Audu Maikori recently stepped down as CEO of Chocolate City Music and is now President, Chocolate City Group. He speaks about their vision to transcend Nigeria, the story behind the company and challenges in the entertainment business.
Daily Trust on Saturday: You recently stepped down as CEO of Chocolate City Music after 10 years. What prompted this decision?
Audu Maikori: Two things. First is that Chocolate City is a group of companies and not just one company. Chocolate City Music is about the record label and that’s the one most people know. I was clear about it when I made the official announcement that it simply means I will be taking a bigger role in coordinating the affairs of the group of companies, our expansion in Africa, with particular focus on radio, television and media content.
DT: Is this the mega vision for the company as a whole?
Maikori: Our focus now is becoming a truly pan-African conglomerate with focus on what I would say is the 360 aspect of the entertainment business, from content creation to talent management. Not just in music and film alone, but media platforms that help to distribute and aggregate content. So, for example, Fab Music, which is a partnership with two other recording labels – what we are doing there is digital content aggregation and distribution. That gives us access to help people who create content beyond our label and any of the two labels.
DT: What stands as your most memorable experience since the inception of the company?
Maikori: There are quite a few memorable experiences, but the most exciting was when I heard our record being played on radio in Lagos, seeing our video played on TV, seeing the logo and the brand. Another highlight was in 2007 when I won the global award for International Young Music Entrepreneurship. That was a major highlight because it was not just in Nigeria but across the globe, and the fact that it was a win not only for me but for Nigeria as a whole. In the history of those competitions, only two Nigerians had won, one in design and the other in music. In 2011 we won the African Awards for Entrepreneurship among 48 countries and 3, 300 applications. It began to authenticate the fact that what we had was a pan-African dream and vision and not just something that started from Abuja and moved across the country, but beyond the shores of Nigeria.
DT: So how did everything start?
Maikori: It started from my days in the university while I was an undergraduate when a couple of my friends and I got together and thought of something that would create some sought of buzz in school. Something we could look forward to during weekends and generate money from as well. I came up with the name Chocolate City. Years later when I started practising, when I get a bonus from my law firm I channel it to the company. That is how it started.
DT: Have you dumped law?
Maikori: Far from it. Up till 2012, I was actively involved in legal consultancy for a number of projects. I have always been consistent with the legal part of my practice. Anything from bus, mass transit controversy to the privatisation of companies, I have been involved in. In 2011 I was commissioned by the DFID to do a study on ‘Collective Rights Management,’ but my most recent assignment, prior to my appointment to the SURE-P board, was with Nigerian infrastructures funded by DFID on the Kano bus mass transit system. I was the lead legal consultant for that before I stopped. Also, in Chocolate Music City Group we deal with a lot of contracts on a daily basis, anything that has to do with licensing music and endorsement. So I am still in charge of the legal part of the company itself.
DT: What will you miss most about being CEO?
Maikori: I will miss hearing new music and saying we would need to work on that, or discovering new talent. For example, yesterday I spent the whole day with the top management of a label, met with the artistes and was so excited.
DT: Chocolate City had challenges with artistes like Jeremiah Gyang and Brymo. Do you think this posed a threat to the label at that time and how did you manage it?
Maikori: There’s no label that doesn’t have such issues. Sometimes you hear them, other times you don’t. The relationship between an artiste and a label is such that it gets to a point that there will be fighting. But what we learnt from it was invaluable to us. Because if you have run a company for 10 years without a challenge, that in itself is a challenge. When you see people doing something you can always tell what can be done better even those who can’t solve their own problems. Like I can always tell you what’s wrong with Daily Trust, but I am just a buyer. We learnt so many lessons about the way we work so that we accommodate both parties, including repositioning our brand. Things like these will happen again, with disgruntlement from either side. What is important is that it is resolved according to what the contract says.
DT: Usually how do you handle artistes who do not meet your specifications?
Maikori: You have to be honest and straightforward about it because in the end … the interesting thing about it all is that it is very speculative. You may say an artiste is very good and he may not end up being successful. You may say he is not good and he ends up being successful. There is no real formula. What we try to do is give them honest feedback, telling them their strengths and weaknesses and areas they can improve upon. Some don’t like it and take it personal. It is natural because they feel we have rejected them. But I think the worst rejection is when you take somebody and keep them knowing what they are. It is a tough part of the job but we manage it the best way we can.
DT: Who is your favourite artiste on the label?
Maikori: You know that will never happen. (Laughter) I will never do that. It is team spirit. It’s not like whatever Audu says goes. We don’t sign an artiste that we are not all fans of. At the time we sign them on, they are nobodies. But we believe they will be successful.
DT: Signing in a DJ as you did with Lambo is not a very common trend. What informed this?
Maikori: The first DJ we signed in was Caise in 2012 or there about. We were probably one of the first to sign on a DJ.
DT: What was the experience like for you as judge on ‘Nigerian Idol?’
Maikori: It was fun. A lot of fun travelling and watching all kinds of talented people we had from across the country. There was also a lot to learn in terms of the rigours aspiring musicians go through. Crash courses teaching them how to sing, perform and all that. They come into the show very unsure of themselves but have raw talents. Grooming them on performance, movement and voice use was great. It was educational for me asides the fact that I was also able to help guide people’s careers.
DT: You are often in suits. What directs your choices on clothing?
Maikori: Half the reason I wear suits is because I am a lawyer. There is something about suits which makes you seem more serious with what you are doing in a business environment. Also, part of it is that without knowing, some of us who were getting into this business didn’t realise how serious it is. We didn’t take it that seriously. The perception is that it is for people who are not really educated, who find solace in music. But seeing somebody with not just a legal but string backgrounds well-dressed and well-spoken organising music, did a lot in changing the perception of what the business is so much so that people now take it more seriously than they initially did and understand that very serious and educated people are getting into the trade.
DT: How do you strike a balance between your faith and what you do in entertainment?
Maikori: I don’t really see any divergence between what I do and my faith. My faith tells me that we are here to make a difference and add value where we can. My Bible doesn’t tell me that I should only play religious music. Or specify which I must or mustn’t listen to. It says all those gifts wherever they be from, sanctified or unsanctified are all gifts from God and it is for me to use them to the best of my ability. Some people may say that as a Christian you should only play gospel music and not secular ones. But I don’t believe this because I believe music is the only language which needs no words to be able to understand it. What we try to do is as much as possible ensure that we have a generally clean image. Be it the music we put out or the people we work with. We haven’t sold our brand in a way that makes people afraid to let their kids be associated with it. That is where my faith comes in – making sure we do business as ethically possible as is within our control. It is not everything that everybody does that we get involved in.
DT: How do you relax?
Maikori: My idea of fun is being home with my family, especially over the weekend or just catching a movie, going out to eat somewhere, or hang out with friends – nothing really very grand because our business is grand in itself. For people who are not in the industry it may be partying but for us in it that’s not it.
Daily Trust News – culled from: http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/weekly/index.php/magazine-cover/21147-i-ll-miss-discovering-new-talents-as-choc-city-ceo-maikori