Mariam Abass: inside life of an Afrobeats artist manager
As is customary for musicians whose songs or albums have gained a particular degree of fame, streams, and charts, Afrobeats artist Joeboy staged a music concert for his fans in Lagos at the Balmoral event center in Victoria Island. As Joeboy was getting ready to run the show for the evening, Mariam Abass, his manager, appeared to be everywhere and spent the majority of her time on the phone with vendors, decorators, other artist reps, and event organizers for what would be her client’s first-ever music concert.
In the end, the event was a success as fans were thrilled by live music performances by Joe and other musicians who graced the occasion. This success could well be attributed to Abass’ commitment and also highlights how crucial a manager is to an artist.
An artist manager oversees every element of an artist’s career, and although there are a lot of crossovers that make for a successful, productive, and long-term relationship between a creative and their manager, a good artist manager integrates everything that the artist stands for and envisions that they’ll achieve in their career into one common direction with specific end goals. While many artists have just a personal manager, there are artists who can afford to also have business managers, tour managers, day-to-day managers, and so on within the music business.
According to reports, the salary for Talent or artist managers in Nigeria varies based on the relationship and agreement between artist and the manager. while most get paid a percentage of what their artist makes, mostly (10 percent on collection-based, and co-publishing deals), Some are paid on a flat fee basis to coordinate things or as they call it, project management.
Mariam Aduke Abass who hails from Ibadan, Oyo State had a well-rounded education studying civil engineering for her first degree and a master’s in oil and gas pipeline engineering. A strange course for an artist manager you’ll say, but according to Abass, she worked as a pipeline engineer for a couple of years in the UK, and thereafter oil prices crashed and the company she worked with was unable to keep up. That was the break she sought before making the transition to styling after realizing she had a passion for adding value to people and talent.
Being very big on sustainability, Abass went on to start her own management and brand partnership agency(Malc Agency) helping talents scale and grow on brand partnerships to get paid.
Walking into the lobby with her assistant, Abass had on a white Tee-shirt with a tang top with dark colored flow trousers. That immediately evokes thoughts of style and the capacity to use whatever is in your wardrobe to produce a unique sense of fashion.
What are your day-to-day activities as an artist manager?
I have a great team. We have about four to five staff at the agency and they are all women. So we’ve developed a really good pipeline working system. The specified rules for each person are a pipeline of who does what and how the stuff escalates and who manages it. what to stop me from spending too much time micromanaging and just focusing on the key tasks.
For example, for Joe, I would do most of the stuff that relates to his money, and the other girls would, maybe we need to pitch from something in the emails, and when it comes to me, I’ll close the deals. So that’s how it is, you just need a very good system in place.
You have to be able to think fast with decision-making stuff every day. And if you have a great artist that trusts you with a lot of decisions, those decisions will be kind of like they left you, you have to make those decisions and you have to make it work because if anything happens is coming back to you. And although that seems scary, it’s also uplifting because it’s like people trust you enough to make a decision.
The key part of management is having great artists to manage. There are some people that you cannot manage and that’s a problem. I’m not saying you should look for artists who are ‘yes men’. But you want to make sure you’re working with somebody that shows that there is trust and respect and you can bounce ideas off with each other and you know to come up with very good conclusions.
How did you meet Joeboy?
I used to work with another artist at the time I met Joe. I believe he has been following me on Instagram, and then at some point, he came to London for the photoshoots for his song ‘beginning’. I helped him put some outfits together for his photoshoot.
While we kept in touch, he told me he liked my work ethic and how I started my agency and he would always say that I helped him with his brand which I always did.
When I came back to Nigeria in 2020, he was serious about me helping him with his brand. And that is how it became a management conversation. I started working with him as his manager. He is the first music artist we’re working with, and it’s been a great learning process.
What are your remunerations as a talent manager and how is it structured?
I mean, it all depends but the industry we are like I said that’s my agency Malc agency. We have talents that are kind of like models. We have talents that are presenters, we have talents, like fashion designers. We also used to work with WNBA athletes. So it all depends on the music side. All of those talents including Joe who is a music talent all have streams of income. And the way that we like to work with talents we’re very hands-on we take part in every single thing that they do. We’re helping them plan trips and plan photo shoots, and so on. So because we don’t just earn where we don’t work. We make sure we put in work so the money conversation is always easy because our talent sees what we put in and we earn what we put in.
Have you had a situation where your artist fell off?
