Mavin Records and its chief promoter, Don Jazzy sits largely above the Nigerian music industry. With its corporate headquarters in Victoria Island and operational headquarters in Lekki, it has been at the forefront of the push to expand the frontiers of Nigerian music across the world. Since his 2005 return to Nigeria, Don Jazzy has been able to discover, nurture and develop musical talents like Wande Coal, Dr. Sid, Reekado Banks, Korede Bello, Tiwa Savage, D Prince, Johnny Drille, DNA, Ladi Poe, and Rema. Mo Hits evolved to Mavin. For Peter Tega ‘Tega Mavin’ Oghenejobo who is currently the Chief Operating Officer at Mavin Global, it presented an opportunity for him to take on more responsibilities for the label from his cousin (Don Jazzy) and grow the brand.
The University of Port Harcourt Computer Science graduate has fulfilled his symbolic 10,000 hours in the industry and offers a fascinating insight.
Your attitude of continuous learning, where did you learn it from? Why did you adopt it? Because there was no reference in the industry for you when you started.
When I came to Lagos in 2006/07 from the University of Port Harcourt, Mo Hits just dropped Why Me. It was like my first interaction with them. It was my cousin’s business and he allowed me to deal with them. Because of that, they allowed me to ask questions and I read widely because I like knowing a lot of things. Tonight I am reading about the Japanese economy, I cannot spend the night without reading something. The day is gone, so I must add something new to what I knew yesterday. Coming to Lagos I started with the question why this and why that? Both my parents are bankers, they spent a total of 48 years together in the bank, my dad spent 35 years, while mum worked in the bank for 12 years. So I grew up in a house where reading, accountability and spending wisely was the order of the day. If you were given 50 naira as a gift from a visitor, you were expected to account for it. It’s okay to say you have 20 naira when my parents ask for the money, but if you have finished spending it be rest assured you’re not getting any pocket money soon. That taught me accountability at a very young age. So coming down to Lagos, I started asking questions. Why do we pay 10%? Why are we not selling tickets? Then I was dealing with creatives, artists, and managers, who couldn’t answer all the questions I was asking. It propelled me to start doing research. Originally, I already liked the idea of music.
I was reading The Source magazine then. I started reading about the business landscape of music to understand the early business of hip hop, why artists go broke, declare bankruptcy, and how best to manage their finances. These things are scary, and it shows there is a fundamental problem why these things happen and this experience made me understand that celebrities will forever live above their income because of the expectations of their fans. They will always have to prove to their fans they bought new houses or cars, this will lead to a diminishing return as their revenue will continue to decrease while their cost keeps going higher. Only the wise will have a fallback. When I started asking these questions back then at Mo Hits and taking the learnings, I realized that I didn’t want to be an artist manager. Because many of them are not aware of cost efficiency- it was common among artists that failed. They have managers, but they collect deals without doing due diligence and managing their finances well. And this brings me to the distinction between an artist manager and a business manager, some people are good with managing artists while some are good with managing the business side of music. Scooter Braun is not a normal artist manager, he is a business manager. I also realize that a lot of people were not asking the questions I was asking. Some claim to be A&R or Publicists, but they are neither of these. People mistake the role of promoter because they are yet to study and understand their strengths, it was then I realized that I want to be on the business or commercial side of the entertainment business.
Kindly explain more about the difference between the creative value and commercial value of an artist?
For example, the guy that is training Anthony Joshua to box inside the ring is not the same guy that goes inside the boardroom to negotiate deals on his behalf. There is a need to make sure the commercial value outweighs the creative value, but in the Nigerian music industry, we have blurred the lines. Someone has to focus on you being the best version of being creative. Those are the things that drove me to learn when I started, and I also understood the need for building a community of people that share the same goal because I see where the future of entertainment is going and how can we make sure the next generation that wants to be part of the industry gets the needed knowledge that can help them navigate this industry very well. We also need to stop selling the idea that you only have to be creative to function in this industry.
So how did you start building the team and structure when you first came into Mohits before your current role as COO of Mavins?
