The Author

David Olayiwola
David Olayiwola

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