Billions of streams, Music split sheets, mechanical royalties, performance royalties, sync licensing, Digital strategy – the horizons for monetizing art form in African entertainment space and rewarding creators for the sweat of their ingenuity is beginning to touch the clouds.
The opportunities are becoming more visible and feasible and the industry is experiencing a quantum leap. These Machinations that use to seem like Abracadabra due to the crude structure of the entertainment scene, which left possibilities ores unmined, are the fruits of the strides and works of intellectual property geniuses like Foza.
Oyinkansola Foza Fawehinmi is an award-winning music business executive and lawyer specializing in the African entertainment industry. She is currently based in Lagos, Nigeria, where she manages the affairs of top government and business executives across different sub-Saharan African countries.
Foza had a sit-down with Adeyemo Moses and talked about the state of the Nigerian entertainment industry, her position as a leading business and law executive, and the FOZA CODE – which is revolutionizing intellectual property in the African Digital space.
You currently serve as the President of Digital Music Commerce & Exchange, what is it about and how can the Nigerian entertainment industry benefit from it?
Digital Music Commerce & Exchange is a company founded in 2018 by my partner, Iredumare Opeyemi and I. Because of our background as Intellectual property (IP) lawyers and entertainment lawyers, we saw that African IP was (I mean we predicted this like 5 to 6 years ago) positioned to take center stage worldwide. Our biggest fear was when you don’t know where you are coming from; you actually won’t know where you are going.
A lot of the successes that we see now, a lot of the things that we see happening now a mirrored effect happened in the 90s, 80s, and we had all these people in here, the westerners, pumping in money, taking money out but the problem was they were just putting money in and taking money out, not building long-lasting structures to create something that was sustainable.
We realized that was going to repeat itself and we decided that the first step will be to put numerical value on what IP is because as a country and continent, from the government down to the citizen there is still no value as such placed on IP.
I mean it’s Afrobeats to the world, everybody is happy, the hype is nice but the money value to IP education is still generally lacking. DMCE comes into this space to manage, administer, exploit, value and also to protect IP generally. When I say IP I mean film, music, literary works across board and we are doing this in multiple African countries.
We are established in Nigeria; we work in Ghana, in Tanzania and about to set up in Kenya. We are basically helping young, new and old catalogues [owners] to succeed in this digital era. Whether it’s the masters, publishing, film master, derivative of film –– we protect the IP and work it in a digital age to make more revenue in this digital age.
So basically, we just take IP, we milk it, make sure it makes the right money and make sure that everybody that contributed to the IP earns from it.
What was the industry like at the time you were starting your career as a lawyer specializing in the entertainment industry?
It was a grey space, a virgin land full of opportunity for savvy lawyers or music business executives. Many industry executives were trying, developing and working on sustainable structures from scratch. Because there was no template, it gave me an opportunity to create and set something for myself.
It was basically trial and errors and modelling myself against people that were not basically here. That was like the spectacle of what the industry looked like before my time.
In your years of experience, what is the one mistake that young artists keep making whenever they enter into agreements with labels?
They simply don’t read. They don’t care enough to read and know [what’s in their contracts]. As an artist your career is your life, every other person that comes whether they are your lawyer, manager, or labels are all incendiary assistance or conductors helping the driver. [You as an artist] are always the driver. However, if you do not outline what you want your life to be like, people will take advantage of that.
A few years ago, there weren’t many resources for artists. Now anywhere you turn, there’s a music business class going on even down to niche topics like entertainment law. If you are still entering into bad contracts at this time it’s really your fault and nobody else’s. Back then, they claimed lawyers were scarce, expensive, everybody is gatekeeping, there is no knowledge shared; now if you have data of N1,500 you can just Google it. There’s really no excuse these days.
If you’re entering a bad contract it’s really your problem, and most times it’s just really knowledge and information, they just refused to learn and read, because when you read you will understand that the label is just an assistance to your career which means that when you sign you should not just start living life instead of you working on the product which is the music and ensuring it works. Most people just sign and believe that’s the end; everybody should do all the work for them except them.
Just producing the music or just singing the song no longer cuts it and it’s the same thing for every sphere of life, just being talented or having a first degree doesn’t cut it anymore, you have to get a Masters Degree, you have to get an MBA, it’s not peculiar to you its just how life is, you just have to go the extra mile. That, for me, is the problem because when you don’t know you start having expectations that are unreal and everybody starts fighting.
What achievement are you most proud of?
The SARZ Academy [by renowned producer, Beats by Sarz) is something I’m extremely proud of.
Sarz is such a good sport, allowing us to collaborate to create something monumental that helps with knowledge transfer and also stay for a period of time. I’m very big and my business is very big on transfer of knowledge, power and wealth basically within the creative industry.
