By Justin Ige
It is not completely accurate to refer to beat makers as music producers. Sometimes, their functions overlap and sometimes not. Beat making thus strictly speaking, is quite different from music production but for the purpose of this article, the two will be taken as one. This is because this article will be dealing with the aspect of music production that involves beat making and its possible legal implications. The questions are loud: what kinds of arrangements or transactions are common in the music industry that can put most music producers at a disadvantage? What is the nature of transactions that can enable the producers to take more advantage?
It must be that the audience or consumers of a piece of music in contemporary times eat beats, and the makers of the beats, cooks. That would explain why the process of beat making is often now referred to as cooking. I don’t have a problem with it, as a matter of fact, I kind of like it why can’t studios be referred to as kitchens? In reality, a comparison of the processes involved in putting a meal together and that of putting a piece of music together would reveal an undeniable similarity – it’s all about ingredients and timing.
It took me a while to understand what is now meant by beat in a piece of music. I had no problem in appreciating the word from the perspective of theory of music; after all, there must be a number of beats in a bar, that is, if the music is divided into bars. I certainly can count beats, it is rather easy and it hardly requires any creativity to create these. However, what beats mean in the real world is very different. I wonder who started it. I thought maybe it meant the beating of the drum parts, in other words, the drum pattern. I was wrong. In this real world, if what you are hearing is not the vocal parts then it’s the beat. Simple! This is however not to be considered as absolute as where it concerns Timberland, some of the vocal parts still forms part of the beat! Nevertheless, one can safely substitute the word accompaniment for beat, they mean the same thing in the real world and the moment I figured that out, my problems were solved. The academic understanding of the word beat is therefore different from the popular or industry understanding of it. The music academia exists inside but outside this world; I guess they are an example of what it means to be in this world but not of this world.
For the purpose of this article, however, we are concerned with beats as it is popularly understood and used in the music industry, the possible processes through which a beat may be made and the possible legal implications for the artiste and the beat maker/ music producer depending on the process or method employed.
Does the beat come before the song, or is it the other way round? Which should come before the other? Simple. Of course, the accompaniment should come only after what it is supposed to accompany! That makes sense but that’s wrong, wrong, and nothing but wrong! Easy assumption, wrong conclusion! I know it only makes sense that it should be that way but there are many things about the music of today, and the way it is made, that doesn’t make sense”. If fact, the more lyrical and musical sense one can manage to kick out of the music the more money one is likely to kick into one’s bank account. So eventually, the less sense the more sense. It is fast becoming the norm, especially in hip pop and R n b genres for the beat to have been fully cooked before the artistes write even a word or a melodic phrase, making the music and song, dependent on the intellectual effort of the cook. I don’t have a problem with this either; it only shows that the earth is definitely spinning, not stationary. Change is the word, but whichever of the processes or methods employed will have its own necessary legal implications. These legal implications will be considered.
Is there a difference between the beat that comes before the song and the one that comes after the song in terms of legal status? Probably not much and probably with little significance in countries that are not our beloved Nigeria. The legal principles are however generally the same but the difference is one of such that the Nigerian beat cooks/music producers can take advantage of to improve their lot in the industry. It is not the norm for Nigerian music producers to receive any royalties from works produced by them; not that the artistes are much better-off themselves in respect of same. It is ridiculous, we all know, but there is simply no reliable and efficient method of collecting musical royalties in Nigeria! Then, the good old pirates (this is definitely one place where we should all sigh), often referred to as the Alaba boys- they go further by making it easier for legitimate music entrepreneurs to lie about record sales, they also make them sell at ridiculously low prices; the radio stations/DJs and presenters also, are rather more accustomed to receiving royalties from artistes to play their music instead of bla bla bla (I simply can’t bother). This is Nigeria and all these factors conspire to keep the Nigerian music artiste and music producer in poverty. This is Nigeria but Nigeria won’t always be this; Nigeria hasn’t always been this not that it has been that much better. Among others, steps are being taken to ensure that the telecom companies for one, pay royalties to artistes for use of their works, in many cases of which the works used could very well be the beats only or the beat signatures, this being the popular melodic theme or rhythm of the beat.
Generally, at law, the owner of a copyrighted work is the maker and for all purposes, there is nothing under the law to prevent a beat cook from asserting his rights over his beats as copyrighted works, provided all legal requirements are met, and thus open up new ways of benefiting from his beats. The example of the telecom companies above is just one way! But then, can beats which come after the song, and thus properly, accompaniments, claim such rights? It definitely won’t be as easy but arguments from the perspective of the impact on public, of composed themes as indivisible parts of the beats may be adequate, depending on the facts of each case as there is a difference between the development of accompaniment for a song and the composition of themes that embellish a song. It is worthy of note that however, both are activities in music production. This is an example of where the difference lies between beats that come before the song and the one that comes after.
Artistes in Nigeria have been reaping millions from and as a result of well-cooked beats from shows, among others; but the producers who create this beats benefit much less, in fact, incomparably less from the same very beats! Are the artistes cheating the producers? Maybe it’s the system but the producers can as well take advantage of the law to protect their interests.
The questions are loud: what kinds of arrangements or transactions are common in the industry to put most producers at such disadvantage? What is the nature of transactions that can enable the producers to take the advantage? The best transaction type depends on the circumstances of each case, the peculiar wants and preferences of the producer and the eventual resting nest of negotiation flights. Each transaction type also has its shades, which can be best suited to each case.
It can be thus concluded that if beat cooks are being extorted it is not the law that is to blame; and the extortion can stop. In fact, that is what the law wants! (If I may speak for the Law).
Justin Ige can also be reached via email@example.com or 08023897112. This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace legal counsel. First written and published online on24 February2010.
By Justin Ige