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Damilare Kujembola: A Tale of Slavery in the Nigerian Music Industry



Did you know that about 80% of the music industry revenue is generated from Ring Back Tunes?

For 7 years, Ring Back Tunes (RBT) has been a major window of distribution for music in the country with Telecommunication Companies leveraging on their nationwide platform. With just N50, the service enables subscribers to change the conventional ringing sound when he or she is called to a song of their choice, which entertains callers each time they call the subscriber’s phone. Usually, the parties to this transaction are the Record Label or Owner of right in Musical works, a Servicing Company like Vas2net and Mtech, and the Telecommunications Company. The Label licenses the necessary rights in the musical work to the Servicing Company who in turn sublicenses to the Telecoms Company.

Did you know that telecoms companies charge between 70 to 75% of the total revenue generated from Ring Back Tunes also known as caller tunes, leaving the Labels and the servicing companies to share the 30 – 25% in a 50% – 50% ratio? And that at the end of this chain is the artiste who has a crappy 70% – 30% sharing formula with the label, the 30% of which is subject to recoupment for costs? Am I the only one that thinks this is insane!?

If you have ever wondered why artistes sign away 7 years of their career to a label and why an A – list artiste who has spent 3 years making hit songs, would complain about revenue received from the label, now you know why. But who can blame the record labels? As a business and legal adviser, I wouldn’t advice otherwise because investments have to yield returns. Unfortunately, deals like the one stated above have made profit generation slow.  It is a ripple effect and the telecoms companies are to blame!

What I don’t understand is why everybody seems fine with it.

In an interview with the NET, the CEO of Achievas Music (home to pop singer Solid Star) stated: ‘The caller tune service is helping in fulfilling those goals and that’s good enough for us

GOOD ENOUGH? Where the total revenue generated by the telecoms company for a song is 100 million Naira, the record label walks away with about 15 million Naira before tax is deducted. The remainder of which will be shared in a 70 – 30 ratio with the talent – who ends up with nothing more than 4.5 million before recoupable costs. Can you call that good enough? That is everything but good enough and is only similar in comparison to breadcrumbs and bones!

This is nothing but slavery in my opinion and in the words of the great Tyrion Lannister, “It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when ‘what is’ has worked out in your favor.” Is it really working in their favor? Is 15% of the total revenue generated from RBT in the industry’s favor? Your guess is as good as mine.

Growing up, Aminata Sow Fall’s Beggars Strike, a comical satire taught me that no one will appreciate you unless you project reasonable self worth. If you haven’t read it, it is a tale about beggars, embarking on a strike after being unfairly and forcefully removed from the city by the government to improve tourism and how they leveraged on their importance to Zakat (the third pillar of Islam to give to the poor and needy) in a predominantly Islamic country to triumph.

I am projecting this story on the music industry to show how talent and owners of musical works have undervalued themselves in a bid to feed off the breadcrumbs and leftovers of the telecommunication companies. Unless we discover and project our value, no one will do it for us. Unlike the beggars in the book we do not have to dig deep or think hard to know how important talent and music is to the telecommunications companies as well as in the Nigerian entertainment scene.

The telecoms company might seek to justify this unfair ratio as distribution costs and fees but that remains to be seen and the burden of proof is on them because on the face of it, the pipelines for distribution have already been laid. If artistes can demand to renegotiate their contracts with record labels (who can justify an initial 70 – 30 sharing ratio because they run on a deficit due to recurring costs in the furtherance of the talent’s career like recording costs, facilitating airtime plays, accommodation and feeding cost etc,) after they have recouped their expenses and made profit.

In the same vein, the telecoms company should be subjected to the same reasoning and asked to reduce the sharing formula. If neither the record labels nor COSON will attempt to re-negotiate this formula, it is important for the government to step in and regulate this area – to encourage creativity and increase the incentive for authors of musical works.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Atholpady 

Trained in both US and Nigerian Laws, Damilare Kujembola is an Attorney qualified to practice law in Nigeria, specializing in Entertainment and Intellectual property transactions. Through his practice, Mr. Kujembola has developed an expertise in the area of licensing, distribution and financing of entertainment content as well negotiating talent deals. Through his words, he hopes to inspire a change in the Nigerian Entertainment Industry. Email: [email protected]


  1. A Real Nigerian

    June 12, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    How exactly is Tyrion Lannister or any other character from that ridiculous Games of Thrones TV show “great”?

  2. newbie

    June 12, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    A: Knock, knock
    Q: Who’s there?
    A: Tuko
    Q: Tuko who?
    A: To Copy this tune, Press 1……..

    Am I the only one thoroughly irritated by those pesky time-wasting caller tunes that greet one when calling some Naija numbers?
    And to think that artistes are being shafted on top of everything is just the icing on top. Personally, I think those things should be banned but yeah I’m not holding my breath!

  3. cindy

    June 12, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Entertainment industry is shitty everywhere in the world. Those who go in are courageous. Nobody’s got time for that. After following South Korea’s pop industry for a while, this one to me is just a tip of the iceberg. The cost of fame mehn. My own is that nobody should charge me 5o naira for what I did not subscribe for.

    • molarah

      June 12, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      Right that is. It’s not unique to the Nigerian music industry. In fact, as I was reading this piece I remembered Left Eye’s analysis of how TLC was able to sell 10 million records and end up being broke. It was so interesting, I’m putting it here:
      – Each album has a 100 points, each points equals 8 cents.
      – TLC (the artistes) get 7 points, giving them 56 cents per album sold
      – 56 X 10million = $5.6million.The recording company takes $3million of that
      – And from the remaining money, the artistes have to pay for video recording, supporting costs
      – Their taxes get deducted, and because they earn so much they are in the 47% tax bracket.
      – That leaves them with roughly $1.3million, which will still have to be shared among 3 ladies

      Bottom line is, the artistes themselves have to be more informed about the contracts they sign up for, and get good legal representation in any deals they get into

    • BeatZ By Wolfman

      June 12, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      Bless you Sister! this was very insightful and practical…Knowledge key in this record bizness or else you get ‘dealt with’

    • Shannie

      June 12, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      It’s interesting you should say you follow the Kpop industry, as I do too. The entertainment industry is a mess everywhere. idols in Korea make zilch unless they come from the big companies like SM or YG, or manage to get a huge hit and generate publicity that can get them endorsements, etc. I only hope that those that make money put it to good use, save, and invest wisely.

      I really like Wizkid and he’s super popular now, but who knows what’s down the road. He’s making big money, but cars and jewelry cannot be put away for a rainy day. Save your money, especially when you are young and successful because your whole life is a head of you.

  4. nene

    June 12, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    life is not fair. at least they are even getting money. what of people who have nothing? the entertainment industry around the world is known for using people and dumping them, so nothing new here. if you want to make money and be happy on your own terms, be your OWN BOSS, and break away from being an employee to another person if you can afford it and you’re able to work extremely hard.

  5. faya

    June 12, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Yes Telecommunications cannot justify their actions, regardless of that, the musicians themselves are never well informed about the contract they sign and because of the quest for fame at all cost they are ready to get any amount you offer to them, the bottom line is always get a veryyyyyy good legal representation befor signing any contract and read all content and the must be a clause to review the sharing formula

  6. igbegocho

    June 14, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    This post just reminded me to call MTN to stop stealing N50 from me for RBT. I have unsubscribed several times but i’m still being charged for tunes i would never use. I have only ever clicked 1 for not more than about 2 or 3 ring tunes which they hardly ever played. it is not unusual to tell someone about their RBT and they say that’s not my RBT. The networks play whatever they like for you, you can call a person five times and hear 5 different tunes.

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