I am republishing this article here for easy reference to some of the licensing deals taking place in Nigeria’s music industry today, when I discuss them. I do intend to go over the basics of licensing and what licensing really means in a practical sense. But, let’s start with this interview, first. This article was first published online at NJO early last year but remains relevant. ******
Greetings. . . I am delighted to introduce you all to Chris Austria who will also critique eight popular songs from some of our talented artists at the end of this interview! Austria is the Director of Music Licensing for Independent Distribution Collective (IDC), a music distribution and licensing company in San Francisco. At IDC, Austria is responsible for A&R, managing the music catalogue, negotiating contracts, publishing consulting, producing, and finding content for music supervisors in TV and Film. Music from IDC catalogue has been licensed to Universal Pictures, The Oprah Show, Dreamworks Animation, EA Sports, Fuel TV, NBC Universal’s Oxygen Network and the USA Network, FOX Sports among others.
Independent of his work as a music professional, Austria has also spent 13years as a tiger and lion trainer as well as composed and produced music for the tiger show at Marine World. Austria has served as a tiger consultant for ABC, CBS, and has been featured on the Early Show and Nightline. Austria has a big love for Africa and has licensed hip-hop African music from Kenya and is looking to license even more songs from other African countries. I hope our exposure of your works to Austria means one day we will hear one of your songs on some of the TV and film shows here in the States, and worldwide where the films/Tv shows are syndicated. Enjoy the interview, artists take notes and share with as many as possible.
Ms. Uduak: Chris, thanks a gazillion for agreeing to thisinterview. I know my audience will be very blessed with the knowledge and direct link to selling their music you are about to drop. First, what’s good? How are you?
CA: I am doing well Uduak. Thank you for interviewing me. I have been very busy in the studio, producing more tracks for TV and film. Currently, I am licensing African hip-hop to an upcoming Universal Pictures film.
Ms. Uduak: Great! We will talk about that soon. But first, how did you become involved in licensing music for film and television?
CA: I grew up in a musical family. My father was a violinist in San Francisco for 35 years, and my mom was a flamenco guitarist. I started playing piano and guitar from a very young age, and continued as an adult. Producing music has always been a big part of my life. I was a tiger and lion trainer for many years at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo, CA. Aside from training the big cats, I also produced original music for the tiger show. My time there really honed my skills at producing action-oriented music. After leaving Marine World, I worked for two different publishing companies, and learned about the process of licensing music for media.
For one of these companies, I was fortunate enough to work with Carly Simon’s catalogue for licensing. This opened a lot of doors for me in the TV and film world. About two years ago, I linked up with Independent Distribution Collective in San Francisco, a music distribution company. As the Director of Music Licensing, I set up the licensing division of the company. I built the catalogue from the ground up, and focused on urban music and hip-hop. Aside from IDC, I also work independently in music licensing through my company, Urban Tiger Music. Most recently, I have licensed music to Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Animation, the USA Network, and FOX Sports.
Ms. Uduak: What fantastic and amazing accomplishments! Often I find that many artists limit themselves by thinking they can’t be where their colleagues are. Be it selling their music to film, tv etc. It is important to me that my audience know this is doable and not a big deal, per se. Let’s talk about some of the African songs you have placed?
CA: It is very doable, with a lot of hard work, determination, and discipline. It took me four years before I made a music placement from my African catalogue, so it took a lot of patience. A few years ago, I went to the opening of an amazing documentary called Hip-Hop Colony. It was about the emergence of hip-hop in Kenya. As I was watching this film, I remember being so emotionally moved by the artists who were rapping in Swahili and Sheng. It was powerful, dynamic and raw. I was so affected by the film and had to find a way of meeting the filmmaker. His name was Michael Wanguhu and I introduced myself to him that night. This was the beginning of a great friendship, and over the years we talked about forming a partnership.
I did whatever I could to promote Michael’s film as well as African hip-hop. He recently produced another film called Ni Wakati featuring M-1 from Dead Prez. I work with one of the music supervisors for Universal Pictures, and he contacted me a few weeks ago, looking for African hip-hop. I presented one of the tracks in Michael’s catalogue and he really liked it. Eventually the director heard the track and decided to use it for the scene. This song, Tarua, will be for Blue Crush 2, a movie about female surfers. It takes place in South Africa.
Ms. Uduak: Very cool. Share with us a little bit about your interest in Africa because I know you even speak the Ethiopian language Amharic?
