There was a time I would walk into my office or study and there were more CDs littered across the floor looking for room than files or books, I am an avid collector of CDs but these discs in question belonged to a lot of random or “introduced” unsigned artistes sent to us by family, friends, associates, classmates; the list goes on. I had to learn how to de-clutter my space of all the random, mostly unsolicited demo CDs I received from all sorts of people who believed they have what it takes to be the “Next Big Thing” in Nigerian music. My car was the worst hit victim, there were CDs spilling from the back seat to the trunk, and we emptied the car every week.
Through the deluge of CDs, emails and on-site auditions (someone actually followed me to the rest room at a restaurant to belt out tunes, one of the scariest moments in my life I tell you). I have discovered a couple of real talent and the others? Let’s just say I have 80 percent mastered the art of telling people that they must have a better calling than music or acting.
It was a lot easier when we had the platform WAPi (Words and Pictures) run in conjunction with the British Council, which was very popular from 2007-2010 and birthed the careers of some of Nigeria’s present big stars; it will amaze you the number of big name acts that passed through WAPi whether it was in Lagos, Abuja or Kano. WAPi was a platform for young talents from diverse creative fields to converge every month, and showcase this talent based on the theme of the month.
Those themes included AIDs, Modern Day Slavery and issues that were pertinent to Nigerian youths and the most amazing part was seeing an average of five hundred youth interpret these themes and how it affected them, using various media; music, fashion, spoken word, acting, graffiti etc. till date, I have young people asking me “When WAPi will be back”, my answer, “Soon hopefully”. I realised what WAPi was to them, it was an opportunity for them to not only express themselves but also network with like minds but most importantly, they felt their voices were heard and it gave them an opportunity to connect with their idols in the industry.
These days, a lot of talents are looking for ways to get their music heard or be discovered by the right people in the industry, my advice will be to hone your skills and get proactive. Not everyone knows where the offices of some of the biggest record labels, studios or production companies are (and when you do, they don’t accept unsolicited mail/material); the good news is the people who matter A&R managers, scouts and all are constantly looking for talents in the most random places. Keep focusing on what you do best and you will be discovered and if you know where the popular watering holes or happening places are, go there and show them what you are made of, I didn’t say harass them, present yourself properly and pitch your product. Some of today’s biggest stars have been discovered through the most interesting and functional media.
Even though it no longer exists, MySpace produced acts like Sean Kingston and Adele. Another MySpace discovery is, Colbie Callait’s with her track track “Bubbly” in 2007, which was among the top songs on the social-media platform MySpace. “As word of mouth spread, her MySpace page began pulling in a few thousand hits daily; for four months, she was MySpace’s number one unsigned artist, garnering over 14 million plays in the process. Today, Callait has produced five albums and even won a Grammy for her work on Taylor Swift’s Fearless album.
Now Instagram is slightly different from the other social media platforms, it mostly discovers models, designers; in Nigeria it has discovered some of the most hilarious comic talents. Rihanna discovered her co-star in BBHMM video, Sanam a 25-year-old Seattle resident who is neither a model nor actor thanks for Instagram. LMDN’s “Not a Tour Hoodie” was already extremely popular, and then Justin Bieber posted a photo pleading for someone to hook him up with one, they were sold out thereafter.
Before we were serenaded by his Orente, Adekunle Gold was and still is a prolific graphics artiste, who posted the most hilarious and creative images on instagram, who remembers the picture of him swinging from two NEPA poles like, nothing dey happen or him desperately holding on to Rihanna or Toolz? It was in the process of promoting his art that he met Olamide, and msised the opportunity to tell him that he is also a music artiste, he handed his music to him which the latter listened to, the rest they say is history.
I had known about Falz (the Bahd Guy) the comic lawyer-rapper years ago when his first skit/single Shakara aired on radio but he garnered more popularity after his dangerously hilarious 15 second instagram skits flooded people’s timeline. You should check out his Highclass video, very creative in my opinion.
Now that Facebook is multi-dimensional, as a new artiste, you can post your video and music and get your friends to share it to their friends, until word gets round, open a page and rake up those likes. I remember in 2008 before rapper MI’s first album came out, he and his label Chocolate City were heavy on Facebook, engaging people, the promotion (not Facebook Ads) led to a historic feat, MI sold 30,000 copies in the first day of release.
In 2008, Justin Bieber was just another Canadian kid until a talent manager took notice of YouTube videos where he covered songs from Neyo and Chris Brown. Justin has something, that “X-Factor” Simon Cowell always looks out for in diamonds in the rough before he transforms them into superstars. Justin also plays four instruments, all self-taught and showed that in his YouTube channel.
From there, Bieber signed with Usher and The Island Def Jam Music Group, after turning down an offer from Justin Timberlake. Today, the Biebs is known around the world for Billboard top hits like “Baby,” “Boyfriend” and his new album Purpose is sitting pretty on top of the charts with “Sorry” and two other hit singles. He’s also learnt to return the favour to others after him, a tweet from Justin Bieber helped launch Carly Rae Jepsen’s musical career.
The Weeknd, started posting YouTube videos in 2010 his songs went viral and drew attention online through word of mouth, thanks to Drake who posted some of them to his blog. In September 2012, The Weeknd signed with Republic Records in a joint venture with his own imprint label XO. Shortly after, he released the compilation album Trilogy, which reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200. Since then, he’s appeared on the Hunger Games: Mockingjay on a track with Ariana Grande, penned songs for the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack and he won a couple of Grammys just last week, not bad for our half-African broda eh?
Other YouTube discoveries include, Grammy nominated Tori Kelly, model Kate Upton, Charlie Puth and who can forget Psy with his Gangnam Style? That video now has over a billion views on YouTube.
Industry events or talent hunts
I mentioned WAPi earlier, now we have a lot of ‘offshoots’ of WAPi all over Nigeria whether they are weekly, bi-monthly, monthly or even quarterly live events in select locations around Nigeria; the average artiste or actor or writer or even orator has a plethora of platforms to share their talent on. Let me share some, Taruwa, Open Mic Night run by thespian Kemi Lala Akindoju, Afropolitan Vibes run by Ade Bantu, Freedom Park in Lagos is a great spot to discover and enjoy talent.
If you don’t have the talent to be on stage but you are an amazing writer, you can ghost write for a popular artiste, we have very few known songwriters in Nigeria. Before Harrysong became the reggae blues crooner that he is today, he used to (and still does) write some of the popular songs people gyrate to; I remember him writing an entire song in front of me in studio for another big name artiste, who was also in the studio, just as the producer had laid tracks.
For this, you would probably need to hang around the studios of an industrious or popular producer and offer your services, just make sure you sign a contract so you have those cheques coming in.
My advice is communities should be encouraged to engage young talent in these areas, organise talent hunts, workshops and provide opportunities for these talents to be properly optimised. Tracy Chapman, R.Kelly, Ed Sheeran were discovered busking (street performers), These days, fame could be just a few clicks or even likes away but you would need more than that to keep people’s attention on you as an artiste.
Emem is the CEO of ONE Management, a Nigeria-based media strategy and support company