On February 5, 2023, Temilade Openiyi, popularly known by her stage name Tems, became the first Nigerian female music artist to win a Grammy for her collaboration with Future and Drake on the song ‘Wait for U’.
Beyond being one of the featured vocals of the R&B song, Tems is also accredited on the songwriting list as one of eight artists that include another Nigerian artist, Tejiri Akpoghene. Depending on the sharing agreement, each of the eight artists will likely end up with a slice of the music publishing revenue.
Going by its recent accomplishment, ‘Wait for U’ has a bright future. As of April 29, 2022, the song had been streamed 40.2 million times, with 7.9 million radio airplay audience impressions and 6,400 downloads sold in the April 29-May 5 tracking week, according to Luminate via Billboard.
Tems would count herself among the few fortunate musicians who can collaborate with international artists and publish musical works in countries with a proactive approach to intellectual property. This is not the case for hundreds of other artists who write and publish their songs within the sovereign geographical territory called Nigeria.
“The truth is there is a lot of repressed value sitting in original catalogues owned by legacy publishers such as EMI, Premier Records, Sony Music, and Tabansi Records; however, the value is depressed because of our ecosystem,” said Obi Asika, founder, Iba Ajie and co-founder, Social Media Week. “We still have an environment where creative agencies and brands are not fully authentic in mining the original music to soundtrack movies and documentaries or TV and cinema projects.”
Music publishing is the business of acquiring, administering, marketing, and promoting musical compositions. A music publisher, therefore, works on behalf of songwriters or composers to collect and pay out all of the royalties they earn from their compositions.
The global music publishing market is poised to grow by $2.41 billion during 2022-2026, accelerating at a compound annual growth rate of 6.73 percent during the forecast period, according to ReportLinker.
In Nigeria, experts say the state of music publishing is dismal, and fixing this is not straightforward. Samo Onyemelukwe, head of global business development at Trace TV, told BusinessDay that while music publishing is now a growing arm of the music business with rights holders seeing a return on investment, the revenue is minimal for Nigerian publishers compared to what their counterparts in the West generate. An outdated copyright law ensures that their intellectual property remains undervalued.
The principal law that governs copyright in Nigeria is the Copyright Act LFN 2004, while the government agency that is responsible for the regulation and administration of copyright is the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). Copyright is the exclusive right granted to an originator of creative work to reproduce the job for a limited period.
The Nigerian Copyright Act does not provide protection for every creative work; instead, it seeks to protect the creative works of authors, artistic works, songwriters, music publishers, cinematograph films, and photographers, among others.
“We find ourselves depending on international laws and customary practices, which has led to locally created works obtaining better protection and being more lucrative outside Nigeria,” said Onyemelukwe. “I see too many adverts that use a popular song in Nigeria without paying. There is a pervasive attitude that music is free, which the industry helped foster. There are several publishing companies operating in Nigeria, including some admirable startups, but it takes significant infrastructure to capture value.”
Asika also agrees that Nigeria’s music publishing market is far from ideal and the country lags behind other countries.
“We also have collection rights and other admin issues. We aren’t much better at talent discovery and promotion than we are at music publishing and management,” he said.
The low value of the industry in the country is driving away big music talents from composing songs in the country and into the waiting hands of global music publishing companies. For example, Wizkid is signed to Sony, which holds the music publishing rights of the Afrobeats artist. According to Godwin Tom, managing director of Sony Music Publishing in Nigeria, Tems and Ladipoe are also on the list of its clients.
“We are able to educate them to separate their personalities; for example, Ayodeji Balogun, the writer, is separate from Wizkid, the performer. Most of the time, we are guys in the background. We don’t need to engage. Ours is to develop a sound strategy that works so that whoever exploits your music or uses it can collect your money from them,” Tom said at a recent event.
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Another prominent record label with publishing businesses that have the signatures of top Nigerian music talents is Empire, which signed Asake in July 2022. The company is also associated with Nigerian singers such as Olamide, Wande Coal, Fireboy, Kizz Daniel, and international acts such as Snoop Dogg, Tyga, Kendrick Lamar, and Fat Joe.
For local music publishing companies, the struggle is multifaceted. For example, Nigerian law does not distinguish between music downloads and streaming, nor provide guidelines for the amount payable for the digital use of music. This is not the case in many parts of the world where they are provisions on the fees payable for the specific use of underlying works.
In the United States, the statutory rate for digital mechanical royalties is set by the Copyright Royalty Board and is currently 9.1 cents per song, per unit sold or streamed. However, some streaming services may negotiate directly with publishers to pay a higher rate. In the United Kingdom, if you want to use licensed music for a video, be prepared to pay around the £4,000-5,000 mark. The more popular the track is, the more expensive it’ll be.
While the revenue from music publishing may not be enticing enough compared to other sources like performing at events or endorsements, Onyemelukwe said only a few artists are exploiting whatever revenue is there to be made from publishing in Nigeria.
“The main challenge is the knowledge gap in the industry. Additionally, returns from publishing rights in Nigeria are not encouraging. There is a need for active participation from the federal and state governments to put infrastructure and laws in place to educate and pursue music users to pay for the use of music,” he said.
According to Asika, there are a few local companies making efforts to bridge the gap by ensuring their operations are comparable to global standards.
“In the modern industry, Maven Records and Choc City are well run and have strong publishing representation and of course Empire,” he said.