• CHIN OKEKE: My fiancée pays to see my show

    Riding on the success of an emerging entertainment brand, Gidi Fest, Chin Okeke, a law graduate-turned promoter, tells Nseobong Okon-Ekong the importance of consciously nursing the economic value chain in the industry

The exchange between us progressed smoothly. Chin Okeke was full of fire, witty, knowledgeable and fun to be with until we broached the matter of his educational discipline. It was the first time during the interview that he appeared to be lost for words. At this juncture, the arguments from him did not tumble out in a rush. He considered the answer and sighed deeply before venturing forward with a response.

“I studied Law, but I did not go to law school because I did not know where I wanted to live. At the time, I was in London. I didn’t know if I wanted to be in the UK or Nigeria. I could not do law school in the UK and then come to Nigeria to start all over again. I don’t have that kind of time; so I moved to China to learn Mandarin for one year and then started working. By the time, I came back, Law was already a thing of the past, for me.”

Actually, the season of merry-go-round could have been avoided if he had listened to his heart. Instead, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father who worked for 30 years as a principal partner in the law firm of Ajumogobia and Okeke before retiring to chase his passion as a farmer. The leading was there all along. At 15, he was promoting clubs in London. In the university, he was better known for supporting events. After his law studies, he went to work in banking, did some shipping and agriculture. One day, he decided that he did not want to wait 30 years like his father to follow his passion. The desire to return to Nigeria was so strong. “I do not have to live here,” he told me. “I could be in Europe, America or anywhere else in the world earning a seven-figure pay. If you start a business in London, you can get a loan, you have the support of government. You have infrastructure. You are protected by law. If you are able to do all of these without that kind of support system, there is satisfaction, there is a sense of fulfillment that you have been able to build regardless of not having that support. There is a sense of responsibility to do what you can within your sphere of influence to be part of that change. Not just talk about it.”

It’s been five years, since Chin teamed up with his partner, Oriteme Banigo to found a company known as Eclipse Live.

Talk about an agenda!
Chin had one in place from the beginning.
“Ï want to use the combination of music, art and culture to change the narrative and the way we see ourselves; music and festivals is a great way of representing who we are. Everybody has a role to play in trying to turn this madness around. The system is broken (so much) that you cannot depend on government. I don’t think we have a music industry yet. We are still very much at the point of the development of the art. We are yet to get to the point where we understand that when you put money in, you get back your money with some extra. If you can guarantee that, then you have an industry. We are still at the point of development on the creative side, whether it is about venue or policy, all of those need to be done to shape it. Until that is done, we are still very much trying to build our business into one that is profitable. We do not have financial institutions that are patient to see the long-term vision. The reality is that our business hasn’t broken even yet. I have already created my own system. You have to create a system outside the system.

Almost 10 years ago when Chin returned to the country, he bonded with the CEO of Seven-Up Bottling PLC. He was eager to put on record some of the outcome of that working relationship and how it has impacted the entertainment industry in Nigeria.

“He wanted to replicate what Pepsi was doing globally with entertainment in Nigeria and did not know how to go about it. Globally, Pepsi was very much into entertainment, but in Nigeria, it only had the Pepsi Football Academy. I will never forget the conversation. He asked me to develop a music strategy for Pepsi. Initially, he wanted to do a record label-Jungle Records. I said to him, I think you have the resources to do much more. We started off with Lynxx and that was a four-year partnership. We then did the Lynxx and Friends Tour around Nigeria. He was the first artiste to have an album launch in Lagos, Accra and Abuja, which was a big risk, because they were not coming from the top. The idea was to grow with him. We did Ilorin, Ibadan and Lagos. We did Nasarawa and Abuja. I produced that tour. Pepsi took a big risk. The idea was to diversify and then they decided to do a bigger female artiste, Tiwa. That relationship started when she came on tour with Lynxx; from there, they took on Wizkid and now the DJs.”
Though Chin is not producing the Pepsi shows anymore, he maintains good working relationship with those currently working there. Of course, the brand supported his flagship event, Gidi Fest when it debuted five years ago. The brand has grown with Gidi Fest in much the same way that it grew with Lynxx.

