Why I’ve never earned royalties in my 24-year-career – Ruggedman

As more and more people turn to streaming services like Boomplay, Apple Music, and Spotify to listen to their favourite artistes, the way musicians earn royalties has changed.

Instead of relying solely on album sales and radio play, an artiste can earn money based on the number of streams their songs get on these platforms. This shift in the music industry has significantly impacted both up-and-coming musicians and established stars. It has helped to make the music listening experience more accessible and enjoyable for their fans worldwide.

But this isn’t the case with most of the old-generation artistes like Eedris Abdulkareem, Olu Maintain, Rasqui, and Ruggedman, unlike younger acts like Wizkid, Burna Boy and Oxlade, who are earning a killing from streaming revenues.

Michael Stephens, known as Ruggedman, whose music career began professionally in 1999 in this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, reveals why he never earned royalties throughout his 24-year-old music career.

He also shares his thoughts on the significant changes in Nigeria’s music industry, staying relevant and his philanthropic gestures to Nigerians.

PT: How have you adapted to the changes in the Nigerian music industry through the years?

Ruggedman: I have occasionally dropped a dance track and a rap track. That way, fans keep the fact that I am a rapper. But at the end of the day, things change. Times have changed in Music, and even in America, where the whole Hip-Hop music began, things have changed. So, if you want to continue making music, unless you have billions of Naira to promote your type of music. When things change, and you want to stick to your work, it becomes your music.

Because even you, the media, and even DJs all move to what is trending. They play it more. So, to make them go back to playing you the way you were doing it back then, you probably needed to promote and push more. So, it’s about something other than whether Hip-hop is dead. It’s about what’s happening. Times change. So, to continue, you need to adapt to ongoing music or entertainment trends.

PT: How have the lyrics of Nigerian music changed?

Ruggedman: In my time, there was more art in it than in the show. Right now, you have more shows than art. A lot of people are not that creative anymore. The only creative ones I’ve seen are, maybe, the beatmakers. That’s why you have different types of beats. Some beats are more popular than songs. Yeah, you talk about Azonto. What is Amapiano? It’s not a song, and it’s a beat. You understand? And then when you check it, what are they saying?

There were more profound lyrics in my time compared to now.

What you have now is called Lamba. What they call lamba is you just get famous street lingua, which means telling a lie. What this will cause is that it will reduce the number of evergreen songs that we produce in Nigeria. Because if you mention songs like 2face’s African Queen, today, or say my song, Bara Je, you will remember the lyrics. But the songs of today will be quickly forgotten in years to come.

PT: Have you enjoyed any royalties from any of your songs?

Ruggedman: Royalties? Unfortunately, when I finally learned about iTunes, I said let me go and put my album there. I now found out that the album has been there since. I am one of those they used as in ‘‘them don chop me finish before I know say I fit chop am’’. There was no social media. We were the OGs before IG. So, you understand. That’s one of the reasons I have decided to do some new wave music because there’s a lot of money in the industry. I wasn’t getting the royalties. That one has gone already. People went behind me and did it. They had already milked that.

PT: Song promotion is now expensive. We learnt Iyanya recently spent N50m promoting his songs. What impact would that have on upcoming artistes?

Ruggedman: If musicians don’t have access to funds, it will reduce the number of talented artistes that will emerge because most people who have money just want to promote whichever artiste they feel has something popular, whether it’s deep or not, whether they have lyrics or not, they just want to encourage whoever they can get money off. So, the high-priced promotion will affect the number of talents that need the much-needed airplay or visibility.

PT: How can this be corrected?

Ruggedman: I don’t know. Unless one, two, three, or four significant people in the media houses and their owners start supporting and promoting natural talents without expecting monetary compensation. Suppose DJs and OAP start supporting and playing talent without collecting money. Look, yeah, you have to manage. I can’t say no even when I am Ruggeddy Baba. We must grease palms, but then you must respond because we know but still support talent. Some people are talented, but they don’t have money. If they go to you now and say come and do an interview for this person, you say bring N100,000. Where would he get it from?

PT: What has kept you relevant even though you don’t put out music?

Ruggedman: I’ve been able to adapt. I’ve found other ways to plug myself in. At some point, when I didn’t drop music, I was everywhere. I was touching lives, not just doing music. And I wasn’t doing it because I was getting paid. I wasn’t asking anybody for payments. But I cannot count the thousands of Nigerians that I’ve helped out that I didn’t without requesting a dime.

At some point, it was overwhelming. I just said, you know what, I won’t do this anymore. But when I remember that I said I wasn’t going to do this anymore, it was when I was already trying to help out like two other people again, even yesterday, I helped out people, you understand? So that’s how I’ve been able to be relevant. Being relevant is not just one thing. It shouldn’t mean just one thing. What you’re known for can be applicable in many other ways. So, I’ve even gone as far as having a radio show now.

I’ve been running a radio show on Naija FM, 102.7, for two years. I’ve been doing ‘Wetin dey with Ruggedman’ on Naija FM for two years. Now, what do I do? I let people call in and tell me whatever their issue is. It’s every Thursday, 6 p.m to 7 p.m. So, whatever problem they have, whoever they need assistance, proper police, I mean, appropriate police. The one that would not ask for fuel money. Lawyers, human rights organisations, anything they have, I just connect them.

PT: What would you do differently if you could start your career again? Or what won’t you do?

Ruggedman: Nothing, because Ruggedman revolutionised the Nigerian music industry. It is Ruggedman who laid the foundation that many other artists are enjoying today. If I change one thing, I might not be that.

PT: So, that means you don’t have regrets?

Ruggedman: The only thing I did to myself was sometimes I just say I wish it were now that I began music because of the kind of money that these young people are making right now, but then again, if I weren’t a forerunner, these artistes that are making this money now might not be here.

PT: What is a common mistake some of these young artistes make that can end their career?

Ruggedman: It’s being too careless. They are too reckless with drugs and need to slow down on that.

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