Upcoming Musician? Here Are Critical Steps To Take To Make It Big In The Music Industry In Africa

There are many industries in the world today, with music being part of them. And there would inevitably be many talents in each industry as well. Here, again, music is not exempt. But then, as the saying goes, it is one talent to be a talent in the industry, and it is a different ball game to be an accomplished and famous talent.

One can be talented and remain obscure, a manqué creative, perhaps – ultimately disappearing from the scene without a trace. That has been the fate of many talented musicians in Africa and around the world. For this post, though, the focus is on Africa.

While Talent is not enough, we have spelt out some key aspects of the music business to take seriously if you want to make it in the industry and maybe create a secure page for yourself in the ever-changing book of African music.

  1. Find Out Who You Actually Are

It is tempting to assume you can sing or rap because you see others – people close to you, perhaps – doing just that. But can you really sing? Can you rap? This is where public opinion comes in handy. Your family will always try to support you, so they might not tell you the truth in order not to hurt your ego.

So, go out there. Rap. Sing. Put your music before the world and get the opinions of as many people who don’t know you as possible. What are their verdicts on your singing and voice? The higher the positive verdict, the higher the chances that you’re on to something grand. Keep it up.

  1. Create, Create, Create, & Offer Yourself to the Industry even for Free

You’re just starting out, so not everyone knows who you are. You have to create a lot to bring attention to your creative sinews. Let the world see what you can do with your song. Let your voice follow them everywhere they go. You don’t want to create just one song and then go to sleep. No way! Keep creating more music.

Check out important events around you and offer to perform even for free. By putting yourself out there, you’re advertising your talents to the world. You don’t know who might turn up, see your performance, and offer you a great label deal.

You may not have realised this, but some notable names have had to perform for free before they became famous. Think Shimza and Prince Kaybee.

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Of course, after you have become famous and secured the bag, you may no longer offer free services, except for occasional charity.

  1. Utilize the Power of Social Media

The power of social media cannot be overemphasized. Previously, corporations were more like gatekeepers of talents but that power has been mostly eroded by social media, as just about any soul can use social media platforms to promote themselves.

Open social media accounts and share your music all over the place. Follow leading industry players and tag them to your songs as well. Make sure your accounts are heavy with your music. If there are more memes or ordinary pictures than music on your social media pages, then you’re not serious.

In case you don’t know, music executives are watching, looking for talents they can snag. Don Jazzy once told a tale of how he personally reached out to Ayra Starr via a direct message after listening to her music on social media. Today, she is a Mavin (as in, signed to his record label), famous and travelling the world as she pleases. Now, imagine if she hadn’t been posting her music on social media and Don Jazzy hadn’t noticed her.

Her story is similar to what he did to Boy Spyce and Bayanni.

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A word of caution, though: do not include nudity in the thumbnail or cover for the song you share online. Avoid clickbait. Those are big turn-offs, and people might use them to demarket you.

  1. Show Up At The Door Of Power

There are people who are in the Industry before you, who have accomplished a lot and on whose back you can ascend in your career. Record label owners. Music executives. Famous musicians. These re just some examples. Follow them and occasionally drop your music as a comment on their posts. Respectfully ask them to check your music. Keep it consistent but don’t overdo it.

If their DMs are open as well, you might also reach them there with your songs, asking them to give you a review of what you have created. One man who made it through this way was the Nigerian singer Zlatan Ibile. He was always in Olamide’s inbox. Eventually, his persistence paid off. Who doesn’t know Zlatan Ibile today? A famous musician now, he has no money worries.

  1. Do Ambitious Things and Dare To Fail

In this music business, you’re as good as your talents, ambitions and persistence – in that order. Talent is not enough. Be ambitious. Dare to stand out even when it appears all things are stacked against you. The list of talented musicians who vanished in obscurity and many – and a pain to recollect.

