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Nigeria: Coronavirus Compels Nigerian Musicians to Rethink Fan Engagement, Income Sources

There is no aspect of the Nigerian music industry that has not been affected by the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown.

The most obvious, though, are the big names, Davido, Asa, and Sinach, who had to postpone their tours, and of course, the cancellation of big shows like Gidifest.

Many music video shoots and recording sessions have also been put on hold.

If anything, this season is challenging Nigerian musicians to think out of the box to remain relevant and make some income for as long as the lockdown persists.

“Many Nigerian musicians, especially the a-listers, have lost a lot of money already,” said Lagos-based entertainment lawyer, Akinyemi Ayinoluwa aka Akinyemi Law.

“A lot of albums have been on pause, a lot of singles have been held back, a lot of releases have been stopped for now because musicians are not sure of how best they will make money.

“I have been negotiating two international deals for my clients but we won’t stop negotiating however we are still losing money. If your clients are not making money, trust me I don’t think we have any other means of making money.”

Ayinoluwa’s celebrity clientele includes Tomi Thomas, Northboi, Blaq Jerzee, Kenny Blaq, Odunsi The Engine, and many others.

Recently, music executive, Jude Okoye, advised his colleagues to brace up for a ‘long holiday’ and a year without live shows.

It, however, might be longer than a year.

That is, if a new study published in the journal Science, by epidemiologists from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is anything to go by.

According to the study, in the absence of a vaccine or an effective treatment for coronavirus, social distancing measures affecting gatherings like concerts may need to be deployed into 2022.

This means that many musicians might be unable to hold shows and concerts until 2022. That’s almost two years from now.

The World Health Organisation has also said that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus might not be ready until at least 12 to 18 months away.

Okoye, who is the elder brother of the twins in the defunct music duo Psquare, lamented the fact that shows or concerts will be put on hold for now.

In a series of tweets, he challenged artists who depend on shows for their daily living to brace up.

His tweet reads, “As an artist if your income is based mostly on shows, brace up for a long holiday. The way things are, there may not be any shows/concerts until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19”.

His remarks attracted a great deal of attention from his colleagues who expressed their thoughts on the prolonged lockdown and the implications on their finances.

It’s no surprise, that some business-savvy mainstream artists are already taking advantage of online streaming channels to boost their revenues

But beneath the big names, is an entire infrastructure of artiste and talent managers, publicists, music video directors, show promoters, drivers, tour managers, hype men, and music producers, who are feeling the immediate repercussions of their new reality.

“This pandemic has really affected our business. I have lost nothing less than N30 million in revenue since the lockdown was introduced. Business is dry,” said Obesere’s manager, Arems Adeniyi.

Adeniyi knows how bad COVID-19 has grounded many aspects of his industry.

“This is supposed to be our harvest time,” he joked, referring to ‘Egungun Be Careful’, Obesere’s song which has just become a hit 19 years after its initial release.

He said, “Bookings managers and show promoters are not even ready to invest in my artiste (Obesere) because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the money is not coming.

“Obesere was supposed to sign some new endorsement deals but all that is on hold and we don’t even know when the coronavirus pandemic will end”.

Arems, who also manages Nollywood actress and singer, Cossy Orjiakor, said although he has other businesses, the fact that his ventures are all entertainment-related, means there is no respite, at least, for now.

Artiste loss, fans gain

While musicians groan over their inability to perform at live shows or concerts, their fans have, arguably, never been happier.

Never have they felt so connected and closer to their favourite celebrities than this period, all thanks to the coronavirus outbreak that necessitated a total lockdown in many parts of the world.

Ayokunle Odebiyi, a marketing specialist, believes that Nigerian musicians currently enjoy more fan engagement online because their audience’s attention span is now longer and primarily focused on one place -online social platforms.

He said, “Streaming numbers have been on the increase, engagement rate has been on the rise across Branded Challenge Hashtags to owned social content and even IG live content, thanks to Coronavirus restrictions”.

With all the cancellations and postponements, artists are thinking of and coming up with creative ways to interact with their fans at a time like this.

Take ace musician Sound Sultan for instance, who decided to host his own album listening party and launch from the confines of his studio on Instagram and Facebook Live.

2baba, Waje, Davido, Asa and other acclaimed Nigerian musicians are performing free virtual concerts on Instagram and Youtube because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Daily, a number of a-list Nigerian musicians go live on Instagram to connect with their fans, field questions from them and simply just remain top of mind.

“The funny thing is that their fans actually think these musicians really do care about them. But. what they do not realise, is that the numerous Instagram live sessions are all strategies to remain relevant,” said, Ifeoma Ononye, an entertainment journalist with The Sunday Telegraph,

“This lockdown has made Nigerian musicians more creative, discover their hidden talents and at the same time woo prospective investors in the process.”

She said although Nigerian music stars don’t reply to their fans’ comments on social media, they are doing all they can to prevent them (fans) from leaving their social media handles in droves.

“Come on, it’s a game of numbers. They know that once they lose those numbers they will lose endorsements. This is why they are doing giveaways to attract a new fan base because they know that people love to go where they will find freebies.

“Don Jazzy, who isn’t even a comedian, is exploring his comic side. You would have noticed that all of a sudden his videos have elements of comedy. It’s all a part of an overall COVID-19 lockdown fans retention strategy,” she noted.

