Nigerian songwriters are some of the most undervalued cog in the value chain of the music industry. Out of sight and out of mind. Ikemefuna “Klem” Nwamonye is seeking to buck that trend. We spoke to the songwriter behind some chart topping songs to get an insight into what it means to be a song writer in Nigeria.
How did you get into music?
Music for me started when I was at University of Abuja studying Business Administration in 2011. I was in a group called the “threepikals” and I was the lead vocalist for the group. But I dropped out of school to pursue music when I was at 300 level. I had to leave Abuja and move to Lagos, because at that point, the music hustle wasn’t strong in Abuja. On getting to Lagos, my group and I recorded our first song with Jiggy Jeg in Festac. Jiggy produced 2face’s Enter the Place. By working with Jiggy Jeg, I got to meet Jay Sleek, who we wanted to produce our second song in Lagos.
So how did you make the transition from singer to songwriter?
Jay Sleek back then was on top of his career as a producer. He loved the song we recorded with Jiggy Jeg. He wanted me to sing more because of my voice, but I didn’t have the money to record and push any song, so Jay Sleek gave me the opportunity to work with him in the studio doing back up for artists that came to his studio, writing and rearranging their songs. He asked me to pay attention to songwriting as a profession until the funds came in for me to sing. He involved me in the project he was working on- because of him I contributed on Timaya Watta Bambam, doing back up on the song. From there, I started making some money from songwriting. Jay Sleek connected me to Davido, and he was the first artist I wrote a song for in Lagos. I wrote Sade and it was on Davido’s first album.
How many artists have you written songs for?
Davido, Bred, Seyi Shay, Akothee, Yemi Alade, 9ice, Flavour, Iyanya. I wrote Applaudise and Gift for Iyanya, Burst My Brain for B Red, For My Matter for Emma Nyra, Ferrari, Kack Am and Oh My Gosh for Yemi Alade. Apart from Sade, I contributed the second verse on Davido’s Aye, but Runtown wrote the rest of the song. I also wrote Crazy Love for Flavour and Glasshouse for 9ice.
What is the biggest song you’ve written?
Yemi Alade’s Ferrari and Seyi Shay’s Yolo Yolo.
Yemi Alade is often criticised for having songs with questionable lyrics, what do you make of this criticism?
It doesn’t make sense. The lyrics work for Yemi Alade. She sings about things that are easy to relate to. The criticism is unfair as people connect with and dance to her songs. Life is hard in this country, music fans just want to dance and have fun.
Have you written a song for an artist but later given the song to another artist to sing?
I wrote Ferrari for Chidimma before I met Yemi Alade. I was supposed to meet up with Chidimma to record the song, but her management halted that. Yemi Alade contacted me, I did the acapella version of the song and she loved it. Dj Coublon, Fiokee and I recorded the song for Yemi and it became a hit. I also wrote Crazy Love for Kcee but he didn’t get to sing it. Flavour and Yemi Alade later recorded the song.
I remember when Teni announced that she wrote Like Dat for Davido and she was roundly criticized. Why are songwriters so disrespected?
I feel the reason why this happens is because of our culture here and the flawed way music fans in Nigeria view artists and songwriters. Majority of the music fans in Nigeria tend to view artists that don’t write their songs as being lacking in talent. It’s a perception issue and these artists don’t want their fans here to perceive them that way.
What do you think can be done to change this perception?
Nigerian artists travel and they are being exposed to best practice. They can do the same here in order for us to grow this part of the music industry. They have a responsibility to change this perception and to make it a norm talking about songwriting and crediting songwriters who worked on any project for them.
Davido credited Adekunle Gold for co-writing one of the songs on his forthcoming album. Do you see this acknowledgement helping song writers in Nigeria?
Yes, it will definitely help a lot. Songwriting is that part of the industry where no one pays attention to. But Davido acknowledging Adekunle Gold or Wurld who contributed to Blow my Mind, will go a long way in making music fans in Nigeria understand that song writing is a key part of the industry and working with a song writer is not a crime. Songwriters also need to see themselves as a professionals offering value to the industry, advertise their work and demand what is due to them.
Do you earn royalties and how do you earn royalties working as a songwriter?
Yes! I earn royalties for my work through PRS for music that collect royalties for my songs and they also handle publishing of my work. But when I first started writing songs, I didn’t know anything about royalties. I just wrote and sold off songs- it was DJ Coublon that told me about royalties and connected me to PRS for music, so I could earn more from royalties.
Have you ever had to fight to get your royalties from any artist?
The truth is that Nigeria artists don’t like you telling them anything about royalties. But for the artists I have been able to work with, they don’t fight when it comes to royalties particularly Yemi Alade, Seyi Shay and Flavour. Most of the songs I have written for Flavour, he buys them off. So because of that I can’t ask for royalties on the songs. It all depends on the agreement you have with the artists before writing a song.
So how much does Flavour pay you to buy your song?
I can’t say. But the money is huge.
How much do you charge for a song?
For emerging artists I charge record labels 500,000 to write and direct a song. It takes a lot of energy and time to write a song and carve out a sound for a new artists. While for big artists I charge a million to write a song.
Why is it difficult for Nigeria songwriters to earn very well from the songs they write?
It has everything to do with knowing the business of songwriting. Songwriters need lawyers to guide them before getting involved in any contract.. As a songwriter, some artists don’t want you to speak openly about writing for them, but for me I don’t work that way. I must talk about the songs I have written for artists, because that’s how people know about me and what I do.
So songwriters should own the narrative and talk about their work?
Yes. If you keep quiet about your work as a songwriter , nobody will know you. As an emerging songwriter I wrote songs for free for artists, but I made sure they credited me. You can’t “blow” as a songwriter, if you keep giving out your songs without getting back any credit. The credit fetches the songwriter an audience that will patronize my work and pay me to write songs for them. That credit is very important.
Who are the songwriters you look upto?
Sia, Neyo and Babyface.
Who are the other song writers in Nigeria whose work you respect?
Password, Harrysong, Omolara Ayodele and Cupastonce. Omolara writes for Asa, Timi Dakolo and Praiz, while Cupastonce is Mavin’s in house writer. Password wrote Gobe for Davido. We are currently working on a project for Darey Art Alade.
What is the future of songwriting in Nigeria?
Songwriters are beginning to get some level of recognition in Nigeria. Songwriters have a space in the industry and there is a demand for songwriters in Nigeria. So as artists credit songwriters we can earn more. But songwriters need to be professional about what they do. Involve your lawyers. It takes a lot to write a song and get the hook for a song. So when you don’t have a legal agreement with the artists, you’ll lose out. They will take your work from you and you’ll lose your royalty and publishing rights.