Recently, I was going through my archives and found a few cassettes of some ‘old’ Ghanaian musicians.
It evoked nostalgic memories of the days when cassette player was in vogue.
I am sure those who grew up at a time that preceded the cassette days would be saying in their minds, “small boys are young.”
I didn’t come to meet the ‘plates’. I only saw spoiled samples of the plate players. While growing up, we either listened to music on the radio or from cassette players.
For those of us who needed our freedom to listen to the music we wanted at the time we so desired, one had to get a Walkman.
In fact, my active childhood days were during the nascent stages of the hiplife game. Despite my exposure to early days’ Ghanaian rap from Mahoney P, Native Funk Lords, Talking Drums, Reggie Rockstone, Nananom, Akyeame, Obrafour and the like, I also had an eclectic taste for music.
My love for highlife music would nudge me to borrow cassettes of Aseibu Amenfi, Pat Thomas, Oheneba Kissi, Amakye Dede, and Kojo Antwi from the older folk in my neighbourhood. These were musicians with great albums and medleys.
When hiplife reached its highest noon in the early 2000s, it was still a common practice to have albums by the proponents of the new form of music – our version of hip-hop.
In the days when artistes could only get their music released with the help of executive music producers, one needed to have an album. No executive music producer would spend money to put just one track on a cassette or on a CD for the music market. Therefore, releasing an album was a must-do. Agicoat Records, Frimprince Music Production, Big Ben Music Production, Slip Music, Megastar Limited, etc invested their monies in musicians who had albums to sell – not singles.
About 10 years ago, a new phenomenon emerged; musicians started releasing singles. They would release single tracks and release albums later. Even gospel musicians who had been notoriously marked for their conservatism also joined the singles bandwagon.
Interestingly, there were artistes on this ‘band-wagon’ who only made waves with a single or two and got lost from the system right afterwards. That obviously would have been impossible during the album days.
The last time I checked, most of these executive music producers have ventured into other businesses. While some are now engaged in selling mobile phones, building equipment and farming, transport services, others have veered into bakery.
The business was no longer profitable to them due to piracy and the advent of modern technology.
The musician would rather release a song, upload it on the internet for free download, with the hope that the more people get to know the song, the higher their chances of getting gigs and endorsement deals.
Of course, it worked (and still works) for most musicians.
But the advent of technology did not completely take away the album culture. Just when most people thought artistes would no longer produce albums, there seemed to have been a renaissance.
The emergence of online music stores like Aftown, Amazon, TuneCore, iTunes, Apple, Tidal, among others gave the musicians a good reason to package their songs for sale via the internet. These platforms have replaced all the big music shops that once sold millions of albums at ‘Kantamanto’ and any other that existed in your community.
So we started seeing musicians engaging in album listening sessions and organizing mega concerts to launch their albums.
Albums like ‘Reign’ by Shatta Wale, ‘God of Miracles’ by Joe Mettle, ‘Made in Ghana’ by Okyeame Kwame, ‘I Believe’ by Diana Hamilton, ‘Epistles of Mama’ by Stonebwoy, ‘Untamed’ by Samini, ‘Highest’ by Sarkodie and ‘God is Working’ by Akesse Brempong, clearly show how the system has evolved.
However, there are some musicians who don’t really put any premium on releasing albums in this music era.
The day it occurred to me that Kofi Kinaata does not have an album, I was surprised. After releasing ‘Confession’, ‘Sweetie’, ‘Susuka’, ‘Last Show’, ‘Single and Free’, he is yet to release his maiden album.
In fact, I wondered why a fine talent of his calibre would release hits after hits but decide not to put them together for an album.
He had explained that it had not been a priority to him to release an album because the singles he released were enough to reflect his brand and vision.
Recently, Black Avenue Muzik signee, Sefa, has also intimated that producing albums is a waste of songs and that she would rather want to concentrate on her singles and making her brand more visible.