A Nigerian alternative soul singer, Bez Idakula, said the coronavirus outbreak has taught him a major lesson.

He said he had an idea to start virtual concerts for his online audience but delayed. Although he has started executing with the new venture ‘Music & Tech Space’, he still wishes he had started earlier on.

“I would have grown to another level in this season,” he noted.

“The lesson here is don’t delay with innovative ideas, they may seem irrelevant at the moment, but move on with those ideas without delay, the world will catch on. Now everyone is hosting shows and talks online, I saw that coming a year ago,” he said.

Femi Salawu, a publicity expert for the entertainment sector, said Nigerian artistes and their managers have gotten more creative, leveraging social media to connect intimately with fans.

“It’s a big win for the fans and the artists but more for the fans. Just maybe, I have been musing that after the pandemic, digital will continue to become a much more important tool for the artistes to connect and make some smart business,” said Salawu.

According to him, the instant analytics and increasing digital revenue that Nigerian musicians get would continue to be irresistible to them.

Rise of E-concerts, shows

As the Nigerian entertainment industry continues to be affected by restrictions in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the practitioners are moving to stream performances instead of physical shows.

Take Nigerian comedian, AY Makun for instance, who decided to host his annual comedy concert, “AY Live’ from the confines of his sprawling Lekki mansion on Instagram Live, with one guest, fellow comedian Funny Bone.

The concert received a lot of positive reactions on social media and has been uploaded on AY’s YouTube channel for fans to enjoy on-demand.

Ace Nigerian musician, 2baba, also held an e-concert on Instagram on April 12 just as several Nigerian Djays have also jumped on the trend.

DJ Big N’s Instagram show tagged ‘Lockdown Protocol’ was a hit as he entertained fans who partied with him from the comfort of their homes non-stop for over an hour.

Dj Obi and Dj Exclusive also hold regular club concerts on Instagram to the delight of his fans.

Singer, Johnny Drille, regularly holds live half-hour concerts with fans while Sound Sultan also held his album listening party via an Instagram and Facebook live stream.

On March 26, YouTube also collaborated with Asa, Broda Shaggi and Simi to organise a coronavirus sensitisation e-concert tagged, ‘Stay Home and Sing with Me’.

The festival also featured other top African artists performing some of their hits via a YouTube live stream for their fans who are currently practicing social distancing.

The online video-sharing platform said it is in an effort to flatten the curve of new coronavirus infections in their communities.

“For the past decade, YouTubers have created videos such as Cook with Me, Study with Me, Read with Me, Workout with Me, Meditate with Me, and so on. So the concept of this online music festival is organically in line with what viewers know,” said Addy Awofisayo, content partnership manager for YouTube Africa.

“The online music festival seeks to support the well-being of our community, who are increasingly enduring this disease in isolation – a state that can affect people’s mental, emotional and spiritual health,” Awofisayo said.

Popular Lagos night clubs are also starting to livestream an entire club session on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram on Friday and Saturday nights.

Some music experts have said that if social distancing caused by the coronavirus pandemic continues throughout 2020, Nigerian musicians will be forced to go back to the drawing board.

According to them, this might lead to a rise in online artistic performances.

Nigerian Music Industry Post- COVID 19

Now, more than ever, music streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and TIDAL are experiencing huge numbers of subscriptions and downloads across the world.
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This is according to a recent report by the Billboard music chart.

These platforms have also found a way to support the international music community this period by encouraging music streamings and donating a certain percentage of proceeds to the health communities.

Now that touring, which is a Nigerian musician’s most lucrative revenue stream is on hiatus for the foreseeable future, a talent manager and entertainment lawyer, Emem Ema, said Nigerian musicians need to be a lot more creative.

“We’re entering a different music industry after COVID-19,” said Ema, who also currently manages Peter Okoye (the one-half of the defunct music duo, Psquare).

“What this period has exposed is that most Nigerian musicians and talents shouldn’t solely depend on live events and performances for their main source of revenue; which sadly a lot of Nigerian talent are dependent on.

“It is imperative to look into ancillary income like royalties (publishing, mechanical rights), streaming is at an all-time high as people are watching and listening to music digitally”.

While some anxious Nigerian musicians ask how long the COVID-19 lockdown would last, Akinyemi Law said the aftermath of the entire episode might even be overwhelming for most of them.

According to him, a lot of Nigerian musicians would try to catch on many missed opportunities while attending parties, events in and outside of Africa which is where their major earnings come from will soar.

“There will be a lot of running from pillar to post to secure some of these opportunities and outside of that, many will be more proactive, creating more content just so they are better prepared in event of another pandemic.

“Some of them might even have gotten part payment for some concerts and trust me, no musician wants to refund any money that has gone into their accounts.”

Akinyemi Law aded that the major areas Nigerian musicians would work on post-COVID-19 are content creation, perfecting their musical work, getting the best hands are on deck for content creation and also doing a lot of shows.

Nevertheless, there is a general consensus by some Nigerian music experts. They said, as tough as it is now, Nigerian artistes should remember that their industry will, someday, start again. For now, their focus should be on making the best of their current reality.

“Now your Spotify, YouTube and online platform numbers have to count for something,” Ema said.

“Any talent worth his or her salt should pay close attention to these and other ancillary revenue channels. Release that album and single, pull your audience’s attention to some of your best work online and work this opportunity.”

By Jayne Augoye

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