Known for his characteristic beard look, legal practitioner cum music business executive, Audu Maikori recently assumed a new role as the President of Chocolate City Music Group, a label he took from nothing to becoming one of the most sought after music groups in Nigeria. In this interview with correspondent, Idris Aina, Audu Maikori opens up on the age long court tussle with former Chocolate City act, Brymo, copyright infringement, his perspective of Chocolate City and other pertinent issues.
Since MI became the CEO of Chocolate City, has it changed your perspective about the label in anyway?
Of course yes. I can see things that I never saw before and I am learning new things that I never had time to do before. What we are doing at the label is partnership and right now, what I do is review the activities and also give necessary inputs on areas where we can improve. My new role gives me a different perspective of things on the label generally.
What are your roles now at the label?
I am not involved in the day to day running of affairs of the label but I am very involved in the general visioning of what the company does in terms of positioning and achieving our set goals. Aside that, I am also in charge of the other subsidiaries. Apart from the music label, there is a media company, there is a Kenyan office and there is also the distribution company. My job is to make sure they are all functioning, make profit and also align with our set mission and vision.
Chocolate City Music Group recently announced that the label will venture into movie production. Should we expect any film soon?
We have a second company called Chocolate City Media, there is another one named Chocolate City Distribution and Chocolate City Kenya. The 4 companies have its different goals, aims to achieve. For the media arm, we focus on content creation and the movie has been something we are very excited about over the years. There are plans to release our first feature film and we have made some sort of progress in that regard. We now have a script and we are going into the other technical parts to sign the proper agreements with every other parties involved from the cast to crew members.
Will any artist on the label feature in the film?
Yes of course but it is not just about the label. The label is the manifestation of the brand but the industry is the true manifestation of the brand. So, we need to take into cognizance what appeals to everyone across the industry and not our artistes alone.
Do you see the label telling the story of any of its artistes through a film in few years?
We thought about doing a sort of docu-movie but I don’t think we are there yet. I think we have done some good works but I think there is much more we can do. We want to take some more time to work.
The label currently has over 14 artistes signed under its imprint. Will you say that the artistes are getting same attention?
It is impossible for them to be on the same pace because generally, what happens in labels is that you give time. At Chocolate City, what we try to do is developing talents and as you know, artists’ development is the most expensive part in music business. You find that you might spend 5 or 6 years pushing one artist and he might not break even or recoup invested funds. But when they do break through, you now begin to make money on the investment.
We have traditionally always broken new artistes who start from zeroes to become heroes. For example, M.I broke through in 2009 but he was signed in 2006. So, it took him 3 years until he became a household name. Ice Prince was signed in the same way and it took him about 2 years before he had his breakthrough. It takes a while before an artist can make a name and that is why the 14 artistes cannot be on the same level.
Considering that fame achieved by Reekado Banks, Kiss Daniel and some others who started almost the same time with some of the artistes at Choc City. What are the plans to break even?
We are very happy with what we have and the abilities of our artistes. For the past 6 months, what we have been doing is just having the artistes in our 3 studios recording new songs. The artistes create new sounds every day and it looks more like a competition between them. I like that because it stimulates more cooperation and collaboration before we begin to promote them using their individual strength.
You mentioned earlier that the label makes artist from zero to hero. As regards to Brymo, was there any point you pondered settling out of court?
We didn’t go to court out of our own volition. We went to court because he rebuffed all attempts to have settled the problem. I am sure you have an understanding about court matters and contracts. There is a difference between I, Audu Maikori and Lagbaja are being friends and us also having a contractual issue. They are 2 different things. So, Lagbaja and I can be friends but if he infringes on my right, it is my duty to make sure it is sorted because that is business. Like I told many people, I have no problem with Brymo personally. When he gave birth to his child, I personally contacted him because there is no problem with that. The reason why we are prosecuting his case is primarily to assure financial investors, our board of directors, and the fans that this industry and the music business is sustainable because if somebody goes wrong, we can protect your right. If somebody has a contract and you have spent millions of naira on that person and he walks out, then, why am I still in music business? Remember that if I had put that amount of money spent on Brymo on a piece of land, that land cannot walk out. It will add value. Let’s assume all we spent on him was N10 million, which is much more than that. If you invest that amount on somebody selling recharge card, do you know how much profit you will make even if that person makes N1 of each recharge card. That is N10 million on top of another N10 million. That is what people don’t understand. They are emotional about the business and the whole thing but I am not emotional about it because it is real money.
Let me put this to you. If you approach First bank for a loan of N 50 million to invest in music business and five of your artistes that you spent N10 million each on walks out, will you say you will forgive and forget. Will forgiveness pay the debt? What we are trying to educate people about is that it is not about emotions or personalities, it is a business case that must be sorted. If you had a contract to build a house and it is not erected, you can go to court and sort it out. If an artist has a contract to deliver albums, he can’t wake up to decide, I am angry and I need to walk out. There must be something that you base your walking out on. For example, I was cheated or I haven’t gotten my royalty or I have not been funded or promoted well enough. That is what is important for us to continue learning and that is where our intellectual property claim comes in. Think about this scenario, if there are 20 Brymo’s making N10 million a month, how many managers, lawyers, financial managers will be employed? For us, that is what this is all about and we are doing our best to protect the interest of everyone in the industry.
Toni Kan addressed a special apology for Brymo to you few weeks ago. Is Brymo in anyway welcomed back on the label?
Before two can go together, there must be an agreement. For us like I said, we are open to any form of discussion. Remember Jesse Jagz left to start his personal movement before he returned to Chocolate City. Jesse’s case was different because he never had any contract with the label before he left.
Even when he left, he had no contract with Chocolate City. That was why there was no problem because he decided he needed to leave to prove a point and when he finished, he came back. If Brymo is ready to come back, he should come back because I have no problem with that. But, he must come back with the spirit of been ready to work with the team. What I find is that many artistes when they get to a certain level, they believe they can do things by themselves, and times and times again, happenings have proved that most times, they cannot do it by themselves.
The Music industry has witnessed different court issues between labels and artistes in the past. Who will you put the blame on between the artistes’, label owners, or their contract negotiators?
Every case has its own peculiarity, so to tell you that one individual is to be blamed is not correct. But I will like to think as an artist and also as a label owner. At the end of the day, both label and the artist have one objective which is that the artist that is signed is very successful enough to generate money for both parties. That is the basic goal. All the 14 pages of the contractual agreement is about, ‘let us invest in your talent using our skill and resources to sell you’ and once that is achieved, we are both happy. Now, where the problem comes is that, ‘do we have the same approach to this goal’? No, which is the only disconnect that causes some of these infractions.
Interview was done by: Idris Aina