He was emotional about his relationship with Pepsi. It was probably the most important statement at the meeting. Said with so much modesty, its essence could have been lost. But we captured it. It was almost like he did not want to voice this milestone.

“It makes me happy to see Pepsi in music in Nigeria; 10 years ago it was not music.”
From a little known celebration of what they conceived as the street essence of Nigeria’s most thriving commercial city, the festival which has situated itself on the cultural calendar of Lagos during the Easter holidays has grown remarkably in a very short time. Taking one of funky nomenclature of the city, sometimes called, called Las Gidi, Chin and his team have been decidedly deliberate in executing an unfolding contemporary cultural revolution. The character of this big move can be identified to include determination and conviction.

Chin explained his personality in the success mix of Gidi Fest. “It is not only about knowing myself, but also knowing what I want to do. It is about the people I surround myself with. It is about my partner, Oriteme Banigo and our team. Nothing is accidental. It is all very intentional. I think there is an element of luck somewhere, but that is planning and opportunity. We have a number of events between now and the next Gidi Fest, produced by Eclipse Live. For instance in December, last year we produced two festivals; Nature Land and Palmwine Music Fest at the Muri Okunola Park in Victoria Island, Lagos, one week apart. Native Land is the one that had Skepta, a young UK-based artiste. It was a festival with 3000 people at Muri Okunola Park, one of the best shows I have produced. Palmwine Music Fest is a property of Show Dem Camp. That was the first year. We have promoted and produced our own concerts; Maleek Berry’s, Mayorkun and Simi at Hard Rock Café; that was all in December.”
Gradually, the conversation moved to an area where Chin is eager to make a huge impression: The business of entertainment.

He loves to talk about the value chain in music. He is trying to change the dynamics of the business from its current state of being driven by artistes who want to make a lot of money. “That model is not sustainable for the simple reason it doesn’t add up if 5000 people are paying N5000, and therefore you can only make N2.5 million, where then would a promoter get N5 million to pay an artiste?” He queried.

To find a way around this challenge, Chin has developed a system based on relationship and partnership in order to share the risk and the profit. He argued that it is the way it is done everywhere else in the world. “You have a minimum guarantee for your fee, we invest in the promotion and production and they bring the artiste, then we push it together.”

He disclosed the outcome of his recent promotions to buttress his claim. “For Maleek’s show we sold over 1000 tickets. Interestingly, all three shows had different demographics. Very different types of music, different audiences because of the way we marketed them. They were within a week. Simi was end of November. Then there was Mayorkun, first week of December, and Maleek before the Christmas rush. I was told that people would not have come back. There are 20 million people in Lagos, 11 months of the year. Why should I design my business around a few thousand people who come back in December? Otherwise, there is no point, I can live somewhere else and come back in December and make my money and go back. We are trying to change that. Last year, we were involved in Asa Live in May. We doing it end of this year, but in October. Maleek was the highest selling one of the three. We charged the highest premium on him and he sold out.”

Chin may have helped to open the door to the next phase of growth in the Nigerian entertainment industry without making so much noise. He insists that the country is beginning to record sold out concerts.

“The capacity for us in Hard Rock is 800. For Maleek, we had some tables and we had normal. We had an allocation of 40 complimentary ticket for media and friends of the house; everybody else had to pay. Maleek sold out for over 1000 people. We had to open the doors. At 800, we were very in line with our safety procedure. We keep track of the numbers. That is the capacity within the building. We had to open to the terrace outside. We had to stop selling tickets, at some point I don’t have any problem sharing that data because we have developed our own ticketing solution over the last three years. It is called Seat Gate. It is a B2B integrated ticketing solution based on the premise that instead of sending people to different locations to buy tickets, we are bringing the tickets to you.

