Bizzle Osikoya is the co-founder of The Plug – a music company, as well as an A&R (Artists and repertoire) expert. While with Mohits Record, Bizzle worked with the likes of Wande Coal, Dr Sid, Davido and Tiwa Savage. He speaks to Daily Trust Saturday on his journey as an A&R expert and what it takes to navigate the murky waters of the Nigerian music industry.
Weekend Magazine: How did you get into the A&R business?
Bizzle Osikoya: I got into the A&R business by falling in love with music. I’ve always had an ear for good sounds and also know how to recognize talents in people. I fully got into the A&R business when I was working with Mohits record. It was an awesome experience having to watch Don Jazzy work in the studio and I fell in love with the process; from the creation of the sound to its final production.
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WM: With the rise in A&R profession in the music industry, how will you describe its acceptability by Nigerians?
Osikoya: I will not necessarily call it a rise. We have always had A&Rs in the music industry, it’s just that a lot of people didn’t know what they were called. Even up till now, people just call themselves A&R without understanding what role we play.
WM: How different is an A&R from an artist manager?
Osikoya: Well, you can be an A&R and also an artist’s manager or you can just be an A&R. The difference is that a manager looks after the day-to-day proceedings, the artist’s wellbeing, making sure that his or her brand is being pushed to the next level while an A&R focuses on your music and sound. So, the manager focuses on the brand and the A&R on the sound.
WM: What would you describe as the most challenging project/collaboration you’ve done?
Osikoya: I personally have not encountered any challenges but I’d say that the challenge the industry is facing is that we lack enough showcases. Also, with the number of persons trying to join the music industry, it can be difficult trying to pick out new talents.
WM: What do you look for when acquiring new talent?
Osikoya: It goes beyond talent; I always consider the person’s drive and effort. I’ve always told people that talent is just 10 per cent. When working with a new talent, I always try to make sure that they are hardworking, focused and determined to meet their set goals. Besides, they have to believe in themselves and also must want to be a star. Once the person is lacking drive, it makes the work harder.
WM: Certain artists deliver the same music style in terms of choice of beats and auto-tune. As an A&R specialist, how do you keep your artists original to their sound even when change is inevitable?
Osikoya: Some artists sound alike. This is because a lot of them listen to each other’s music and are easily influenced. Sometimes, producers try not to pay attention to sounds from other artists so they don’t make that mistake of producing sounds that will sound too much alike. Another thing to consider is that people also have similar voice textures. In terms of creating similar sounds, a lot of artists follow trends and that is where the A&R expertise comes in. An A&R is meant to guide the artists not to follow trends but create their own special sound. If they are going to follow a trend, they should twist it into their own flavour so it doesn’t sound similar.
WM: As an A&R, do you choose the sound for your artist or you let them create theirs?
Osikoya: It actually goes both ways, sometimes the A&R can decide the sound or the artist can make the decision himself. It’s considered more of a collective effort.
WM: In recent times, Nigerian artists have branched out of the regular afrobeat sound. Afro-pop and afro soul genres are being explored. What effect do you think this has on the originality of Nigerian music?
Osikoya: We are not branching out into these genres; we’ve always had artists explore such genres before in Nigeria e.g., D’banj, Tony Tetuila etc. It’s only in recent times that these genres were given their proper names. People also need to realize that there’s a difference between Afrobeat and Afro beats. The British came up with Afro beats as a collective of African sounds (Afro-pop, Afro-soul, Afro fusion etc). Afrobeat is the sound created by the legendary Fela Kuti which is still used by different artists like Femi Kuti, W4, Brymo, Wizkid etc. this goes to prove that the afrobeat sound is still alive and not going anywhere.
WM: Do you think your job is threatened by technological advancement especially social media, online streaming apps?
Osikoya: I wouldn’t say our job is threatened, rather A&R experts have become a bit relaxed. Every label still needs an A&R to help them find new artists and also develop the artist. You may get an artist on social media but how do you develop the artist? So, A&R experts have become more relaxed as they don’t go out to look for talents, they’d rather just wait to see what’s popping and then jump on it.
WM: Nigerian artists have been able to earn collaborations with some foreign artists. How do you think this affects the Nigerian entertainment industry?
Osikoya: Collaborations are very healthy for the industry. It just shows that people are accepting our artists globally and it’s a beautiful thing to know that foreign artists love to work with our artists. However, I’d advise that when artists are collaborating with others, it should be the right collaboration. They should bear in mind that their sounds must connect and blend properly.
WM: How do you handle negative comments about a project or your artist?
Osikoya: There’s always negative talk and not everyone will like the work you put out, you just have to be matured and take in the criticism that will come along. Paying attention to criticism will tell you what people liked, didn’t like and show you areas that need correction. I listen to a lot of criticism because it just makes me better and stronger.
WM: The Nigerian music industry has a lot of potentials, considering that this year our artists secured Grammy wins. What would you say is preventing the industry from being at its best?
Osikoya: I would start by saying Grammys is not a validation of how good our industry is. Education is what holds the entertainment industry from being at its best. The more people educate themselves, the better the industry will be. I’m talking about talent managers, sound engineers, producers, artists. The more educated we are about how the business and the industry works, the better it is for everyone.
WM: In relation to your block party series, with the ban on crowd gathering being lifted by the Lagos government, should we expect a block party event soon?
Osikoya: Until government relaxes their restrictions, we can’t really plan towards it for now. We really hope to get back on track soon because the block party series was a platform, we used to showcase new talents and build a lot of young artists’ careers.
WM: Are there projects you’re currently working on?
Osikoya: I do have my eyes on certain talents I’d like to bring on board. Asides that, we are currently working on Jinmi Abdul’s EP and Oxlade’s album.