– The Sun News

Songwriters: Uncelebrated heroes in the creative industry

Simeon Mpamugoh

It used to be a thing of joy dialing a radio frequency or television and stumbling on an inspiring video, song and folk music with lyrics that are real and inspirational.

Most musicians today, especially, those in the secular world and few of the gospel acts, who have commercial mindset, have dumped all that for songs with lewd lyrics and erotic dance steps.

The Nigeria music includes many kinds of folk and popular music, some of which are known worldwide. Styles of folk music are related to the multitudes of ethnic groups in the country, each with their own techniques, instruments, and songs. 

Work songs are a common type of traditional Nigerian music. They help to keep the rhythm of workers in fields, river canoes and others. Women use complex rhythms in housekeeping tasks, such as pounding yams to highly ornamented music. In the northern regions, farmers work together on each other’s farms, and the host is expected to supply musicians for his neighbours.

The issue of musical composition is highly variable. The Hwana, an Afro Asiatic language spoken in Adamawa State, for example, believe that all songs are taught by the peoples’ ancestors, while the Tiv give credit to named composers for almost all songs. The Efik name individual composers only for secular songs. In many parts of Nigeria, musicians are allowed to say things in their lyrics that would otherwise be perceived as offensive.

However, music scholars have advocated the need for professional songwriters as a way of addressing growing cases of lewd and obscene lyrics. In Nigeria, it seems a lot of artistes pride themselves on writing their own music. In fact, many of them shun the possibility of having someone write a track for them but truth is that musicians should make melodies. If an artiste can’t make melodies, then he is not a musician. But, sadly, that explains some of the below par crap that comes out of the industry from time to time.

Lack of writers also explains why some of the most beautiful songs have the cheerless lines from time to time. Singing another person’s song does not make an artiste less of a performer. In fact, he should be flattered that another person wrote a song and he came to mind to deliver such a literary art to the world.

Mr. Michael Ogunsola of the BellaNaija music team posits, “One of the biggest problems people have is admitting to have gotten help from an external source. This is true in so many societal strata and is much more evident in the music sector. Most artistes find it hard to get someone to write for them, because they feel they would sooner or later have to admit to having their songs written by someone else. “How is that a bad thing? The greatest music legends, present and past have all had people write or lay backup vocals for them on one song or another. Even the great Michael Jackson has songwriters.  Ditto Beyoncé and Rihana. Enlisting the services of a songwriter does not necessarily mean you are a terrible artiste, it just shows you put enough thought into the stuff you are putting out for your fans’ consumption.

“We all go on social media and pixie Yemi Alade, Flavour, Timaya, Olamide. D’banj, Lil Kesh etc., for releasing songs with questionable lyrics, and we’re still the same set of people who go to their concerts and strain our lungs shouting to the ruse.

“Let’s pause for a bit and figure out why these artistes keep dishing out the same trashy lyrics now and again despite criticisms from the media. The same people who criticise them are the same ones who go around and buy the same songs later.  We should cultivate the habit of supporting good music or at least request for that from out favorite acts. The hoax will not get anybody a Grammy award. We need to challenge our musicians to do better by putting out better lyrics or at least getting someone to compose the lyrics for them,” Ogunsola noted.

In his views, music sensation Davido, whose banger, “Like Dat”, was claimed to be written by Teniola  Apata canvassed the need for  Nigerian artistes to wake up adding,  “it isn’t bad for superstars to employ songwriters for hits.”

The Sun Literary Review observed that the development was not the artiste’s first time working with external contributors. The singer has a history of contracting people to make records for him. The hook for “Pere”, his collaboration with Young Thug and Rae Sremmund, was written by Dammy Krane. “Gobe”, one of his greatest hit records, was also written by a producer named Password. In 2016, his song ‘Gbagbe oshi’ was a record from General Pype. There are unconfirmed reports that Tekno was heavily involved in the songwriting process for 2017’s smash hit record “If”.

Songwriting in Nigeria has been a very sensitive conversation. The Nigerian music industry, with its unstructured copyright laws and lack of publishing, does not encourage it. The business of songwriting has been around for a while and apparently is a pretty lucrative business to be a part of. The key players involved in songwriting are the songwriter, the recording artist, and of course the music publisher. But, what is this business really about and would it be beneficial in a society like Nigeria’s?

