Record labels in Nigeria play a crucial role in supporting emerging musicians through financial backing, production expertise, and distribution networks.
However, recent controversies surrounding Marlian Records, a Nigerian music label, have raised concerns about fairness and exploitation in the industry, leading to questions about artists facing financial difficulties while labels profit.
MohBad, one of Marlian Records’ rising stars, was a talented rapper and songwriter signed with the label founded by Naira Marley in 2019. Despite hit songs like “Ponmo” and “KPK (Ko Por Ke),” MohBad’s journey with Marlian Records was marked with disputes and unpaid royalties by , leading to his departure on October 25, 2022.
Almost a year after leaving the label, he died amid suspicions over the cause on September 11, 2023, shedding light on the complex dynamics of record label deals in Nigeria.
Mohbad accused his former label of unpaid royalties and orchestrated attacks, leading to his contract termination.
Such disputes emphasise the need for better negotiation skills and legal representation for artists when entering into contracts.
The challenge lies in achieving a fair and transparent balance between artists and labels.
Mohbad’s point of view 1:
Just because I want to change my manager which is their brother, see what they did to me at Marlian House pic.twitter.com/Tqsb1y2UYF
— Mohbad Imolè (@iammohbad_) October 5, 2022
Mohbad’s point of view 2:
Naira Marley’s point of view:
“he is Under drug
He is Under drug”
Oba Elegushi. Esther. Zino
Ilorin. Sammy Larry
Cute Abiola. Naira Marley
Olosho. Chicago State University. MOHBAD pic.twitter.com/X7ldjLodYj
— Sunday Sylvester 🇳🇬 (@sylvatalent26) September 15, 2023
The fans’ point of view:
People walking and chanting:
— AFRO NIGERIA 🇳🇬 (@afro_nigeria) September 20, 2023
It’s important to note that not all record label stories in Nigeria are negative, as many artists nurtured by various labels have achieved great success.
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Contracts and common conflicts
Contracts in the music industry have sparked controversies, with disputes arising from restrictive agreements between record labels and artists.
These conflicts often result from misunderstandings about contract terms and obligations. For instance, some artists who’ve benefited from their labels’ investments may later attempt to break their contracts, claiming unfair terms. This situation leads to public disagreements about whether labels should enforce their agreements.
Several cases illustrate these disputes and examples of such conflicts include G Worldwide Entertainment v. Anidugbe, where an artist known as ‘Kiss Daniel’ breached his contract, and Chocolate City Group Limited v. Ibrahim, where ‘Brymo’ faced legal action for leaving the label prematurely.
In another instance, Nigerian singer Cynthia Morgan’s contract dispute with her record label, Northside Records, highlighted the issues with poorly negotiated contracts in the music industry.
Many artists, in their eagerness for fame, sign contracts without legal representation, leading to conflicts when they feel restricted by the terms. These conflicts underscore the industry’s lack of structure.
Artists like Harrysong and Bella Shmurda also shared their experiences of facing mistreatment and financial disputes with their record labels. Harrysong’s revelation shed light on the challenges artists can encounter when trying to leave a label, while Bella Shmurda paid ₦20 million to terminate his three-year contract with One World Global Records.
The legal landscape
Legal expertise plays a crucial role in Nigeria’s music industry, with recording contracts serving as the foundation. Damilola Amore, a legal practitioner, stressing the importance notes noted that these contracts, encompassing offer, acceptance, consideration, and intention, are pivotal, as mistakes can lead to serious repercussions. “Nigerian courts uphold contract sanctity, often allowing labels to retain copyrights and royalties as stipulated,” he said.
There are two types of recording contracts: exclusive and non-exclusive, with sideman provisions for guest appearances, loyalnigerianlawyer.com said in a 2022 report. Exclusive contracts bind artists to a single label, while non-exclusive contracts offer more freedom. Artists desiring collaborations must ensure the contract includes a sideman provision.
