Addressing how incubators and other similar programs are necessary for the ecosystem and to even the playing field between artists.
Since it has been pursued in Nigeria, performing and visual arts have been perceived by most to be a hobby that could generate wealth and acclaim if done at the highest levels. As most people know, the case is more varied and nuanced than this. In the past, some artists have created some of the most thought-provoking pieces of work and were never revered throughout their lifetime. There have also been artists who have been both rich and famous while famously punching below the belt.
Some might argue that the artist’s background plays a huge role in their eventual financial positions. Those people would be right; those people would also be wrong.
To put it in perspective, we will use Wizkid as a case study. He has documented his struggles adequately enough for us to have an iota of the hustle – and possibly luck – that even the most idyllic artist would need to become one of Nigeria’s greatest musical exports. With a middle-class upbringing, he spent most of his early life in one of Lagos’ suburban areas. His hunger for his craft translated into studio time and mentorship programs that contributed to his eventual product.
It is easier to imagine him as the celebrity he is now, rather than one of the random faces you would have come across in a bus in 2005 Lagos, Nigeria. As much as he has weaved the facts into his story, the truth remains that he does not characterize the same caste that he once belonged to. And why would he? These are no longer his daily experiences or challenges to face. He already scaled them. The American Dream, as told by a Nigerian boy. The problem and the point remain that for every Wizkid that went the route that saw him chart on Billboard and perform at Coachella, there are at least ten thousand Wizkids that will never get that chance.
Do not assume that I am belittling the very particular skill sets that enable artists to reach the heights of their craft or the specific series of events that led up to them becoming precisely who they are. I also recognize that no two stories are the same; there will be many who worked a thousand times harder or wanted it more than the average pop-star ever did.
We must all then understand the need for an even playing field to create more opportunities for artists. Truthfully, the existence of one is as fictional as a unicorn – there will never be an even playing field at anything. People will always get a leg-up at the expense of someone else losing an opportunity.
As young artists are increasingly approaching their craft as entrepreneurs, special programs designed to aid their journey are springing up globally. To understand how this relationship works, we will look at the types of programs that exist for startups and artists, the underlying trend, and where it’s all leading.
In a country like Nigeria, righting this imbalance has been overlooked for several reasons. The traditional record industry only had a few income streams to tap into, so piracy was the order of the day, and shows did not carry the weight they now do. Touring was absent in Nigeria, and selling the records was usually the only avenue many artists were exposed to. With the improved accessibility to the Internet brought on by the late noughts, monetization and entrepreneurship options have opened up for artists more than ever before.
Audiences quickly decide what is deemed mainstream, leaving artists to create music charged and driven by the market. With Afropop and Afrobeats being the most lucrative genres to ever come out of Nigeria, it is clear that this is the new goldmine. Operating outside the realms of influence requires artists to be more than just technically proficient at making music; it also requires them to understand the business of music. With a market getting steadily saturated by artists pursuing the same sounds, there will never be a better time to diversify income sources and become a music entrepreneur.
The variety of options present in a functional ecosystem opposes the monopolistic dynamic of an artiste-only economy – one where the services currently in entertainment are not regarded with the same importance their crafts demand. Reports of professionals being underpaid and undervalued are rampant. The notion that if you succeed and are considered an A-list, your brand in itself is already currency enough for collaborators is one that needs to be dispelled for this ecosystem to change.
Education is a big part of the work that needs to be done for artists trying to break through, and these services provide participants with a glimpse into the competitive industry landscape. This will help create a form of quality control across the board as more people become aware of the stakes.
As is typical for many Nigerian English speakers, words are often interchangeably used, resulting in a loss of comprehension down the line. This is the case with two key terms used in the startup space: incubator and accelerator.
Incubators are places that offer the opportunity to work with your team, provide access to networks, mentorships, and extra assistance. On the other hand, an accelerator provides the same services but usually with a capital investment following.
Incubators such as emPawa Africa have already started doing the hard work of opening avenues for budding artists with recorded success. Described by label boss Mr Eazi as an initiative created to “help new artistes reach their full potential musically by equipping them with the knowledge and funding to do so”, EmPawa Africa’s support system is a testament that access to funding is necessary to give more African artists a chance. Already, afropop singers Joeboy and WhoisAkin have seen their stock rise since their involvement in the program. Thanks to the program, they’ve attended masterclasses with the best in the business and gotten an inside look at how the industry works.
Former Chocolate City signee A-Q spoke on the need for access to funds across the continent. Upon his label exit, he partnered with Africori Music Group to work on talent acquisition with the help of their incubator program last year. “I’m very passionate about discovering and nurturing talent. We are confident that the music incubator is what African artists need right now. We all know access to funds is very limited for young acts across the continent”, A-Q said to Vanguard News.
The Music-Tech Innovation Challenge that took place last year put a slightly different spin on how incubators can play a role. The brainchild of Bez Idakula, MusicTechSpace collaborated with acclaimed CcHUB to create the program to find, identify & develop innovative solutions across four critical opportunity areas in the Nigerian music industry. The areas highlighted serve as essential touchpoints for many attempting to break into the industry, including but not limited to legal advice for artists, digitization of label operations, artist management, and event management.
With clear attempts by many independent communities within the industry to bridge the gap between the unsigned artist and their potential audiences, the onus is on the artists to educate themselves and stay abreast of new opportunities to ease the burden and uncertainty of creation.
Access lays a foundation for artists to begin the process of progressing from amateur to professional. Artists cut out for the industry require this to gain the level of visibility that puts one on the proverbial map. A larger ecosystem is not always a bad thing. The saturation many complain about is nowhere near an issue yet. The focus has just been placed on a single soundscape for far too long. The variation will help bring much-needed attention to the entire creative ecosystem. Prices for services will be regularized to a large extent, professional bodies that actually work will be created, and the opportunities will multiply exponentially for all involved. This will never get done until we begin to look at one source problem — bridging the financial divide in Nigerian art.