To be a successful entrepreneur you need guts. Being able to project what people need, and making provisions for it. After Don Jazzy came back from London and set up Mohits, I realized he has a high appetite for taking risks, because it’s a business value I appreciate. I could be doing what I am doing here at some other place, but I doubt I would be a perfect fit at such organizations and have the opportunity to be able to build and create what we have done here at Mavin. But with my cousin the transition from when I first started to where I am today evolved naturally because he has the instincts, guts and is a selfless leader. Again, the only way you can grow is when you’re in such an environment where you’re allowed to grow, I go into a meeting and tell people it doesn’t have to be the Tega way. I am on this journey with everyone. I only have to share what I learned thus far as we grow together. I want my people to call me to say they have this article they saw, and it reflects what we discussed earlier. In Mohits, Don Jazzy was the brain behind all the songs we released, he produced, mixed and mastered everything. When I met that energy, I know it was hard to match but I know I have what it takes to contribute to the growth of his vision. So whenever I met with brands on his behalf after working on a business proposal, I was already thinking about what kind of stories should I be telling brands about creatives to make them increase their investments with talents under his leadership. When I first started at Mo Hits, I was the Campus promoter and PR executive in Port Harcourt, making sure our songs get radio play, played at house parties, hostels, and events that I attended. Then I was strong on Facebook managing Mo Hits different accounts for the team, making sure the account was replying. From there we evolved from Mo Hits to Mavin. Don Jazzy said to me he wants to build an entertainment powerhouse. This happened around when I finished University and trying to find my way around life.
Why did you follow Don Jazzy to Mavin after the end of Mo Hits?
When Don Jazzy said he wants to start afresh again, that showed me real courage and confidence, I was impressed to start again with him. By then I already had some skills I got from working with him at Mo Hits, and I was ready to try them out on this new project called Mavin. My role shifted and I resumed working with him at Mavin as a brand executive. This was me making sure that anytime anyone touched us, our brand is different. Mo Hits had a different brand, we had to redesign the logo, create a website, change the brand identity, and everything associated with Mavin. This was us making sure that the brand is sustainable and had a corporate identity aligned to our thinking of being an entertainment powerhouse in Africa. After doing the needed branding activities on this new project called Mavin, I became a market executive, by then I realized because we have a brand, we are different and people realized the professionalism attached to our brand.
Taking up the marketing executive role was because someone needed to be knocking on the doors of these corporate organizations, to work with the team and the talents we have to secure deals and endorsements since they now like the new brand. Working as the marketing executive made me understand that organizations in Nigeria see marketing as sales, that we’re expensive and they don’t have our budget. But the marketing role increased my stake in the industry, but at some point, I realized the marketing I was reducing my conversion. Many people were seeing us as too pricey, and this made me come up with a label partnership as we sought new ways to work with brands we share the same goals with. Meaning we’re going into business with these brands for a long time and it has to show how we deal with them differently from the very beginning of our partnership, showing them our artist trajectory and how we can be part of their brand. Doing this gave us access to some of their training programs, scenario planning trips, and sales conferences. I started seeing how big corporate organizations look into their future- the label partnership gave me insight into how they operate, and when you do good business for these brands they will repeat purchases over drinks. That label partnership allowed me to have a much more interesting long-term strategic conversation and then the other side of the table didn’t see it as sales, but rather as something that is of mutual benefit to both parties. Then in 2016, the US investors reached out to us that they loved what we were building at Mavin.
What was the feeling when you saw the email from Kupanda your US investors?
Initially, I thought it was a brand that was looking for endorsement or partnership with Mavin. They educated me about who they are, for almost 2+ years, we went through the conversation and they did their due diligence on us before we concluded the deal. After that, they said I should take a central position in the team and play the role of the Chief Operating Officer role to work closely with Don Jazzy. I asked for the Chief Partnership Officer or Chief Strategy Officer, but they insisted that I take the COO role, and I should hire people that will complement the team and the roles I mentioned above.
You believe so much in learning, and with the new position comes a lot of expectations and learning that is needed for you to carry out your new duties. How were you able to settle into the COO?
I have to start by saying that a lot of people make me look good, but fundamentally I am an operational person. The way I approach the business and industry, makes me operationally minded. So I funnel a lot and pipeline a lot, and I realized with my new position I needed to have someone that will manage the humans of Mavin, to take the early DNA of the company and brand, infuse into them and get them to function at an optimal level. Knowing the due diligence process, what the investors expect from us, and being involved in the negotiations all made it easy for me to settle into my new role. Also, the music industry’s operational nature is something that sits comfortably with me, because I have interfaced with every side of the music business.
Do you see the investment from Kupanda as a validation for what Mavin has successfully built?
Yes, you can say that. It’s a validation that we’re on track. That we have gotten to a place where someone that is not our parents or life partner invested in our project because of what we have been able to build and they see great value in it. It’s like a milestone we have achieved, on the road to being a big entertainment powerhouse.
What responsibility does that put on you as a COO and how do you navigate the pressure?
I will say it’s good pressure, the vision we have at Mavin is yet to change. The vision is where we are going and it’s the pressure, presently with our investors, we have a dedicated team willing to soak the pressure and be on the driving seat with us, and it makes the journey more interesting. But our biggest pressure is making sure the right people that get on board this vehicle and embark on this journey understand what success looks like and what the destination is. When I sleep the vision is clear, the same when I am awake.