Amore more stated five essential clauses in (recording) contracts include the contract duration, sign-up and advance fees, royalty splits, branding and merchandise, and territorial jurisdiction. “These elements are vital for ensuring fair agreements between artists and labels,” the lawyer said. “As the Nigerian music industry flourishes, the role of intellectual property lawyers becomes increasingly vital, aiming to rectify agreement issues and nurture a fairer and more vibrant music sector in Nigeria and beyond.”
Who gets the lion share?: Artist or record label
In the world of music contracts, the lion’s share of benefits can vary from one agreement to another. These contracts are not standardised, so negotiating one’s interests before finalising the deal is crucial for both parties to ensure a fair arrangement that aligns incentives with responsibilities.
The music industry in Nigeria is booming, attracting both local and international investors. International record labels like Atlantic Records, Universal Music, and Warner Music are actively signing Nigerian talents, but they tend to favour established artists over newcomers.
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The profit derived from a record label agreement depends on the type of deal agreed upon. Three common types include traditional, multiple rights, and distribution deals. Traditional deals, while giving the label ownership of the artist’s masters, also entitle them to a significant portion of royalties. However, it limits the artist’s profit avenues. Distribution deals reduce the label’s financial burden but tie profits closely to song performance, making it riskier
Types of record deals
In the music industry, young and aspiring artists are eager to make it big, often relying on major record labels to pave their way to stardom. Icons like Justin Bieber and Wizkid were discovered and signed by labels, catapulting them to fame.
However, many artists, driven by their dreams, hastily ink contracts without fully understanding the terms, neglecting their own interests. There exist various types of record deals, each with distinct obligations, and while some appear enticing, artists must carefully evaluate their goals before committing to a contract that aligns with their path to success.
There are various types of record deals that artists can negotiate with potential record labels:
Traditional record deal
This is a basic agreement where a record label signs an artist and offers them a large amount of money in advance for ownership of their masters. The record label will typically be entitled to about 80 percent of the artist’s royalties, while the artist is left with 20 percent.
This type of deal is between the artist and a production company. The production company will finance the production of some of the artist’s records in order to pitch them to a major record label. However, the artist should be careful, as these deals can be very restrictive and may not be in their best interests.
This type of deal is becoming more popular, as it is considered to be less predatory than a traditional record deal. The record label will invest in the distribution and sale of the artist’s music, but the artist will retain ownership of their masters.
Work for hire deal
In this type of deal, the artist gives up all ownership and administration rights to their music in exchange for a flat fee. This type of deal is typically used when multiple people are involved in the creation of a song or album.
This type of deal is an alternative to the traditional record deal. The net profit from record sales is split 50-50 between the artist and the record label after all expenses have been paid.
Multiple rights deal
This type of deal is also known as a 360 deal. In this type of deal, the record label pays the artist a large advance, but is entitled to revenue from all sources, including digital sales, tours/concerts, songwriting/publishing revenue, endorsement and merchandise deals.
Notably, the best type of record deal for an artist will depend on their individual circumstances and goals.
Starting a record label business in Nigeria presents opportunities in the country’s thriving music industry, especially in Lagos, the epicenter of entertainment. A guide compiled by Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs Organiszation (AYE), an organisation committed to empowering young entrepreneurs, offers insights for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to dive into this lucrative venture.
To succeed in the record label business, according to AYE, distinguish between being an artist and managing a music business, develop a robust business plan and build industry connections and choose a unique brand name, secure adequate capital, and complete necessary registrations and licensing with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
In the Nigerian music industry, the life of MohBad and his journey with Marlian Records mirrors the larger conflict between creativity and commerce. It highlights the delicate balance that must be struck between empowering artists and ensuring the profitability of labels.
To continue and maintain its growth on the global stage, it is essential to strike this balance in the Nigerian music industry by promoting transparency, education, and fair business practices all stakeholders can benefit from.