“Right now, I am not thinking about an album because, for me, I think albums just waste your songs, your very good songs, but I don’t know what the label has cos I have a lot of songs there so maybe we’ll release an album or EP” she added.
This issue got me thinking about which of the two strategies is really necessary for the music business.
I had an interview with Rex Omar, a veteran highlife musician and the Chairman for Ghana Music Rights Organisation (GHAMRO).
Rex Omar’s view was in tandem with Sefa’s. He said albums are not relevant in modern times.
“Due to current technology for music distribution, hardly do people buy full albums or even download them, they rather stream a particular song (single) they love, so it’s better to release each song as a stand-alone for after all it’s always a (single) hit song that brings an artiste to the limelight and leads his fans to discover his other unknown works (Songs),” Rex Omar told me in the interview.
He added that: “paying attention to singles helps to keep the artiste relevant all the time because the marketing and the attention is on a (single) song at every given time with a new artwork, a new flavour, a new video, a new expectation from the listening audiences but from the same artiste. This gives the artiste more mileage and keeps him relevant rather than dump a whole album of 20 songs that 18 songs out of the 20 may never get any airplay and will eventually die off.”
For the many artistes who are busily putting together albums, what could be their motivation?
Okyeame Kwame, the Rap Dacta, who is currently promoting his ‘Made in Ghana’ album rather held a polar-opposite opinion.
He told me that an artiste needs a lot of things to establish their new level, to establish their sound and a body of work – not just one.
“The production of albums is very necessary. When an artiste releases a single, he is seen in a certain way. The moment he drops an album that is conceptualised, he develops a new following,” he noted.
Okyeame Kwame added that what makes an album relevant is that “it tells a particular story. It has a theme. It has a concept. When an artiste records an album like my ‘Made in Ghana’ album, that artiste produces a holistic concept, with an intro, middle and end. It draws an affinity between an artiste and audience.”
The ‘Made in Ghana’ ambassador did not just touch on the importance of albums. He also admitted that singles have their roles too.
“Singles are also very important but I think it should lead to an album. When a single has no connection to an album, it makes the artiste’s creativity very fragmented,” he stated.
He further averred that when one releases singles, because the market is so diverse, and tastes of audiences keep changing, sometimes it is good to use the singles to test the market.
Okyeame said if the musician is lucky and their single becomes a hit, the money could be used to record the album.
I found some great wisdom in Rex Omar and Okyeame Kwame’s submissions on this matter; something I believe should be a guiding principle to most musicians in this space.
For people who think like Sefa and Kofi Kinaata, there is obviously a level of brand positioning when it comes to releasing albums.
But I would not advise any new artiste to release an album. No! In this age of our music industry, you may enjoy your own album alone in your closet ‘(or if you are gospel musician, with your church members) if you decide to step into this slippery space with a full album.
You need to tease the audience. You need to test the market. You need to get a fan base.
Let me summarise for you, a few reasons artistes (particularly the new ones) must pay more attention to singles and (maybe) release albums later when they are sure of an established brand.
- It shores up artiste’s relevance
By releasing singles, the artiste stays relevant in a music market where releasing music only 1 or 2 times a year is almost the same as releasing nothing at all.
Music fans don’t need to wait for you for a full year or two before they get to enjoy any new records from you.
- It helps build a loyal fan base
One important aspect of the music business is getting a loyal fan base like Shatta Wale’s Shatta Movement, Stonebwoy’s Bhim Nation and Sarkodie’s Sark Nation.
The more that you release songs, the faster you and your fans are going to get to connect through music.
- You get gigs more often
It is better to get paid about eight to twelve times a year instead of just once or twice.
Once you have new music out, you get new market value. You are booked for shows and other deals are available to you.
Honestly, there are no absolutes in strategy, but there are always precedents that can guide our actions.
The writer, Kwame Dadzie is an Entertainment Journalist with Citi FM and Citi TV
By: Kwame Dadzie | citinewsroom.com | Ghana