CA: I have always had an affinity with African cultures. It started when I took West African dance classes in college. Aside from dance, I found the music to be very organic and powerful. I was also very drawn to the art, both ancient and modern. Jimmy Kitamarike, a friend of mine from Kampala in Uganda is an incredible painter. I was exposed to a lot of his art as well as other paintings from African artists. I hosted a few music events at his art studio, and people from many countries of Africa were present. Being involved with the African community also exposed me to incredible cuisine from their homeland. They would cook incredible meals for these events. My former girlfriend is from Kenya, and she was also very influential in introducing me to Kenyan art, music and culture. As far as Amharic, I learned the language from my friends. There is a thriving Ethiopian community here in Oakland, California and I spend a lot of time with my Abesha friends. I have found African folks to be very much like my Filipino people: warm, family oriented, passionate, and fun loving.
Ms. Uduak: Alright we about to really hone in on another African group, Nigerians. [I] have (many AML artists) and (Nigeria’s music community i.e. Nigerian record label executives, managers etc.) who will be reading this with a keen interest. Kindly break down the structure on how IDC works with these professionals in buying and selling their music?
CA: Although we also are a physical and digital distributor, I will only speak on the licensing side since this is my area. The licensing agreement is non-exclusive, and artists keep ownership of their copyright, publishing and masters. We don’t purchase the music. In tv and film, there are two license fees that are paid. The synchronization fee is paid to have the right to take an original composition and synchronize it to a visual image in timed relation. The master fee is the right to synchronize the original sound recording to the visual image. Both of these fees, generally are the same amount, and are paid by the production company or network. In our agreement we split these fees with the rights holder, so 50% goes to them and 50% goes to us.
Ms. Uduak: What are the kind of figures we are looking at?
CA: There is a wide range of what revenue one is able to generate in licensing. It can be a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, with the economy and with changes in the music industry, licensing fees have been greatly reduced. It is important for artists to earn money cumulatively, seeking multiple streams of revenue.
Ms. Uduak: Very well. I gave you eight songs to critique to see whether these are the types of songs that would interest you and to hear your opinion on the production side also. Before we get into it, I know you drop mad tips to artists across the nation. So, hit us with five (5) essential tips for artists trying to make it whether they are in Nigeria or the USA?
CA: Sure, it can easily be broken down into five tips.
1) With your song, it has to be a strong song with a distinct “hook” or theme. Chord progressions are also important.
2) The track has to be professionally mixed and mastered
3) No long and drawn out intros. The song must grab the listener’s attention in the first 5 seconds.
4) You must control the publishing and masters of the song
5) No samples from other sound recordings can be used
Ms. Uduak: Wow! Let’s go back to your experience with tigers. Drop some knowledge on us on some of the things you have learnt in working with tigers that translate into working in the music business.
CA: Tigers and lions have been my greatest teachers in life. So much of my success in the music industry is a result of working with them. Even though they are raised in captivity, the big cats are, and will remain wild animals. They are highly dangerous! It is from them that I learned to control my mind, body, and emotions. I had to in order to survive. Possessing a heightened state of awareness at all times was vital. I developed survival instincts and an inner strength I didn’t know I had within me. I went through some extremely difficult times working with the tigers, and I continued to persevere no matter how hard or dangerous the circumstances were. I had a strong affinity with the tigers because they are very intense and passionate animals.
They can be extremely affectionate, and at the same time, highly aggressive. I learned to navigate within a dynamically changing environment, wrought with danger, adventure, and intrigue. Through the tigers, I was able to clearly see what I believe in, what I am passionate about, and what my life’s mission is. Unfortunately, tigers are on the verge of extinction in the wild. I am working with the World Wildlife Fund, assisting in tiger conservation as well as habitat preservation. I am developing a marketing project with them, combining powerful wildlife images with music. I also continue my work with the ABC network as a tiger analyst, conducting TV interviews about the cats.
Ms. Uduak: Speaking of controlling mind, body and emotions, one of things I see artists do, whether Nigerian or not, is get very emotionally engaged, they become reactionary and undermine very important relationships that are highly instrumental to their success in the industry. I know you stress often that the music business is about relationships. Shed light on the relationship part and the emotional maturity necessary to be successful in the industry. How do artists achieve this?
