Rotimi Akinfenwa popularly known as “Rotimikeys” is one of Nigeria’s most gifted music producers today. His dream to change the face of music in Nigeria and beyond drove him to leave his role as Senior Studio Producer at West Africa’s leading advertising agency – Insight Communications -­ to establish SonG23 Productions. In this interview with Mary Ekah, he talks about his vision, achievements and many challenges

Tell us how you started in music?
I started with music pretty early. I joined the choir at the age of six. I started playing drums and keyboards at age nine. As a young child, I always fiddled with my dad’s turntables and cassette players for hours on end. Before I even knew there was anything called a recording studio, I used to imagine arranging music and recording different instruments all by myself. In 2001, I had my first encounter with studio software and fell in love with it immediately because it was what I had always wanted and I haven’t looked back ever since.

What major projects have you worked on and artistes have you worked with in the course of your career?
I have produced jingles, sound design and support for the biggest advertising campaigns in Nigeria and West Africa for flagship brands such as MTN, Etisalat, Gulder, Glo, Peak Milk, Indomie, Bournvita, Amstel Malta, Sterling Bank, Stanbic IBTC, 7up, Golden Morn, DSTV Vitafoam amongst others. I have also worked with artistes likeAsa, MI, Burna Boy, Lynxx, Naeto C, Flavour, Waje, Omawumi, Bez, Cobhams, Tuface, YemiAlade, Niyola, Olamide, Banky W, Dammy Crane, Dija, Flavour, Chidinma, Simi, Ty Bello, Nikki Laoye, Pita, GlowreeyahBraimah, Nathaniel Bassey, OC Ukeje, Kakadu (The Broadway Musical) and many more. I produced the Ambode’s Ambo Oh 2015 campaign music, Konga’s Happiness Theme Music, Yemi Alade’s Nakupenda and Kelele tracks on the Mama Africa Album.

How do you joggle being a producer and also CEO of Song23 Productions and Song23 Records?
At first, it wasn’t easy. I had to get used to wearing multiple hats. I have had to think about the craft and creative work in the studio as well as the business side of things. It has however pushed me to better myself every day. I’ve had to balance wearing T-shirts on some days and wearing suits on others.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered?
The business terrain is a dynamic and ever evolving one with competition getting stiffer every day. The major challenge has been standing out in the entertainment industry, conforming to global standards in terms of our quality, creativity and processes. Obviously, the infrastructure issue is there: unstable power supply, access to funds, exchange rate fluctuations because we do business internationally and so on.

Having produced some of the biggest advertising jingles in the country, could you tell us what inspires you about selling brands and products?
I have always loved creating new sounds and telling stories with my music. When I watch movies for instance, sometimes, I’m actually not looking at the pictures. I listen to the dialogue, music and sound effects, which sucks me in; I would just follow the sound till the end of the movie. So when I had my first encounter with advertising music in 2003, it was just a natural connection. I could now create my own stories with sound.

How has your experience in advertising impacted your work with artistes and other projects?
I have worked on countless number of blue chip brands, which have over the years required a wide range of music genres/sounds/emotions in order to connect with their target audiences. What I have been able to do, along with a number of my colleagues in the industry, is to establish the proper fusion between proper music writing and production standards and advertising music. I have produced rock, reggae, Afro fusion, pop, R n B, Jazz and so much more for brands. This has really expanded my horizon and I’ve been able to translate my wealth of experience to artistes and other music projects. Today, there’s no genre of music around that I cannot produce.

What’s your personal vision about the entertainment industry in Nigeria?
I personally want to build the largest music production company in Nigeria and one of the largest in the world, one in which global standards are upheld and creative people-artists, musicians- from different parts of the world can come in, flourish and get the best service as good as anywhere else in the world. There’s so much potential right now in Nigeria in terms of talent, opportunities and creativity. In the next 10 years, Nigeria will be one of the biggest industries in the world, not just in terms of creativity alone but in terms of business.

These days, we see a lot of Nigerian artistes collaborating with respected foreign acts in various ways. Do you think Nigerian acts measure up to them?
In a way, yes. Nigeria has been able to prove to the world that major talents exist here. However, the onus is on us to develop and stretch them to match world standards anywhere, anytime every time in terms of our stage performances, attention to the slightest details: quality of musicians, sound, lights, camera etc

In this industry, there are all shades and dimensions to talent, what would you like to be known for?
I would like to be known for quite a number of things. There are different parts of me. I would love to be known and respected for my contributions as music entrepreneur, a producer/arranger, artiste, contentcreator and thought leader in the entertainment industry.

You have one of the best-equipped music studios around, what was the thinking behind investing so much into equipment when technology suggests that those can be substituted with software?
At this point, let me correct what seems to be a misconception in the industry, software cannot completely substitute hardware. Those who rule the world of music and entertainment have at some point in the course of their career invested so much in their craft and their equipment and that’s exactly what I am doing, and it’s for the long haul. Have you seen Timaland, Dark Child and Pharell Williams studios or the famous Abbey Road Studio in London that has been around for a pretty long time?

Are there plans to evolve into a music artiste in future as a singer that you are?
Oh yes, I’m an artiste. I have written, produced songs and collaborated with a couple of artistes. Some like the Yemi Alade Kelele song on her Mama Africa Album and others to be released soon. I sang the hook in the famous Ambode Ambo oh 2015 campaign song, which I produced as well. Watch out for more singles before the end of this year.

Do you plan to release any singles soon and is there plan for any collaborations?
I plan to release a number of them before the end of the year. There will be a number of collaborations. Just watch out for them.

What is your most memorable project till date?
It’s hard to tell, but the Ambode 2015 Campaign Theme music has gotten the most remarkable reviews.

What’s your niche in the area of production and music?
I’m a specialist at music concept creation/direction, arranging and producing. I’m quite versatile and in love with a lot of genres.

As with the music video production, we are aware that a lot of audio works are done and possibly completed abroad in a quest for quality sound, do you do that too?
We work with our consultants in the USA and Europe who mix and master our production tracks so that we get the most optimal results in our productions. If it’s what the track requires, we make it happen. We also work with session musicians abroad as well, guitarists, drummers, singers, orchestra sections and so on.

What would you say has helped your career journey so far?
That would be the quality of my work as well as the standards we have been able to create, maintain and improve upon over the years. Also the relationships we have built with a lot of our friends.

What are the qualities of a great artiste?
A great artiste should be able to see far down the road, capture it, and bring it into the moment. He should know his strength and build on it, know his weakness and get assistance there, but most importantly, stay true to himself and not give up for anything.