WHAT ARE WE SELLING? -Ayeni Adekunle

On Friday, April 17, I had a long phone conversation with the actor, Muyiwa Ademola, who’s facilitating correspondence with three aged colleagues – Adebayo Faleti, Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala), and Lere Paimo. By the time he finished painting the picture of their current state, I was close to tears.

The night before, I had spent sometime meeting with the gentlemen from Uba Pacific, the music marketing label responsible for some of the biggest albums of the past few years. It was our second meeting in months. And as they stood to leave, I shook my head and wondered, ‘what exactly is happening?’ The take-out from these two conversations? Once thriving professionals, who can no longer make ends meet, even after dedicating their entire lives to their work. A once thriving element of what should be an industry now nearing comatose. A gifted community of people with so much talents and promise, yet so much uncertainty and want. So much poverty.

Since we started NECLIVE in 2013, I have taken time to find out more about the structure of the many businesses that make up what we call an industry. I have researched extensively on living conditions of those who work within the creative sector, while trying to understand what the sustainable revenue options are. What I’ve found, from Nollywood to media and music, is that the system is full of plenty, bright young men and women, drawn in by the perceived potentials and successes they see from afar. Gifted men and women who want to make a change and write their names in gold. What I’ve found is a system, dominated by this set of people and their enthusiasm on the one hand, and another set of people – much older and frustrated, on the other. The older, spent set have been burnt. They know why it can’t be done. Some have given up and moved to other industries. Some remain here, hanging on to whatever is left. They’ve seen it all. And they’ll tell you for free, that this circle will never end.

There’ll never be an industry if… Usually, the distance from set A to set B is just a couple of years. And the circle goes on and on. Occasionally, we see successes – like the artiste that rides from Z list to A list, and briefly transforms his life, or the label that comes from nowhere to become a major. Or, even the actress that hits it big or the company that gets to plant cinemas from here to Kafanchan. Occasionally. Why do most of our actors (except maybe those who go into politics or other types of businesses) end up broke, ill and abandoned? Why do musicians quickly move from traveling first class and enjoying Limo rides to becoming a burden to friends and family? Why are all the record labels closing shop? Why are all Alaba marketers suddenly broke and looking for an escape route? Why are movie and music producers running from pillar to post, looking for funding their projects cannot regenerate? Why is everyone rich and fly on Instagram and Twitter, yet the exact opposite in real life? Why are the red carpets so glamorous, with everyone looking like a million bucks, yet many cannot even earn a decent living? Why is celebrity, glorified prostitution, government patronage and corporate hustling suddenly more profitable and desirable than the actual business of entertainment? Why is our music dominating the continent, our movies blowing up around the world yet the people who work to make it happen cannot build a sustainable career and feed themselves and their families? I’ve determined that the problem is that we deceive ourselves. We like to be deceived. We know the truth but refuse to face it because there’s something more appealing: the lie. The truth, as I’ve found, is that we are working so hard for others who do not have a stake; who do not have our interest at heart. We are creating products and services we have no plan, or resources to exploit. We are the proverbial monkeys, working for the baboons. Let me tell you something, corporate Nigeria, pirates, have built better systems to reap from the work you’re doing. And if we do not understand what is to be done, they will end up creating a structure that makes it impossible for you to stand up to them.

We’re making so many films from Asaba to Kano, Badagry and Ikorodu. But we have no means of getting them to consumers via TV or cinema or DVD. We’re creating hit songs by the day, yet we have no industrial system of reproducing and distributing the works. We create so much content and value. Then wait for outsiders to monetize. Then complain that they’re unfair, they’re not transparent, they’re corrupt. From government to regulators and sectorial bodies, it’s been many years of misdiagnosis and half-hearted efforts at turning potential to actual. But when we launched Nigerian Entertainment Today five years ago, I promised we will do our part in making sure we create an industry we will all be proud of. NECLIVE is one of such efforts and I’m proud that as we celebrate our fifth anniversary, some of the nagging issues are being fixed.

From Gabosky, to Jason Njoku, Chike Maduegbuna and Kene Mpkaru, we’re seeing great moves in terms of cinema planting and movie distribution. Looking at what’s happening in the music sector, some of which will be announced here at NECLIVE, I see an opportunity to create a system that helps our music get round better and faster. Last year, during my opening speech, I prayed for the time to come, when we will not gather to moan and lament about our problems. I wished for the time when we’ll come together to share ideas and showcase game changing products and services. I didn’t not know that day would come soon. Today, there are at least five big announcements – all of them tested projects that’ll change the way we work; the way we earn. Products that’ll protect our future and ensure people who have worked all their lives do not end up begging in old age. As a fifth anniversary gift to ourselves, and to show that we live what we preach, Nigerian Entertainment Today is also launching a new service that’ll make everyone happy.

I’m committed to spending my entire career working to make sure we move from complaining to doing; so we can quickly fix the issues holding us back. It is impossible for everyone working in entertainment to be rich and successful. But it must be possible to create a system that allows everyone to try. A system that ensures that those who belong here can actually spend their entire lives doing this and not ending with regrets when they retire. The first step is to ask ourselves: What are we selling? It’s no longer just talent. Think about that. I wish everyone a great time at NECLIVE 3! …