CA: This industry is all relationship based, and one must carry oneself very professional, like any other business. Meeting a lot of people in the industry and cultivating those relationships is the key to potential success. Although music is art, it is important to realize that you are bringing a product to market, and understanding best practices in marketing is the difference between success and failure. You have to have a very thick skin in this industry, because you will be subjecting yourself to a lot of scrutiny and criticism.
If you are too attached to your music, and unwilling to change if need be, you will not progress in this industry. Most importantly, artists must produce a lot of content and be prolific so if one track is not accepted, you have a few hundred that might. I learned from working with tigers and lions, how important it is to control your mind and emotions. This is the “Zen” aspect of the music industry. If you hone this ability, anything is possible. You will have the strength, tenacity, and character to shape your destiny through you actions. It’s all about discipline- discipline to stay in the game no matter how hard it gets, discipline to work hard and strategically map out your career.
Ms. Uduak: Alright sir! Let’s get into your feedback on the artists’ songs I gave you. Bez is an emerging R &B artist based in Nigeria. I gave you his song ‘More You.’ Your thoughts?
CA: Very beautiful guitar playing and Bez has a great voice. I would shorten the intro and go straight into the vocal part I like how “More You” is repeated within the song as a strong hook. The song has same guitar instrumental all the way through. It needs some development and chord progression. I really like the bridge section, but it should come sooner. I love the last two bars of bridge with the chord changes. String section towards the end is great but should also come in sooner. More realistic sounding strings will also improve the song.
Ms. Uduak: Chris Akinyemi also an R &B singer. He is a Nigerian based on the East Coast. What are your thoughts?
CA: Cut intro, like the four bars of guitar and the strings. Vocals should come in right after this section. Cut out the DJ scratching and rooster sounds because it’s distracting. Good guitar groove, but it’s the same all the way through. Need some chord progression. There are also some horn parts that sound very canned. Add more vocal harmonies like you do towards the end and have them continue instead of just punched in there for a couple bars.
Ms. Uduak: Ice Prince is a rapper based in Nigeria. His song ‘Oleku’ was one of the biggest hits in 2010 with artists in neighboring Ghana and those within Nigeria and the diaspora attempting remixes to the song. His song is Afro-Nigerian hip-hop. Your thoughts?
CA: The first souring synth line that comes in could be cut out. I prefer going straight into the intro, which is very catchy. I dig the piano track because it adds a lot of movement to the track. Vocals and rap should come in sooner because it’s a long intro. I would bring out the bass track so it stands out more. The same synth line that is in the intro comes in at the beginning and middle of the song. I think it’s distracting. This track also has the same groove all the way. Add a bridge, break down section, change up the drum programming, and add a different chord progression. I really like Ice Prince’s rap, because it’s very distinct. The singing hook section is straight up feel good, and the song is very upbeat. I had to bust out some serious dance moves when I was listening to this track.
Ms. Uduak: (Laughs) Another really talented artist is Fr3style. He dropped the song Ariwo Ko o (It ain’t noise) last year. Your thoughts?
CA: This track caught my attention out the gate. I liked the auto tune vocals in the first few bars. It has a good upbeat and high energy vibe. I would cut out the word “scrotum” because it makes it harder to place (in film or TV) for obvious reasons. The background vocals have a lot of auto tune. I don’t think it’s necessary to process those vocals, since the other vocal tracks have auto tune. The song has the same groove all the way through and it starts to get monotonous after the first minute. The drum programming has a lot going on, and it can be too busy at times. Simplify it and they will hit harder. Fr3style has some mad flow, no doubt. I’m feeling it.
Ms. Uduak: Naeto C is a popular male rapper based in Nigeria. He dropped ‘Share my Blessings’ ft. Asa, also Nigerian, this year. Both are award winning artists. Your thoughts?
CA: The drum track really grabbed my attention immediately. I would EQ the kick to carve out more of the lower frequencies so it drops harder. “Share My Blessings” is a great hook. This track tells a very specific story, and it is told in a powerful way. In licensing however, if the story is very specific, it makes it difficult to place in TV or film. Lyrics have to be more generic, for lack of a better word. The song could also use more chord changes, because it’s the same all the way through. I love the female vocal track. It adds a lot of warmth to the song, and she has a beautiful voice. Naeto C is a dope rapper, and his rhymes are tight.