Back in 2013, Olawale Ojo won the MTN Project Fame singing competition. Ordinarily, that should have been a pedestal to an illustrious life as a musician. But he simply vanished from the scene. Years later, he would be found in the streets as a cabbie. What went wrong? The story is almost the same for many people who won Idols SA. Not much is heard of them again.

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On the other hand, there are those who stick it out, even without the pedestal of a reality show, and eventually made it to the top. Cassper Nyovest is one. He was possessed with the spirit of music and left school so he could focus on his music. He left the township on the back of an open truck.

He would meet with HHP (Hip Hop Pantsula), who would school him on the beauty of ambition – how to carry himself like the person he would want to be: a great. Cassper soaked up all the lessons and kept pushing himself. He made one of the most ambitious moves of his career when he decided to fill up the 20,000-capacity Dome. He was the first hip-hop artist to do that.

The success of that event led him into dreaming even bigger. His #FillUp campaign was born – yah, now the dude fills up stadiums! And you know what? His garage gleams with some of the choicest cars money can buy – think Rolls Royce, Bentley, McLaren… and we’re still counting!

As an up-and-coming artist, you can start smaller, You can get an open space, send invitations to media houses, create some buzz about your event and go perform! The important is to put yourself out there. Let the world hear your name!

  1. Be Unique – Try to Stand Out

A common mistake most up-and-coming musicians make is to copy others, hoping the buzz from others would trickle to them. It rarely works that way. Try to stand out from the pack. Distinguish yourself in as many areas as possible. Your stage presence should be something that sticks – something memorable.

Also, try to pick a stage name that isn’t very common. This way, you’re not lost in search engine result pages. People should be ab;e to search your adopted stage name (assuming you’re opting for one) and see something about you, not unrelated content.

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About being Unique, Nigerian singer Portable could stand as an example. He does not care to follow anyone’s style or whatever. He throws himself smack into his performances and says things as they are. Right now, he is rated among the top stage performers in Nigeria – not bad for someone who has not spent up to four years in the music industry.

To his credit, and as Don Jazzy observed and used as an example to school artists signed to his record label, Dr Zeh (as Portable is fondly called) knows how to use social media algorithms in his favour.

  1. Read That Contract and Have a Lawyer Explain it to You

If your ambitions didn’t drive you to set up your own record label from the beginning and drive yourself to the zenith of your career, and you eventually get a recording contract, please, don’t go wild with jubilation just yet. Read the fine print. Yes, Read that contract and have a lawyer go through it as well.

A record label is a business, and most times, labels rarely give artists favourable deals, especially when they are aware those artists either cannot read or might not read the contracts. If you don’t have a lawyer explain the contract terms to you at the outset, you might end up jumping into bondage.

An example played out recently between Makhadzi and Open Mic Production, which claimed her contract is auto-renewable. But Makhadzi countered that she was unaware that it was. The case is in court and Makhadzi is fuming that she didn’t earn a cent from the contract she signed. They paid her nothing, she claimed. Lessons. Learn.

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By the way, Prince Kaybee had a similar complaint about unfavourable contract terms with Universal Music. He is no longer signed to the record label

  1. Control Your YouTube Channel

Controlling your own YouTube channel is like having the keys to your savings vault. Yes. YouTube videos print money from adverts placed by Google. If you are not the sole person with the password to your account, you might lose that account to the other party who has the password in the event of a disagreement, and you would no longer get revenue from the channel.

In that case, you might have to start afresh by creating a new channel, which might not even get a quarter of the subscribers of your original channel.

South African rapper Kwesta learned this the hard way following the crisis that destroyed RapLyf, a record label he founded with former associates, including NOTA Baloyi.

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  1. Remember Your Roots

When you eventually make it in the industry, remember your roots and remember that without the fans you are nothing. Don’t become an arrogant and pompous fool who talks down on fans. You might not survive it.

  1. Help Others

You should make it a point to help as many as you can when you eventually climb the stairs in your music career. You lose nothing by being kind. On the contrary, you’re empowering yourself. The result will show soon enough.

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