We have been able to groom producers that are well equipped: who know their rights; topping Billboard charts; producing the biggest Afrobeats songs today – that, for me, is an achievement to be proud of.
I also remember working to convince the Lagos State Government to classify IP as a form of property that can be willed. I collaborated with Lola Oyedele, my associate at Technolawgical Partners. We were able to get the government to give us a letter of administration based on the late rapper, Dagrin’s IP. This was another great achievement for us as a law firm.
The last one will be propagating the gospel of music publishing. We started that with Green Light Music Publishing. We pushed the publishing agenda for a while and educated producers as to what their rights are and what they should be earning as producers and just generally creating a balanced industry in terms of royalty, money and splits in general. So for me, those achievements are very key and paramount to the goal that my vision or purpose in the industry is trying to propagate which is creating sustainable wealth for African creative.
Should international labels be acquiring local labels instead of coming in to set up shop from scratch?
I personally believe because of the peculiarities of Africa as a whole, it is important to have local insight on board before setting up anywhere on the continent. An easy way to gain insight is to partner with the locals first because even as close as Ghana is to Nigeria, I can’t go there and expect to function properly without a Ghanaian on my board. Locals always know their own realities more than foreigners.
I strongly advocate for partnerships with the local labels. This is what I usually recommend because we’ve managed to make sense out of our own peculiarities. When you are coming, if your real interest is to work with the industry to become better, then I will always recommend partnerships. However, if your real interest is to leech on the industry from outside, you’d be in for a long battle.
One of the biggest things that we lack is knowledge and capacity, when there is an introduction of international capacity I always expect that the first thing to do is knowledge transfer and capacity building. As an individual I’m more for partnerships, joint ventures, capacity building and knowledge transfer.
Can the popularity of social media in music distribution signal the end of record labels, as we know it?
I believe that record labels are not going anywhere for at least another 50 years. Businesses will always adapt to new realities.
In this DIY era, value is being recycled a lot: Your independent distributors are owned by labels; the deals are still label-like because the music industry as a whole is very capital intensive.
I know that maybe the gospel of “DIY” works better for established acts that are capable of taking such risks. And I totally recommend it because their cash flow is stable. For the younger musicians, who make up almost 90% of the industry, record labels are still going to be a good incubation ground for them.
What’s going to change is the bargaining and the negotiating system because now people are more informed. The reason why we had very unfair capitalist situations was because people were not informed; now a lot of people are more informed and can negotiate on better levels.
Do you think artists coming into the limelight via social media should be allowed on the big stage without any sort of training/development?
I mean, it’s already happening and we’re seeing the colossal disaster that is! You can’t skip artist development. When an artist is going through development they play to a smaller crowd and this allows them to make forgivable mistakes and also hone their skills on the stage and in the backroom.
It’s just sad to watch an artist with a big song on social media get on the stage and struggle to impress the crowd. This is a problem because live performances are still the most lucrative revenue streams.
In Nigeria, a lot of the artists or entertainers have not mastered the art of entertaining and that’s why they can’t bill sufficiently for their appearances and shows. For you to convince me to pay N50, 000 to come experience something, I want to leave with a memory. We are still lacking in creating proper experiences for people.
I mean they will also argue the economics of ticketing, cost of production of shows but also the quality of experience that is created – when I leave your show do I want to go back to stream your music, do I want to spend the entire week raving to my friends about the show and that level of experience comes from constant practice which is embedded in artiste development. You see a lot of these guys go for shows and they are not even in sync with the band, they miss one line and are flustered on stage.
Artiste development shouldn’t be skipped; I don’t care whether you have 1 billion views on Tiktok, the paying audience deserve more value for their money.
What are the most overrated trends in the music industry these days?
It used to be twitter trends having very unrelated and poor captions or post to a song release and people used to pay a lot of money then for twitter trends, and you’re looking at how the song relates to the post or caption. You click on the twitter trend and see like nonsense going on there, that pisses me off a lot and those people made money.
Another trend is the obsession with ‘blowing’. That word annoys me a lot, like you ask someone what he wants and it’s ‘ I just want to blow’.
What are some misconceptions people have about entertainment lawyers?
That we have a lot of money, and we always have tickets to all the shows. Sometimes the organizers will even forget that you worked on the project, so don’t call me telling me about wanting to go for a show, I am not going to answer you because I also don’t have the ticket.
Also just because you see me snapping pictures with a celebrity does not mean they’ve given me 10% of the endorsement deal they just signed, don’t be deceived it’s a jungle. People also feel like we always have fun, I mean our job is fun, but it’s not as fun as it looks. We are constantly tired.
