Nigerian singer, songwriter, and recording artist Tiwa Savage has just signed an “exclusive global recording agreement” with Universal Music Group (UMG). The excitement and news surrounding the deal has attracted global attention primarily from fans and mainstream music industry trade publications like Billboard.com, and Music Business Worldwide.
A day prior to Tiwa’s announcement, however, Burna Boy, “Mr. African Giant,” put out a statement that he felt sorry for Nigerian artists signing international deals.
“I feel so sorry for all you Nigerian artistes jumping into these international deals. You guys don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “I will forever be grateful and thankful to my manager/mother for making sure I will never be an international victim. I feel bad for every single one of you. I’m hearing some really crazy sh*t out here. I’m so sad for you all.”
Tiwa is the only one to announce her international deal within 24 hours of his statement. So, it is no surprise many are concluding that Burna’s social media statement was meant for Tiwa. Whatever the case, let’s discuss the deal.
What is UMG promising Tiwa?
Per the press statements, Tiwa’s “future music will be released through UMG’s operations in more than 60 countries.”
Who will produce Tiwa’s “Projects”?
Efe Ogbeni and Vanessa Amadi of Stealth Management will executively produce Tiwa’s future projects.
What is the key issue in this signing for me?
I am concerned about Efe Ogbeni’s ability to deliver true measurable results for Tiwa, based on prior similar announcements.
Who is Efe Ogbeni and why does he matter?
1. Went to Federal Government College Ilorin.
2. Studied International Marketing at Georgia State University.
3. Has/had a joint venture partnership deal with IGA & IDJ (for a multi-million dollar partnership on Zander Bleck and Prince Charlez). As to Zander, the deal did not work out. Zander is now on his own.
4. A & R for Enrique Iglesias, Quincy Jones, and Producer for Red One.
5. Has/had a joint venture deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing brokered in 2015.
6. Co-founder of Stealth Management launched in 2018.
7. Has/had a joint venture deal between his company Regime Music Societe and Rondor/Universal Music Publishing.
I will discuss Ogbeni a bit more, shortly, but first, let’s look at the players that are directly and indirectly related to this deal.
There are five key players I want to discuss here:
- Don Jazzy’s Mavin Records.
- Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
- Tiwa’s 323 Entertainment.
- Stealth Management.
- Universal Music Group.
What is Don Jazzy’s Relationship to Tiwa in this Deal?
Since the announcement of the deal, the public seems to believe Tiwa was a recording artist signed to Mavin Records. But, by all accounts, Tiwa had a partnership deal, not your typical artist recording deal, with Mavin through her self-owned company, 323 Entertainment. 323 was once co-operated by Tiwa and her ex-manager/business partner/husband, Tunji Balogun. In 2016, after a publicly embarrassing fall out, Tiwa carried on solo with 323’s partnership with Mavin. Indeed, if you look at the visuals for Tiwa’s music videos post 2016, you will see 323 branding alongside Mavin’s.
What About Roc Nation’s Management Deal with Tiwa Through Mavin?
In 2016, Mavin brokered a management and publishing deal with Roc Nation on behalf of Tiwa. There was much pageantry around the signing and announcement of the deal. However, three years later, we have seen no true measurable results or heard anything from that deal. Given that Tiwa is now with Stealth Management, it necessarily should mean that her management relationship with Roc Nation has been terminated.
What About this New deal with Universal and Tiwa?
In my view, there is the same pageantry we saw when Adam Granite, former Sony executive now with UMG, signed Davido to the 2016 Sony recording deal. The photo op included Ogbeni and Granite. Here is what Granite said which sounds similar:
“We are thrilled to welcome Davido into the Sony Music family. We are very much looking forward to bringing one of Africa biggest stars to the world. We are also excited to partner with Kamal Ajiboye, Davido’s manager as well as Efe Ogbeni, who will be executive producing the album on our behalf.” – Adam Granite/ Sony Music.
When the Davido-Sony deal was announced, I said it was a bad deal. In 2017, Davido admitted, in statements to the press that it was, in fact, a bad deal for him. In statements to the Guardian Newspaper, for example, below are excerpts of what he said about his deal:
“First of all, I didn’t even want to take the deal because I didn’t need it. I was doing tours all over Africa with 50,000 to 80,000, people so it was like why am I signing the deal?”
“They tried to fix me up with a producer and I decided to come home, but I’m still signed to them, it’s going good. They have realized how much potential is here because even when I am all over the world it is my African songs that even the oyibo people f*** with.”
“I had to look at what I had, which was a whole continent. That is what all of those guys in America want. When you’re over there all of them want to be here. We need to just know what we are worth.”
