When did you realize that you wanted to be music artists?
Peter: When we were young our music was about dancing, singing and imitating people. We left music to focus on other things such as football and went back by chance when our mother, who is a pastor, invited us to play in the church band. Later, we won a music competition. From this experience we realized that we could take our music to the next level. We formed P’Square and the rest is history.
How did you go about living your dreams and starting your careers?
Peter: There was a time when our music was not appealing to the audience. Our dad stopped paying our school fees. We kept doing music and we found ourselves paying the fees. This built us up to stand on our own. Though we were making money, we needed to find a way to save because the music industry is tough. We didn’t want to fail like many other musicians before us. We left Jos to make a name for us in the industry. We were on our own in Lagos with little support and that is why we needed to be careful about how we spent money. Success for us was because of our perseverance and being the best in what we do.
What was the worst business decision you have taken and how did you overcome it?
Paul: Four years ago, we did a concert in which we invited an international artist. However, the artist did not show up. We wanted to carry on with the show but we were concerned about the negative impression this could create. At this point crowds were coming through the gates. We did not know how to explain this problem to our audience. We came on stage and performed three songs and immediately announced that everybody with the tag should go to the bank where they bought it and collect their money back. We did that to protect our name because it is more important than the money. With a name you can still make money. But when you lose that name money won’t come. We turned a negative business decision into a positive one.
What were the key challenges when you started your music career?
Paul: Back then, the money for studio recording was a challenge. I remember when we did our first song—we asked for help from our mother, who paid for the release of our song. She was so impressed with our work that she paid for the release of another song. Unlike other parts of the world where there are avenues to showcase talent, in Africa there are very few places where record labels can spot talent. As an artist you have to put yourselves out there and hope that somebody will recognize and sign you. For us it never came. We decided to do it on our own. Today we are signing artists.
Has piracy affected your music?
Paul: It is affecting us but we are not complaining because we sell in large volumes—our latest album sold a million copies five days after release. As a record label we are affected because new artists cannot control distribution. Distributors pay our royalties upfront because in Nigeria there is no monitoring system. Piracy does not end with hard copies though—downloads on social media could be an advantage as well as a disadvantage. On the one hand they help us to gauge the popularity of our music but on the other this is used to pirate our music. We try as much as possible reduce the piracy risk.
What does it take to be a successful musician in Nigeria and Africa?
Peter: You have to be business-oriented. As a music artist you need to understand that music is not for life. It might be for life for the likes of Michael Jackson. If you are making money now you need to manage your revenue life in a way that you can survive without music in the future. For us, outside the music industry we are into the real estate business. We don’t buy to sell; we keep most of our property investments.
Pirates suck blood from gangster turned gospel singer
How did a gangster end up making a living as a gospel singer?
Now Kenya’s Owen Mwatia trying to stop hustlers and pirates from ruining his dream. When the fifth member of his gang was shot dead on the streets of Nairobi, Owen Mwatia—known on stage as Daddy Owen—decided enough was enough. In 2003, he put down the gun and picked up the Bible.
More than eight years on, Mwatia is an award winning gospel singer and one of East Africa’s best musicians. He scooped the Best East African Artiste Award at the 2011 African Gospel Music Awards in London. In 2010, Mwatia was the first gospel musician to win an MTV Africa Music Award.
Life in a gang was tough enough, now his newfound career is being mugged by piracy, poor distribution and new technology.
“The reason why piracy is widespread is because of poor distribution channels. The distributors in Kenya are not doing their work. If you want any type of music, it is readily available through the pirates than the distribution companies. Out of 10 people listening to your music only one has bought your album, or even zero because all 10 just copied from their friends.”
Inefficient management of intellectual property rights, piracy and one-sided contracts have left many East African artists struggling to earn a living. Contracts in Kenya are not dictated by artists. A telecommunication company takes up to 80% while the artist gets 20%.Mwatia is trying to fight back.
“I am doing a digital launch whereby it will be coming from Daddy Owen straight to your phone, your computer or any storage appliance. In between there’s no middle man there’s no distribution company, and it is easy for me to get my money directly from it [digital launch].”
A digital launch is a once-off, where an artist has to cash in because after the launch, music becomes available and can be transferred from one device to another.
Kenya is Africa’s gospel capital and you’ll even find it being played in night clubs. Gospel songs top the charts and play across all television and radio station. Gospel music events in Tanzania and Uganda are dominated by Kenyan artists.