How profitable will you say the legal business in the music or entertainment industry?
Generally, the legal industry is a struggle. I also feel like it’s the way you create your business, because the purse was smaller, it was harder for lawyers to get into the mix, a lot of us when we first started decided to make our own revenue.
Literally, the way I survived in the industry was, I’d tell you I would make you money and take my cut because they always had problems paying me from whatever they were making because their argument will be I’ve been making this money before you came. Just to also be clear that the industry is very cut throat, very greedy, and very bullish, if you’re coming in being objective and being equal and being fair, you will still be broke like us, because people don’t care.
People are out there cutting people, signing or doing the most hellish deals. Now it’s getting better. I see some invoices from law firms and I’m surprised that figures like that are being charged, seeing that I doubled my invoices and people are paying. They have money now; it is a good time to come into the industry.
Your company has helped many Nigerian artists get proper valuation for their works, what type of deals do you enjoy working on?
I typically enjoy working with creative(s) that have foresight and are aligned to building sustainable wealth, because if you’re someone that your purpose or vision is to create for like 5-10 years it’s hard for you to work with someone that just wants to blow. I don’t work with people that just want to blow. My best kinds of deals are deals that probably take you 2 years.
I can be in one conversation for 2-3 years, working on projections, working on the value. Sometimes you pitch to someone and they tell you they are not exactly ready for investment, go back and do this, it takes you another one year to do that. The kind of deals I will want to strike going forward are deals that will be listed on the stock exchange to companies and deals with IP.
I enjoy working with Pan African clients and I am also innovative in terms of exploiting and exploring IP as such. Those are the people I like working with, business managers that understand truly and think outside the box, and use IP in very innovative ways. If you want to blow don’t come to me, but if you want to be wealthy come.
What policies do you think should be put in place to move the Nigerian entertainment industry to the next level?
The copyright act, proper enforcement structures and amenities should be provided for trademark, copyright, etc. It makes the process seamless, and makes enforcement better. Once policies on IP laws are sorted properly and the enforcement part of it, we are going to have a fulfilling time as an industry because our music is consumed on a global stage, one of the things that bother us a lot is when you’re receiving money from your aggregators, there is a whooping 30% that goes because we don’t have treaties between the US and Nigeria as regards tax. The US therefore charges 30% of any income because you are non-indigene and your country does not have a bilateral treaty on that. Some of us have been forced to as a company, go round or accommodate that.
Policies that take globalization into consideration are important. We need people who have created businesses elsewhere, who understand and have worked in IP management to be consultants to our legislators.
Record labels, DSPs, Independent artists, Social media companies, which among these do you think will own the bigger portion of the music industry in the coming years?
It’s whoever is giving the best solutions that make the most money. That’s just the rule of money, if you’re providing solutions you will make more money. It’s not necessarily the person that is most talented; it’s just the person providing the best solution, that’s the person that has the larger share. It’s going to remain this way as the world reaches full digitization and globalization.
What are your thoughts on Afrobeats?
I’m excited that there are a couple of people documenting the Afrobeats these days. In the past, Africans always forgot to document events, so important things were always lost in history.
There is this argument going on that not everything is Afrobeats. I’ve been on boards of international awards ceremonies where we’ve had this argument and the argument they will tell you is volume, the metadata etc. There are so many technicalities to creating or sustaining a genre as it is.
For us right now, Afrobeats is like the umbrella of it and people are angry because they feel we have Fuji, Juju and others. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that it’s going to be like that for a while until we grow. Now we have the influence, what we need to grow is power and money, because once you have power, money and influence, you can change narratives.
Afrobeats is here to stay – to the world. I love it because I work a lot with producers and I always know the next sound that is coming. I’m privileged to work with people pushing the sound, and you’ll be surprised at the element of talent, and I’m not just talking about Nigeria. I spent like a month in Ghana last year and I was mind blown, spent another in Kenya and I was wowed.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for creating systems that work, systems that people can transition through; I don’t want a system that is toxic, stagnant, that you can’t transfer power.
I also want to be remembered for being the life of the party, turn up queen, and a serious person.
I want to be remembered that I lived life, and I died empty. Like, I want to live life, on my own terms, and I know that everything that is within me as a person has been given to the world on my own terms not on people’s terms, I want to die empty.
You can also watch full interview on Youtube:
Interview: Moses Adeyemo @simplymhoses
Photography: Bolurin Visuals @bolurinvisuals
Styling: Mandyelle @official_mandyelle
Makeup: Newface Flawless Beauty @newfaceflawlessbeauty
Creative Director: Rayo Kasali
Executive Producer Edun Adedamola @adedamolaedun