What does success mean to you on this journey?
I narrow success down to three things because I strongly feel that the African creative industry can increase our GDP and create so much value. After all, we are creative people, from our tailors to the bead makers, sculptors, and people that cook. If you look at our entire ecosystem as a nation, you’ll see that we are creative people. The last time I checked, the contribution of the creative economy was very low. Bearing in mind our population and how creativity comes naturally to us, I strongly believe we can do much more. I want to see Mavin increase African creative value. For example, if I hire a young video director, after shooting our project he can go ahead and shoot an advert for a telco. He will hire more people to work with him. Also when we do a show in Nnewi or Kogi, the people in those communities will benefit from such events and increase their earnings. Our creative economy can drive our local economy across Nigeria. Secondly, when I was in university and I told them I was joining my cousin’s business, they were asking if the business was sustainable and had structure. For people coming after us and entering the industry now, I want people to be happy for those getting into the entertainment sector and pray for them, the way it was in the past when people got into telecommunications and oil industries, making sure there is no need for those getting into the industry to go to madam or Oga’s house for your salary at the end of the month. Lastly, we are yet to fully monetize our music, comedy, sports, etc. I feel we are still far from maximizing our commercial value here in Nigeria and Africa, but for me, I want to increase the commercial value of creatives especially here at Mavin.
What fulfilment do you get from all these?
For me, the fulfilment will be to leave a springboard for the next generations that are coming after us who are more dogged to attain greater heights. People have worked hard to leave what we have presently in our creative industries, we have to improve on what they did. So that next generation coming after us can see beyond being an artist manager when they decide to join the industry, they can dream and work towards being a merch manager, mobile gaming manager, publicist, commercial developer, etc. And there will be jobs waiting for them and people ready to train them to contribute to the African creative economy.
What plans do you have in 2021 to make sure that those coming after you get the opportunity to learn about the creative economy and be a part of it?
I care about the people behind the artists and I want to be among those to create the workforce for the future. We have this narrative that is popular in Nigeria about Afrobeats to the world. But who are the people building the team that empowers creatives behind these artists? This need is part of the reason I am thinking in this direction, it’s been quite a journey hiring people. So I plan to devote my time in 2021 and going further empowering the next generation because there is hardly any part of our industry, I don’t know something or have an understanding of how things work. This provides me with an opportunity, to make sure the people coming into Mavin and the industry have a better understanding of what they are coming into do.
With the help of the Mavin HR team, start a program for the next generation, structure it in a way that brings certain people to learn about any part of the industry they are keen on through us. This program will help those that have an interest in being an executive in the entertainment industry, come into Mavin for a period in the year, spend time with me, learn deeply from me and our team what they need to have a successful career in this industry. They will have the opportunity to be in meetings with me to experience and see real-time scenarios of how tech drives the music business. So we can easily equip and give them opportunities to learn and grow. So every year our HR team will hold me accountable in making sure this happens, so the next generation coming into the industry will not have a shallow idea of the industry they are looking forward to coming into. Also, I want to make sure the people I am giving time on this are people that are committed to being the best of what they choose and perfectly suited as a career in this industry.
Who are you looking to select?
People who have a sense of what they are coming to do in the industry, and I would love for them to be undergraduates. This opportunity will also be open to people that are graduates and those who don’t have a formal education but have a passion for the music industry. The key element to have and to be a part of this is passion. For fashion designers who will be part of this training, I am not interested in their certificates. But rather creatives who will put an excellent mood board, about their styling and communicate in a way people can relate to their work. Another thing I am looking for is a global mindset, most times people are soaked in their immediate environment and don’t see beyond where they are. I need creatives that are following global trends to see how Africa is becoming a creative powerhouse, not seeing us as a deprived people. Research skills are key as well as entrepreneur skills. I can do this mentality is welcome as well. There will be classes and evaluations through this program. For me when they come in during this program, we want them to be equipped properly and they can take the skills they gain during this program to work here at Mavin, work with other creative companies or start out as entrepreneurs. Because once a Mavin always a Mavin.
How many months is this program?
It will be a 3- 6 months program, and they will be coming to the Mavin office daily throughout this period. This is off the back of what Don Jazzy has done with producers, we have different generations of producers working with us, so this will be us making sure the workforce we are raising is equipped for the journey ahead.
How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as someone that brought value to people. Also, we wear the pioneer heart at Mavin, hinged on innovation, fresh and forward-thinking. But in the end, I want to look back and say I contributed to making things better, by setting things in motion and starting the process so the next set of people jump on it and take our industry to the next level.