We’ve heard the story one too many times; A new talent pops up on the radar, touted as the best thing since…well, since the last ‘best thing’ popped up; we fawn over this new repository of music, lauding his talent, delivery, and creativity, wondering how we managed before he showed up. Management then begins to show up, with many individuals and teams offering paths that talent may tread, but all ultimately promising the same end result: stardom, fame and money.
Before long, record companies show up, the talent hits mainstream, big money changes hands, and the talent morphs into a star, maybe even attaining legendary status. Notably however, most artistes at this point seek to detach themselves from the label, preferring to set up their own labels and handle their own affairs. Thus leading to the big question ‘Are labels still effective?’ or should acts just go independent, rather than hook up with a label? The answer to this question lies with the individual and his needs as an artiste. Only he may know if joining a label is the best course to take. Don’t get me wrong, labels have a number of roles they play; they provide tons of money to push the dreams of the talent, they have single-handedly discovered a billion underground prodigies, they provide distribution channels, exposure, among other things; but, my argument against them is hinged on their thirst for creative control, which may or may not benefit the artiste and the label as an extension on the long term. Basically, record labels tell you what they think you should sound like, not necessarily what you want to sound like.
Bad record labels act like a dysfunctional boy-girl relationship; boy meets girl, both falls for each other, boy loves to smoke, girl knows this but falls anyway, relationship lasts a few months, then girl starts to complain about boy’s smoking habit, boy is confused…didn’t she know he was a smoker before now? How come she has only come to realise that she can’t stand his habit?
I like to call this impasse ‘Death of a Pop Star’, it’s about the death of contemporary music and how the system is trying to take away our ability to have pop stars. Music has been reduced to a hit single or an internet download; it’s going to be almost impossible for there to be another Michael Jackson or Usher, or even locally, another 2face. The power has been taken away from the people. I’m not saying I’m sick of the music industry but it’s just that certain people are trying to make it like the WWF, strictly for the entertainment, and not for the art, and that is bull.
Music just doesn’t have a balance right now; the problem is that the system doesn’t care about the quality of music. The only thing record companies care about is money and their return on investment as quick as possible. They rarely, if ever, take into consideration the wishes of the artiste, preferring to act as guides to the new and even the established acts.
These labels don’t have one owner anymore that has a soul. They have corporate entities that don’t care about talent and will just push garbage. Now, they think that they can get anybody to play the part of a rapper. Everybody feels like they can be a rapper. If record companies are going to put out albums by people that only have one hit song on the whole project, I wouldn’t buy it either.
Where does this leave the artiste Tied to a contract that is unfulfilling, marketed and controlled with an image that doesn’t fit, performing and promoting songs that don’t come from within, and who suffers? The listener, the audience, you; fed with second-rate anthems, badly-helmed albums, and numerous 3-minute nonsense disguised as hit songs.
People don’t even mix and master records anymore. They don’t care about the quality of music anymore and it’s turning it downhill, and it’s our fault. All these blog sites, magazines, media portals are doing the same thing with the politics they employ. Half the time, they endorse artistes they know haven’t earned the space, but only make it in due to their hype. It’s no longer about how good you are at the moment, or how talented you are. These days it’s about your sell-ability, you popular appeal, how many units they can push through you before the audience gets bored with you, or before you expire; whichever comes first.
Take Ikechukwu for example, he joined Storm Records nearly ten years ago, as an untested rapper, around the same time as Naeto C, Sasha, and other acts. A few years and two albums that were briefly stirred to life by one or two singles, he left, taking his WFA with him to the Don Jazzy helmed Mo’Hits Records, or so we thought. A few months and smash single, ‘Critical’, later, he is again on the move, claiming he was never signed to Mo’Hits records in the first place. A claim that seems loaded, as I can still remember the picture that accompanied the single which featured Ikechukwu with the WFA logo hung on one arm and the Mo’Hits logo on the other arm. According to him, they only had a “working arrangement”; if he did that for just a “working arrangement”, he’ll probably get a tattoo done, were he to sign officially.
Anyways, we have a working theory that probably the same or similar creative issues were related to both breakups, with Ikechukwu not wanting to be anyone’s slave. Where the rapper will end up is anyone’s guess, and he’s not alone; Kel is another act who has been having serious issues with her label, ‘Capital Hill Records’. Kel has reportedly been offered an opportunity to buy out her contract.
The real reasons for these artiste-label breakups are still under wraps. One day when it all comes to light, we will realise that the record companies are not to blame, at least not entirely, blame it on you for not liking better music.