Ollachi Holman of Ebitu Law Group explains, “A Songwriter is typically a person who writes the portion of a song that can actually be copyrighted. In the United States, those parts are generally the lyrics and melody. Hence, an off-the-chain guitar or drum solo does not entitle such musician to any songwriter royalties unless he or she is also credited with contributing lyrics or melody to the song. At the end of the day, the recipients of songwriter royalties are determined by the names listed when the song is registered with the US Copyright Office.

“Producers and band members who only play instruments can enter into agreements with writers stating in effect that their contributions to the track are enough to constitute co-authorship of the track -basically the track could not have existed without the beat or the drums. A prime example of this sort of agreement exists between members of popular group U2, which entitles all of its members, including the drummer, to writer’s royalties on all of U2’s music.

“Brandy’s popular 90s track “You Don’t Know Me” was written by Rodney Jenkins amongst various others. Jenkins also produced the track, meaning that he was responsible for that oh-so-catchy beat that many an Igbinedion Secondary School girl found herself drumming on a locker in her junior school days.

“The beat was so popular that you could just be humming it to yourself and some random person would join in from the other end of the corridor. As far as I am concerned, that song was the beat. But, what if Jenkins had not co-written that track? That would be a perfect scenario where a contract between the writers and Jenkins would have been more than appropriate to entitle a producer like Jenkins to songwriter’s royalties.

“Many Nigerian producers don’t just make beats; they actually help out with the hook, too. In fact, some of them provide rappers with beats that already have the hooks in them. For all intents and purposes they co-wrote tracks and might want to consider drafting some documentation to that effect so that they can get a little side action in their bank accounts. Take American producer, Benny Blanco, for example, who has produced tracks like Trey Songz’s  ‘Heart Attack’, and Wiz Kalifa’s ‘Roll Up’. He also wrote and produced Rihanna’s Diamonds, Katy Perry’s ‘California Girls’, and Gym Class Heroes’ ‘Ass Back Home’. His net worth is rumoured to be more than $10 million.

“In the case of the Publisher, he signs publishing contracts with individual authors promising to represent the work of a composer or lyricist and promote its use. In return, the publisher holds part of the copyright to this work and becomes a right holder entitled to royalties. Record labels sign contracts with Recording Artistes allowing them to become the owner of a Recording Artiste’s master tapes of recordings. Most record labels today also function as music publishers, funding the writing and recording of songs, and paying copyright remunerations to produce CDs from recordings of songs. “The Recording Artiste is the one idolised:  the Rihannas,  Beyoncés,  Katy Perries and the Maroon 5s. Sometimes, recording artistes can be a band of collective individuals. These are the people we accuse of being members of the Illuminati. The Recording Artist is the person that actually performs the music on the recording regardless of if they actually wrote the song or not. It’s important to make this distinction because not everyone writes their own music, which is a good thing a lot of times. If you record a cover, you will be the Recording Artist, but not the Songwriter. Don’t forget that The Dream wrote ‘Umbrella’, while Rihanna recorded it.”

According to the lawyer,  “Songwriting is a pretty lucrative business in a properly functioning musical society. It may not be as lucrative in Nigeria considering the current operating model in the Nigerian entertainment industry, but remember that Nigerian artists can be found on Spottily and Pandora these days, so you stand a chance of making money outside of Nigeria. So for those who still want to lead a somewhat normal life but have a deep love for music, you should consider songwriting. Not only will you have the opportunity to work with various heavyweights in industry but you should be entitled to at least half of the royalties on each song you write.”

However, In Nigeria, the willingness to admit to using songwriters is rare in the industry. It should be recalled that 2face Idibia and Blackface are still battling over songwriting credits and publishing royalties. Blackface, who was the leader of the defunct pop group, Plantashun Boiz, was their chief penman. He is credited with being the writer of “African Queen”, and also contributed lyrics to 2face Idibia’s “Let somebody love you”, featuring Bridget Kelly.

In a chat with Literary Review, renowned gospel artiste, evangelist Skid James Ikemefuna, sums it up, “The culture of meaningful lyric in our songs and folklore is sadly dying. Most of our musicians have abandoned meaningful lyrics and folklore; lyrics that inspire and motivate people to be conscious of society, patriotic and to work hard at whatever vocation they have, have been discarded especially by our secular musicians.

“Many of them now copy American rap lyrics, which dwells on butts and boobs, money, sex, drug, women, and violence. And most lyrics today are vulgar, pungent, debased. It is an expression of our current social values, which centres on money, expensive cars, and booze, women and material things generally. 

“Regrettably, this is affecting our children and youth as many of them have a misdirected mindset on morality, aspiration, and social responsibility. Many think the way to belong is to have billions of dollars or Naira and drive Ferraris, Rolls Royce and drink expensive Champaign, and hang out with women.

