Men's Corner

Why Every Nigerian Artiste Needs A Lawyer

…by Seun Lari Williams

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Shout out to Nigerian artistes for taking the music industry to a whole new level. This greeting is from a Nigerian lawyer to the Nigerian artistes.

I believe artistes are the realest people and so I will try and keep this article as real as possible with them.

Many Nigerian artistes have had “hits back to back” yet some are hit back to back by poverty. Why is this? Despite our multi-billion naira arts industry where some people profit greatly, artistes still suffer hardship, why?

I know you have a list of Nigerian artistes who are millionaires, (I check the ‘top 10 list’ too from time to time) but trust me, they are few compared to the talented thousands out there who survive on next to nothing (not to add family and friends pressuring them to quit music).

Worse still, even these “millionaires” we are talking about are not benefitting up to 10% of their legal entitlements.

Currently, the law is in tears for these artistes. The Nigerian Copyright Law, Law of Contract and a whole bunch of other laws are sad that artistes don’t take advantage of the provisions of the law at all.

It is so bad that two songwriters did a radio jingle for a company but are now thinking of going to court because of lack of clarity on the most ridiculous issue. The lack of clarity was not between the company and the songwriters. There is lack of clarity between the songwriters. They had agreed to “share the money” at 60:40, but were not clear as to who gets 60 and who gets 40! You ask how? Believe me, humans can be very funny.

You may think that you do not need a lawyer until you’re famous. Or you think you are too small to get one. Well, you may not have paparazzi following you, but the truth is that it’s never too early to get a good lawyer on board. A lawyer can help you much earlier in your career than you think, and not just because you are about to sign a record deal.

For example, for the registration of your band/artiste name under trademark law (and this has huge benefits). And you need to know what intellectual property rights you have as an artiste and know how the copyright, trademark and design laws in Nigeria can help you. Believe me when I say you can earn more by having a good lawyer than artistes who are even more famous or have sold more records than you. (They might have a baboon to feed, you know?)

Unfortunately for artistes, record label owners and investors know better; they are always in touch with their lawyers discussing how best to draft a contract that will generate the most ‘profit.’

I’m not saying music business people are all bad. I am saying they are businessmen and so, are usually more interested in making profit on their investments than about you, the artiste.

Watch your own back. Don’t get caught up on the hype of being “discovered” and getting signed to a label and signing lots of paperwork very quickly. They’ll throw them at you if you have anything to offer and I tell you, papers are more dangerous than guns (even though rappers don’t rap about this fact).

There’ll be contract with your manager, record deal, publishing deal, sponsorship deal, manufacturing deal, band agreement deal, distribution deal…and they are very long, boring and often complicated.

A lawyer will explain at what points you should expect to get paid and how. And if things go sour, e.g. a band splits up, there is a dispute in relation to ownership of material, you want to get out of deals you’ve signed or want to re-negotiate your record deal.

I understand that art is often internally motivated and done out of passion. It is a blessing. Many are just so interested in becoming famous that they literally don’t even bother about finances, profit sharing and their financial freedom. They think money always comes with fame. They don’t know that fame can come alone.

The great Fela said: “Music is a spiritual thing. You don’t play with music.” I am a lawyer but I know first-hand how consumed in music an artiste can get that the least thing on his mind is the legal/financial consequence of the contracts he signs.

I don’t know if the arts is to blame for this but artistes are generally care-free. You talk to some about how they can protect their future by negotiating the terms of a record deal before signing, and they say things like “don’t worry, all of us na one,” and “one love, one love.”

Some even tell you things like: “Contract ke? How do you know the song will ‘blow sef?” How do you know it will not? Are there not “stupid” songs that are smash hits all over the world right now?

The other day one artiste said he left his former record label after his eyes were opened to see that his interest was not at all a priority.

Unfortunately, this news about his leaving only made Nigerians say things like “the artiste was greedy,” not knowing that the artiste who had sold almost a million albums did not have up to N5m to his name from his work.

This is not the time to be exploited. Not with all the necessary information at your fingertips today. The arts market in Nigeria is at an all-time high with extravagant amounts of money floating around a largely unregulated industry. And the industry is getting even bigger, with multi-nationals granting huge endorsement deals to Nigerian artistes.

If music is your life, then take this seriously.

Lets be social:
Follow Seun,
On Facebook: Seun Lari Williams
On IG: @seunlw

Quote of the day:
Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.
– Henry Ford

“Men’s corner” is a new category on the blog, if you would like to contribute by sending in articles for this category, please send a mail to eiyamadiken@gmail.com

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