No, I don’t think so. Afrobeats move so quickly that if you don’t do anything in six months, you’re falling off, which is very, very weird because that’s how music works. Back in the day, people released albums. And it takes like two to three years before they release something else right? And they release an entire body of work and a new promoter album and go.
But in Afrobeats it is like every year you have to release something almost every couple of months if you don’t do anything, you fall off which is very false. It also adds an extra layer of pressure onto the artist. It’s really hard enough being an Afrobeat artist well up until the last couple of years. You’ll fight in what another artist you have that scale in another country won’t have to fight for you have to in another genre, you have to fight for in Afrobeats and on top of that is that extra pressure that you have to be popping 24/7, everything you’d release needs to be number one. Every show you need to do needs to be sold out.
Most artists don’t sell out their shows, you just haven’t focused on having a ratio of a good number of people that give them a great show. A great performance. That’s what the art has been but I think these days everyone is so obsessed with what I call ‘the sold-out syndrome, and it goes beyond just selling products or tickets to shows. It also delves into, being number one and if you’re not ‘number one to five on the charts, then you’re falling off. I don’t think it’s so weird.
So let’s talk about the business of the music industry and touring internationally. How do you know which countries to go to pull a lot of crowds for your artist?
It’s always good for an artist to know their data using the DSPs like Spotify, and Apple Music, to know where your audiences are because they give you those data and use them to know if you should do a pop-up event in London or when you realise that you’re getting a growing number of audiences in Paris so it lets you target that market.
But also one of the reasons why it seems that there are more people outside is you know, for example, most of the DSPS was not easy to access for instance ‘Spotify’ and they just came into Nigeria. Then data issues, for a lot of countries It’s cheaper for them to be online and stream your music on Spotify and stuff.
Nigerians are consuming a lot of music, but most of the time it’s pirated. They’re downloading in illegal ways. So it’s hard to have that data and those are the issues. number two, as an artist you need to broaden your listener base. so you can’t just keep all of your performances in the country. You want to have a balance so that’s why they go outside
The reason why that also works well for the artists is that there is a thirst for these artists. they’re not us to see them all the time. They get to see them once a year and the fan love is crazy so they come out in thousands because they know this person is not from their country.
On this same topic, I think a lot of Afrobeats artists underestimate homegrown fans. Some might call it ‘see finish’ but Nigerians are loud and are everywhere. A lot of times if you’re popping in Nigeria, you are going to start going to the UK, the US, and other European countries. Like places like we had shows in the Dominican Republic. We’ve done Haiti. We’re about to do some other countries where we might be going to Australia so things are going far beyond and a lot of times it is because Nigerians in Nigeria are speaking on it. Everybody’s going on Twitter, and Instagram playing in it. Then the ones out of the country are picking it up. TikTok is a big one as well and that’s how things spread.
I feel like Afrobeats have always been there. I kind of sometimes don’t want to see it as often. I think the understanding is that we are pushing to go abroad but I feel like the world needs to come to us now.
The rest of the world, like American artists, is getting bored of their sound and that’s why a lot of them are tapping into us. We have the power right now and we need to understand that so we don’t sell ourselves short. We have the power. They need our sound more than we need them. We need to be very self-aware. We need to know the power in our music and our culture. And the time is such a great opportunity.
What is the cost of styling an artist in Nigeria?
Without going specific. It costs a lot more than people realise. For example, now as Nigerian artists, if you’re based in Nigeria, the stylists don’t have access to a lot of brands, when I was in the UK I had access to a lot of brands. There’s something called pulling or loaning where the brands loan the items to you and you take them for photo shoots and all that. The stylists in Nigeria are not very big, so they don’t loan stuff. The artist needs to buy. An artist as big as Joe has a lot of photoshoots, featured video shoots, and appearances and so we pay for styling every time.
It would be great if there was a funding program for aspiring talent managers but it cost money to put a good structure in place and break new ground.
What is your opinion on young people coming into the industry as artist managers and A&R, do you think it is essential for them to harness those skills to manage talent?
It’s not an easy thing to do, you know, just being a woman in the industry has helped me a lot and it was also very challenging. I believe there’s such a thing as a woman’s intuition. A lot of times I can sense things and I will tell my talent what I feel and they’ll realise I’m right.
So just putting your intuition there and believing in yourself, this industry can have you question yourself all the time. You have to believe in your source not to be cocky or not to be closed-minded or you have to believe that there’s a reason why you’re doing what you’re doing and your opinion and your thoughts and your intuition counts for something.
Abass’ Malc Agency has talent from all over the world like the UK and the US. They focus on talent from ethnic backgrounds like black agents, and people from ethnic minorities.