I GOT MY PHD FROM THE STREETS, SAYS ARUEYA
When you started your record label, what were the initial challenges you faced?
The major challenge came up because we wanted to do business as it is done in civilized countries of the world, but we discovered it doesn't work that way here. We had lost a lot of money before we realised it. It was all part of learning process and we're the better for it today. We have learnt our lessons. We've also modified our operations and are now doing things the way it should be done in Nigeria.
I wouldn't want to expatiate on those experiences because they are like trade secrets; they are the things that have given us some edge.
What kept you going if you lost millions in acquiring experience and still didn't go under?
I have other business interests; those were where my income was coming from.
If I had invested 100 per cent in entertainment in 2004/2005, and what happened to me happened, then I would have closed shop. But I learnt some rules that the American way whereby you release a CD and it goes to the radio and you seat in your office expecting people to start coming to buy just doesn't work like that in Nigeria.
As I said earlier, we have fine-tuned our operations and there has been some improvements in our fortunes.
One of the challenges facing the music industry globally is the increasing drop in the CD sales, how do you hope to avert this in Nigeria?
The issue boils down to piracy. There is now what they call compilation that is all over the place, which overshadows the real thing. That's where we need you guys to help in the campaign against piracy. The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) is doing a good job, but they could do better. The compilation thing is killing the real CDs and when you accost the guys at Alaba International Market, what they tell you is that their compilation is from MTV base. Some would even tell you they are doing you a favour for including your release in their compilation; and that's why we've opened two shops, one each in Alaba and Idumota, so that we can deal with our customers directly.
We know what it takes to succeed in the industry and we're going to do everything within the law to succeed.
Does West Side Records have any edge over other labels?
The edge we have is the timelessness of the works that come from our label.
Check our catalogue; everything that has come out of this label can still be sold five years from now. I don't do certain kinds of music that might reign for three months or more and thereafter no one wants to touch them again.
We release the kind of music that the chief judge, bank MD and all such respected people in the society would play in their cars and won't feel out of place. They wouldn't feel like this is jaguda music. They are the kind of music that can be played at different occasions, be it company cocktail, Christmas party or at company functions; they are timeless. I purposely look out for that timelessness in music before I sign on any artistes.
When you started West Side Records in 2004, who were the artistes on your label?
I started initially with Faze; someone introduced him to me and I listened to his work and fell in love with it. I had always been a big fan of Plantashun Bois and all that. The rest is history.
What led you into the business of buying and selling records at the beginning?
I think it started more out of a hobby; then I found out I was making money from it as people were coming to make copies from me. Some would ask me to make for their eatery, others for personal use; after sometime I turned it into a business.
Maybe because I was more into music and my late mother was in the UK at the time, and she was sending me all the latest musical videos because then it was tough getting musical videos, unlike now that we have MTV base, you can get them fast.
One other factor that helped at the time was the fact that I had friends at Nigeria Airways and whatever they show in London on top of the pop and all the FM stations on Friday, by Saturday or latest Sunday morning. I would have them.
What is the business worth today, both the entertainment and records aspects?
It's worth a lot.
Let's put it down to naira and kobo now since we're Nigerians.
I cannot do that, but I know it is worth a whole lot and we're praying it translates into the kind of cash that would impact on our copyrights.
Would it be right to say your business is targeted at the up market?
Yes, because I have a DVD Club, I have to be in this environment. If I set up in Surulere or Yaba, there would be the issue of NEPA or PHCN, as it is now called; I wouldn't be able to watch a movie, so there would be no need for me to come and collect it.
To be positioned in Victoria Island paid us. Most of the people here have generators in their homes and we are closer to the kind of people who can afford us, and so far so good.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was fun. I grew up in Sapele, partly in Warri, Delta State. I stayed little in Benin, Edo State. I've stayed most of my life in Lagos, which is why I speak Yoruba fluently. Some times people are shocked when I speak Yoruba fluently.
My late mother is a Yoruba from Ogbomosho, Oyo State, while my dad is from Ughelli, Delta State. I am an Urhobo.
How long have you been in the music industry and how do you plan to outplay pirates in distributing your releases?
I've been in the industry for over 20 years. I actually started with importation of records and I supply music DJs across the country – up North, East and all over – and that was how a lot of people got to know me.
Part of our strategy to outdo pirates is to build our own network across the country without having to depend on certain people. Our initial plan was to take the works to certain people's shops, then seat in Victoria Island and expect returns, but like I said earlier, we've learnt it doesn't work that way; we are now more focused and with the support of Nigerian Breweries Plc, we are certainly going places.
Some weeks back your outfit signed the D'Jewels, what informed the decision?
I watched them on television during the three months the show lasted and funny enough, I was routing for them. And from then it was like this is the group that should win, and they eventually did just that.
Even after the show ended, I realised I love the guys; I keep getting a strong feeling I could do wonders with those boys. A lot of people put in application to sign them on, but when they saw our plans for the boys and how we hope to go about it, we came out in flying colours and we're very happy about it and about the fact that we've been given the opportunity to show what we can do with those musically talented boys – great guys.
Some people feel you are not giving Genevieve's album enough push.
I wouldn't say I didn't give Genevieve's album a push; she was officially signed to a Ghanaian label. So, she takes her orders, so to say, from Ghana. Her video shot, everything comes from Ghana; all I have to do is to take a call from Ghana and they tell me: 'Solomon, we have two new videos from Genevieve, please, help us push them', which I did.
Another thing many people don't realise is the fact that Genevieve had a little problem of ban at the time, and the fact that her Ghanaian label was in Ghana and I was here affected things and it just didn't work as much as we would have wanted it to because the album is really good.
For the album, they have shot two more new videos, in fact, it's been ready for over six months, they are in Ghana. I cannot force them to release it if they don't want to.
What would you say has been the most challenging business decision you ever made?
The most challenging decision I ever made in my life was to move out of Murphy's Plaza. I had nowhere to go; I just woke up one Sunday morning and told my staff we were packing out. It was a crazy decision, but I had to take it because the stress was too much. I don't want to go into the details, but I was getting uncomfortable.
So, I rented a van, went there and cleared everything I had in the place, and moved out, not knowing where I was going to be the next day.
Meanwhile, at the time I just ordered some CDs from the U.S. and then I advertised in City People magazine (I still have the copy) and told people we would deliver at their doorsteps and I sold the CDs from the booth of my car.
Along the line I met a young man (I'm sure he won't want his names in print) that works in a bank. He came and bought CDs from me and asked why I was selling it from the booth of my car and I told him my experience. Eventually, through him I was able to get this place I am now. In fact, I should say he assisted me to acquired this place.
What's your educational background?
I attended Jehovah Jireh Primary School, somewhere in Moshalashi (on the fringe of Surulere towards Idi-Oro), Lagos. For my secondary school, I went to Okotie Eboh Grammar School, Sapele, Delta State. I got my PhD on how to make ends meet in the streets.