This 2019, in yet another interview with the press (DJ Abass Radio Show), Davido, when asked about his Sony deal, revealed his plan to renegotiate the deal: “Right now I have small mouth, so I’m trying to renegotiate.”
The players we saw in the Sony-Davido deal are now some of the same ones in the Tiwa-UMG deal. This is not a bad thing. The question is can they deliver on the promises made?
Here, UMG promises to push Tiwa’s future releases through its operations in more than 60 countries. There is nothing unique about such a promise in a digital streaming age. Tiwa’s music on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, Google Music, etc. is most likely already reaching more than 60 countries. So, there has to be more on UMG’s part.
What More Can There Be?
The key question is who will fund the necessary push to make Tiwa a global household name? From the way the press statement reads, that responsibility seems to fall on Ogbeni. So the question is, can he deliver on such a promise?
“We are looking forward to partnering with Tiwa (emphasis added) and her team to help her music reach new audiences around the world. As one of Africa’s most successful, influential and dynamic singer-songwriters, Tiwa has truly global ambitions and UMG is committed to help her in achieving them.”– Adam Granite, EVP, Market Development for UMG.
Ogbeni has to do more than getting our African artists into these deals. It goes without saying that given his longevity in the music business, stateside, and numerous JV deals outlined above, he can and should be able to broker these types of deals. The talents are part of his bargaining chip for securing his own bag and future and so long as it is done ethically, there is nothing wrong with it. But, what we need to see is that he makes it count for the artists and ultimately Africa’s music ecosystem. The novelty and pageantry of his signings, especially for industry stakeholders, have worn off and it is time to see the results.
Does it Make Sense for Tiwa to Team up with UMG Through Stealth?
Yes, in my view. Tiwa needs to expand beyond the continent and teaming up with Stealth for a UMG deal is a good thing depending on what she actually negotiated. Is 323 involved in the deal? Is she solely under Stealth and UMG? Are the terms truly favorable to her?
How Are Nigerian Artists Doing So Far with these International Deals?
We have a handful of artists including Wizkid who have signed “worldwide multi-album” deals with the majors, but after all the pageantry, all we hear are cricket sounds. The novelty has worn off. It is time for results, especially from a talent perspective.
What’s in it for UMG by signing Tiwa?
UMG has been strategic in expanding its reach in Sub Saharan Africa to boost its revenues and break some of its talents into new markets. Its deals so far in Africa are:
- March 2018: acquired Kenya’s AI Records
- July 2018: launched an office in Ivory Coast, covering 23 French-speaking African territories.
- July 2018: launched an office in Nigeria.
- November 2018: brokered a licensing deal with Boomplay Africa.
- April 2019: signed a licensing deal with Nigerian streaming service Udux.
- May 2019: signed a recording/partnership deal with Stealth Management for talent Tiwa Savage.
It, for years now, has had a presence in South Africa.
Why the Focus on Efe Ogbeni?
Efe, in my view, when he helped broker Davido-Sony deal, really didn’t understand the Nigerian and African market. Just because you are of Nigerian/African heritage doesn’t mean you know the continent’s music market, when your focus has been primarily stateside. I also think Efe was not as fully committed to learning and understanding the continent and its artists, as he is now. I think having learned his lesson from the Davido-Sony deal he is more prepared to try again.
My specific concern when it comes to Ogbeni is again his measurable results. While Ogbeni now works with Davido, in my view, he has added nothing unique to Davido’s success including climbing up the current Billboard Charts. Davido came as an already packaged success selling out arenas to the tune of 50-80,000; and his deal with Sony, in my view, slowed him down and continues to.
However, Ogbeni made a smart move by persuading Davido to enter into the Sony deal because he ensured he would executive produce Davido’s album/music project, much like the Tiwa deal. That means royalties via diverse revenue streams for Ogbeni from an already successful artist. He is also now investing more time in Davido. He shows up at his concerts, cultivates a closer relationship, etc., something critical to his own success and Stealth Management.
What Does This Mean for Tiwa?
Tiwa as a songwriter will be fine, given her successful history so far. As a recording artist trying to become a global household name, we will have to wait and see.
Tiwa usually adopts a very mature beauty and style but for this deal, we see her team roll out a campaign that presents her in a very youthful Ariana Grande type of way. She also deleted all of her previous Instagram postings months prior to the announcement of this deal. It seems she is ready to do what it takes to truly go global.
For artists and artist representatives reading this, in the final analysis, we return to Burna Boy and Davido’s statements above about international deals. Everyone is trying to make it big and that is a great thing. But you must know your identity and worth before you engage anyone, including your own people, to negotiate on your behalf. If you do, then I believe long-term success will find you.
Photo credit: 1st photo UMG press photo; 2nd photo – Sony press photo.