Ms. Uduak: Mo’Cheddah is still technically an emerging artist. In 2010 she dropped her Freshman album. She is also probably the only female appealing to a really young female demographic, like Nigeria’s teeny boppers. Your thoughts on her song ‘If You Want Me?”
CA: I like Mo’Cheddah’s voice and also the vocal processing effect on her vocals. The song is lyrically very strong. Since the song is in the minor key, it has a certain sadness to it, but it’s on the upbeat tip which is a great combination. “If You Want Me” is the hook, and it’s memorable. The bass line needs to be brought up in the mix in order to support the track. I like the rapper on the track. This song could use a breakdown or bridge section, because it’s the same groove all the way through. I would also work on more drum programming so the track has more movement.
Ms. Uduak: Omawumi was a finalist in West Africa Idols, think American Idols. What did you think about her song ‘Chocolata’ ft. Naeto C?
CA: This track grabbed me in the first few bars, which is important. The intro should be shorter- not longer that 4 bars. Omawumi is a really good vocalist, but I think the vocals could be warmed up in the mix. There is a lot of mid range in her voice, and certain sections can be piercing. The kick needs to be brought out, and more of the lower frequencies could be enhanced. I would choose a harder hitting snare on the “2 and 4.” The clap doesn’t have enough impact, and this is vital for an upbeat urban track. As with some of the other tracks, this song needs more variation, because it’s the same groove all the way through.
Ms. Uduak: Finally, I gave you “The Power” by X.O Senavoe produced by Miami based Nigerian music producer Kid Konnect. Your thoughts?
CA: The intro is around 50 seconds long so this should be edited so the intro is no more than 4 bars. I really like X.O Senavoe’s lyrical flow. He spits some dope rhymes. I love how he said, “Idi Amins can never break us.” I like the female vocals, but they could be warmed up more. There can be more work done in the mix, so all the tracks are balanced. There are some instrumental sections that could be brought out more. I also suggested using a stronger snare sample so it slaps harder. As with many of the songs, I am looking for a breakdown or change because it’s the same instrumental track all the way through and it gets monotonous.
Ms. Uduak: Thank you Chris for the amazing critique! Much appreciated. The obvious question now is how do (AML) artists approach you because they will. (Laughs) That is the whole point of this interview?
CA: I can be contacted on facebook.com/chrisaustria, twitter.com/chrisaustria,
And at firstname.lastname@example.org Here are links to my website and blog.
Ms. Uduak: What is the kind of presentation you want when they approach you so that you take them seriously and they are able to do business with you?
CA: It is always important to have a professional presentation, whether it is an email, Facebook or Twitter message. Many artists just randomly send MP3s without saying who they are or how they found out about me. Sometimes they don’t even have their name in the body of the email. For example, artists that contact me should let me know that they heard about me through this interview or through you.
I prefer submissions to be sent through a zip file of MP3s via YouSendIt. Although I will download tracks from other links, many of these, such as Send Space gives you all these pop up advertisement windows when you download, so I prefer YouSendIt.com. Zip files should be titled as the name of the artist so they can be easily searched. It is vital to have metadata on your MP3s, specifically track name, genre, artist, and contact info so we know how to reach you. There is a great software program called Amadeus. I use the batch processor to tag MP3s with this important metadata.
I also accept physical Cds but the proper protocol has to be followed. It is never a good idea to send a CD with information written on it with a Sharpie. Again, presentation is important. Many times, I get CDs with no track listing. Although the metadata may show up in your computer, it may not show up in others. If you are burning a CD in iTunes, you have to go to the Advanced menu and submit track names. This goes to the Gracenote database so when others put your CD in their computer, the system will access the track names.
All your information should accompany the CD. This should include track names, producer-artist names and contact info, website link, facebook-twitter info, and performing rights organization. I don’t need press kits or photos. It is best for all this information to be on the jewel case insert so it doesn’t get separated. Also, CDs should be in a full size jewel case with a label on the spine. This CD sleeves or cases get lost easily and cannot be easily found on a shelf.
Ms. Uduak: Many thanks Chris. You absolutely rock and I owe you like lunch, at the very least. Let’s hope I can afford your expensive taste. (Laughs) Seriously, thank you so much. You are highly appreciated by me, and definitely (my) readers.
CA: Thank you Uduak for interviewing me, and thank you to all the artists. I am so impressed with the incredible talent coming from Nigeria. I look forward to working with you in the future. I would love to go with you to a restaurant that has Nigerian food.
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