It is a central system where you can sell your ticket through multiple platforms. For the little time I have worked in the tech space in Nigeria, what I have realized is that people create solutions that do not solve Nigerian problems. They just replicate what people have done abroad. Transparency is the main thing. We are not assuming that everybody is online. We know that the market is still predominantly offline. We want to convert offline to online. For instance, Flytime used Seat Gate for ticketing its Wizkid and Tiwa shows in December. They were surprised that they sold many tickets online. It is a simple system. In four clicks, you have bought your ticket.

It is customer driven. It is what the customers need. Ideally, I want us to be able to integrate into other ticketing solution companies. I told them no one of you can sell all my tickets, you do not have the capacity.”
The last quarter of last year, we did 20000 tickets, if you look at the total for 2017, it was 30000 tickets and that is not exclusive. All the physical and online tickets are validated through the same system. It eliminates fraud. It eliminates copying of tickets. All that touting of tickets is gone. There are events where they have the capacity for 3500, you come to the show and have 4500. Somebody else has sold 1000 tickets, but the promoter is not going to see that money.”

There is a point when Chin got a bit agitated. The fire in him could not be contained anymore. He just let it all out in one fit of bombardment. “I don’t believe the Mckinsey Report. I don’t believe any of them for the billions of dollars they say it is worth. Show me the value! Show me where that billions of dollars in the entertainment is. Nobody knows because it is not consumer driven. The fact is that in the event industry, one person is always footing the bill, whether it is one senator, one governor, your aunty-weddings, one person will pay; whether it is a party, one person will pay, whether it is a concert. If you look at the numbers, you can do 20000 people at N5000. What is the cost of the production? That is not too much money. Over the last five years, people have started buying tickets. That is live entertainment. It is tickets, not sponsorship. The same people in Lagos go to every show. Entertainment is the same as every other business. They will pay for it if they feel like there is value.

I give you a perfect example, Live Nation, the largest live entertainment company in the world did USD1.2 billion in the first quarter of this year. Out of that amount, sponsorship was USD74 million, that is not even up to 10 per cent. The rest is tickets. We are far behind. But we have to build towards it. I believe things have changed.”
Like everybody else, Chin comes under pressure from family and friends to give them complimentary tickets. Part of his response to that question delivered the most damning statement. I thought it was too extreme, but he was unapologetic.

“They know I don’t give tickets. My fiancée buys tickets to my shows. If you have a fashion business, do you give your family free clothes? If you own a bank, do you give them free loan? It is a business! Why should there be any difference when it comes to events. The problem is if you are a promoter and you are begging people to come to your show, you are not creating value. Every time I see somebody say, ‘Gidi Fest happened and you did not invite me’. I say does Beyoncé invite you? You fly to America, you buy a ticket, you go to the show, and you don’t even see Beyoncé, why should I be any different? I have done the work of marketing it. There are 6000 other people I do not know who paid to come. Why is it any different with the people who are close to me?

“If anything that should be the more reason for you to support my business. We are a generation of people who don’t add or want to pay for value. Everybody wants to do the smallest work for the most amount of money. Create value. Add value. Watch. People will pay for it. If you own a restaurant, do you ask people to come and eat for free? People struggle to understand the dynamics of business when it is not traditional. We have over 200 million people in this country. This is the next growth market after India and Russia. China has already gone, which means in the next 15 or 20 years. We are not far off.

“Since we started the ticketing business in the last five years, for Gidi Fest, we have doubled and tripled ticket sales. This is the fifth year for Gidi Fest. We are not yet at the point where ticket is going to drive the business, but just by the fact that we are able to sell tickets and people are buying, you can grow from there. But we have to be honest with how many we are selling. What is the pricing? Who are we selling it to? A lot of people approach marketing wrongly. They use one size fits all. Same billboard. Same television, it means you are speaking to same audience all the time. No. Get creative.”