Any form of art depends on understanding and appreciation. Art is a form of self expression and artists expect their expressions to leave a significant dent. No matter how much passion fuels an artist, once there isn’t enough traction or a base that’s ready to receive and appreciate it, the process and output can feel worthless to the creator. The candle can only burn for so long if the flame is almost always met with blizzard. Even if the desire always comes back, the matchsticks will eventually run out.
Music is a perfectionist endeavor with little guarantees. An artist can be talented and work on their craft day and night, it doesn’t always translate into success. Many artists claim to enjoy their craft not for the money and fame but for their genuine love of the music. But the truth is that love is a two-way street, no one wants to feel duped by giving all and receiving nothing. The dividends of being loved back as an artist is manifested in being able to make a living off the music and of course, acclaim. The amounts of dividend does vary but one thing is certain – every artist wants and needs the support and appreciation.
There was a time when radio and TV were the curators of hit singles, heavy rotation across various stations meant the single was definitely going to storm everywhere. It costs money to get constant primetime spins for a song or an artist to get bigger, a lot of upcoming artists usually don’t have the luxury of having stacked accounts, hence the need for a major label backing. Radio and TV still have a major role for a song or an artist blowing up, the passenger’s seat. Nowadays, the internet takes the driver’s seat. The internet has the power to drive a song/artist to viral status, with radio and TV having no choice but to catch on.
The internet is all about information and most times people don’t know what they want until they stumble on it. Stumble is the keyword here. Labels and popular artists found this out and have used it to an advantage, using popular blogs and social media PR companies to ensure that stumbling on whatever they want you to see (or hear in this case) became inescapable. The classic case of Sean Tizzle’s ‘Sho Le‘ stuffing every timeline and blog was how he emerged into prominence or how the commercial success of Adekunle Gold’s debut album was in no small part due to intense PR on social media.
The internet has made music sharing easier for upcoming artists and inherently an ingenuous organic route to popularity that has brought many artists to ubiquity in recent times. But for them to get to this point, this same internet is also the bane of many upcoming Nigerian artists.
Many upcoming artists do not have the money to engage enough of these online media outlets or PR handlers to cause a reasonable amount of ruckus that will get them huge attention. So they have to improvise with whatever resources they have, which almost always boils down to word of mouth. The tricky thing about word of mouth is that it is as ephemeral as the ever dwindling attention span these days. Ask yourself: when was the last time I clicked on a link with my handle attached to it or a WhatsApp broadcast message asking me to download or stream a song?
Even if you’re genuinely interested, what makes it trickier is the high cost of quality internet service in Nigeria. A friend might send you a link containing great song(s) by an unknown artist but you decide to wait till the day you have abundant data or get to a place where network is good enough for streaming (looking at you, glo). Sometimes you might remember, other times reverse is the case.
The easiest way for upcoming artists to get their music up is via streaming platforms, mainly SoundCloud. This affords the luxury of having a pile up of previous works so that anyone can catch up on everything the artist has done so far and increase the fan base. Many Nigerians have some superstitions about how much data it takes to stream a song or a project online, leading to a reluctance in streaming especially when it’s an untested artist. Nigeria is definitely behind the curve in terms of listening patterns in today’s world.
Streaming contributes some revenue in developed countries as well as a route to increasing an upcoming artist’s fan base via quick listening due to very affordable and high quality internet rates. Therefore, there’s an openness to streaming songs by new artists on the go. The world doesn’t end with Nigeria and upcoming artists abroad know this, so they push their music to those around them who obviously have the ease of playing their music. Since Nigeria has the follow-up syndrome when anything that has a Nigerian attached to it blows up abroad, we have no option but to catch up – Nonso Amadi’s current rise is a typical example. But what happens to upcoming artists based in Nigeria?
Since there’s the mini obstacle of streaming, major music blogs serve as another route for artists to get coverage with an option for download of their songs/projects. While people may be more open to downloading, many bloggers and writers do not give descriptions of these artists and their songs that spook curiosity. It’s still a word of mouth scenario and since the blogger barely gives peculiar details as to what makes the artist/song intriguing, few people ending up downloading.
Not every upcoming artist creates magic or stuff that requires high praise so it’s possible writers/bloggers have nothing good to write about those, so they just drop vague descriptions. But those worthy of praise and widespread acclaim should be described in a way that will ensure the listener definitely wants to listen.
Even with these obstacles, upcoming artists almost entirely carry the initial onus to brave the odds through creativity and interaction. One of the best things any upcoming artist can have is a strong online presence with a willingness to interact and share his/her craft. That’s how bases are grown, having a strong fan base who feel valued is what starts the building blocks of any organic growth. Some artists have a passive approach, believing that talent is enough and their work will simply trickle up to the point of popularity. The simple reason for this type of approach is pride, the belief that the world owes them for creating good music.
A chapter in Mark Monson’s The Subtle Art Of Not Giving a Fuck is titled ‘You’re Not Special’. Let me distill the chapter for the purpose of this piece: Being a talented upcoming artist doesn’t make you the best thing since Jollof Rice, there’s lots of other talented and even less talented artists that will get to the top based on the way they react and interact due to response to their work. Acting all cool and wavy might work or not, but one thing is that there’s almost nothing like being overenthusiastic when it comes to getting music to a wider audience.
Eri Ife popped up on our radar after he received cosigns from Adekunle Gold and Don Jazzy (Adekunle Gold posted the SoundCloud link to his EP on his Twitter page). Those cosigns came from his willingness to ask these established acts for their thoughts on his work and there were those who joined in his petition. I’m pretty sure it got him more looks than he’d imagine, cumulative individual track streams alone on SoundCloud alone currently totals over 10k. We listened to the music and we also gave it the props it deserved and that would have added a few more pair of ears to his work.
It’s an uphill battle for independent upcoming artists to truly breakout in Nigeria. For the journey to get less steep, all parties need to step up. Getting network providers to create data plans for audio streaming or lowering data tariff rates is a petition everyone can and should get involved in. Good quality internet services at cheaper rates is a huge constraint but it’s a sacrifice for good music. Don’t just complain about not getting quality music from Nigerian artists, do something. There’s plenty great music by talented artists you could find with the same data you’re using to complain on twitter.
Get the SoundCloud app, create a free account, check in frequently and listen for new music by these new creatives. Some of the best music by Nigerians lives on this platform and there are accounts like this you can follow that will plug you into great music by relatively unknown artists. Share the music with your friends and followers, you’re enjoying the music and also helping a career.
In addition to creating good music, upcoming artists should stop appearing and acting larger than life and engage people enough to become supporters of their work. You chose a profession that might make you more money than those who are and will be supporting you, appearing bigger than you are at the moment won’t exactly sell you to potential supporters. Arrogance doesn’t always exactly instill confidence.
Bloggers/Writers, tell the truth, the full truth not the payroll kind of stuff, we know marketing bullshit when we see it. Ornate song descriptions and artist profile pieces, however small sells the audience into listening. Writing ‘download/listen & enjoy’ beside a song won’t quite change the minds of those that might ultimately be interested. Good music deserves a great audience and there’s a lot of it not getting to the crowd.
Words by Dennis, aka Scout, aka @ayo_dennis.