“We need to introduce moral parameters in songwriting. The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) must wake up, monitor and ban obscene and lewd lyrics and songs. If possible, a law should be made prescribing punishment for such artistes in the form of fines and even imprisonment because they are corrupting the younger generation of Nigerians.

“The Ministries of Education, and its counterpart from Information and Culture must embark on mass campaign to sensitise the public on the negative impact of obscene and lewd lyrics. We must also discourage the playing of this kind of  ‘beer parlour music’ with lewd lyrics in our homes and social gathering. The radio and television stations and viewing centres with this type of lyrics –and for videos, erotic dance –and our young ones. They should censor music with lewd lyrics.

“Musicians will embrace positive, inspirational and motivational lyrics highlighting our folklore and culture if their lewd lyrics and songs are banned. The cooperation of social media like facebook, YouTube is critical,” Ikemefuna said.

While welcoming the need for professional songwriters, Ikemefuna further said,  ‘That does not remove from those who have it in them naturally; people like Ray Mike Nwachukwu and his bestseller and motivational song ‘Time Na money’, Christy Essien’s  ‘Omo mi Seun Rere’, Onyeka Onwenu with ‘One Love’, Celestine Ukwu, and Dan Maraya Jos, whose folk song ‘Mai Akwai da Babu’ made a hit. I think it is important songwriting is taught in schools as part of music or literature,” he added.

Lending his voice to Evengelist Ikemefuna, a rapper A-Q, who released his Blessed Forever album in 2017, urged songwriters to form a coalition. Hear him,  “Make it a profession and educate the public. Artistes should come out and more songwriters should pitch their music to people who are losing direction, and can’t make great hits while a lot more artistes should up the ante.”

A music critic and PR executive Ogaga Sakpade, opines, “The demand placed on top musicians is crazy. They travel between countries on the regular, perform at countless shows. When they finally get free space, they are too tired to connect to their creative parts. That’s why songwriters are needed,” General Manager, Universal Music Nigeria, Ezegozie Eze, observed that the problems of songwriting in Nigeria were the fault of the artistes and the songwriters.  He said, “The artists don’t understand the way the global industry works and the songwriters are not demanding credits. Many don’t even know that they have to discuss publishing instead of one-off payments.”

Eze advocated education as the most basic solution, adding, “Music industry practitioners, the talents, producers, songwriters and stakeholders need to be properly aware of international best practices so as to adapt it and find solutions to the problem.

“We need to publicly celebrate and showcase songwriters who have made wealth from writing songs for artistes. Songwriters equally need to acquire knowledge to understand that one-off payment isn’t the end of it. They need to demand for publishing and credits so that they can get royalties. Award shows have to be inclusive of songwriters, for penning records for other artistes,” he emphasised.

One of Nigeria’s most popular songwriters, Omolara Ayodele, who has written and co-written hit songs for many Nigerian artists, including Praiz’s “Rich and Famous”, Timi Dakolo’s  “Iyawo Mi” and a number of records for Chidinma, Bez and Asha, described songwriting as  one of the important parts of the music business.

The graduate of Philosophy said, “A songwriter is a professional, who is paid to write lyrics and melodies for songs, typically for popular music genres.  He can also be called a composer. The pressure from the music industry to produce popular hits means that songwriting is often an activity for which the tasks are distributed between a number of people. For example, a songwriter who excels at writing lyrics might be paired with a songwriter with the task of creating original melodies. Pop songs may be written by group members from the band or by staff writers – directly employed by music publishers. Some songwriters serve as their own music publishers while others have outside publishers.

“In the USA and European markets, this is an acceptable practice. Major labels and publishing houses recruit songwriters to pen records for their signed artists. Rihanna’s Diamonds, was written by Sia. PartyNextDoor was the writer of 2017’s smash hit, ‘Wild Thoughts’, a record owned by DJ Khaled, and performed by Rihanna, and Bryson Tiller, Bruno Mars co-wrote Ceelo Green’s hit record ‘Fuck You’,” she added.

Literary Review identified some Nigeria’s generation of musicians, who defy usual lyrics of butts and boobs and “beer parlour music”, to something real and inspirational to include 2face Idibia, Gino, Black Magic, Mode 9, Dare Art Alade,  Asha, Korede Bello and 9ice; while those in the lyrics of butts and boobs categories include Cynthia Morgan, D’banj,  Iyanya,  Olamide and Lil Kesh  etc. 

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