Nigerian urban music is easier to export – Olivier Laouchez

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How did you create the TRACE brand?

When you are raised in the Caribbean, you are very exposed to music; be it Raga, Reggae, Salsa and so on. So, I was exposed to music from the very beginning and I liked music. In my little Island there was only one TV channel and I always thought that it was not good to have that kind of monopolistic situation; it would be good to create an alternative to the government-owned TV channel. So, when I finished my studies in France, I decided to come back to Matunuck (Rhode Island) to start a channel. It took me a few years because I did not have enough money, so I had to get investors. After that, because these are small territories, and I was exposed to the Black Entertainment Television, BET, which was growing strong in the United States then, but only in the United States. So, one day I said to myself, Hip Hop is not only strong in the US, it is also strong in Europe and Africa; we should take BET to the rest of the world. So, I went to Washington and I told them at BET that I could help to develop BET in the French speaking countries, but my proposal was turned down. I went back to France at the time and decided that I would create my own music channel. And it took me four years to get the money and my partners. We actually acquired an existing brand which was the TRACE brand but at the time it was TRACE Magazine. So, we acquired the Magazine and we also acquired a very small music channel. We took these two assets and I started developing the business. Right now, we have operations in 180 countries, 39 different satellites, 16 different channels, and four different formats. TRACE Urban is the format you have here on DSTV. We also have TRACE Tropical which is more for the Caribbean, Latin American market. We inaugurated also TRACE Africa, which is a 100 per cent African music channel, but for the time being it is only available in the Francophone African Countries because DSTV is not yet ready to distribute it. Also, two years ago, we started what we consider a real big investment for us, TRACE Sports, which is a sports/entertainment channel that focuses on sports celebrities.Olivier Laouchez

What do you make of the speedy evolution of the entertainment industry and what is TRACE doing to stay relevant?

We are at a turning point in the entertainment industry where technology is going to break a lot of barriers and create a lot of new opportunities. We have been on this for the last few years; to capture the reality of the digital revolution where music is not only about downloads but streaming, where you can have personalised music channels, added value features on your mobile phone to help get access to entertainment content.

As far as we are concerned at Trace, all the investment in innovation we are making, we want to introduce them first in Africa, because this is one continent where music is most important.

We are transmitting this innovation into entertainment and into business to provide great exposure and better experience for the users.

Entertainment is a core part of the lifestyles of Nigerian youths. How do you intend to carry them along?

I will tell you about some realities. First of all, the mobile phone is more important to the youths than the television. They will spend more time with their mobile phones. And we think it is a gateway to access the entertainment world. What we have designed in the last years is a new mobile proposition to young people and we are now discussing with mobile operators in Nigeria to launch Trace Mobile, which will be a value added mobile proposition for young people.

We realised that the target group for most music competitions such as the Idols and Project Fame has mobile phones. So, we designed a project where young people will call an IVI telephone line and they will record their songs, they can play back to make sure it is okay and enter it. We have a panel that will listen to all the entries and the best entries will benefit from TV promotions and profiling, there will be a grand finale with 10 best entries. And the winner will get a contract with Universal Music, Cash Money, and perform at the TRACE Urban Music Awards in December, 2013. Now, this is an example of how you can engage the youths on all units of communications – mobile, TV, Event, Digital, social networks etc.

What is your major business strategy?

We keep the public as the centre point of our business, because if the people are not enjoying your product, and they are not having a great time, if the product does not entertain them and does not fit their lifestyle, then the business will die. The key words for us are ‘Entertainment’, ‘Localisation’ and ‘Personalisation’. You have to have something that is close to the reality of the entertainment market you are in. With digital interactive innovations we make products for the future. We have also had to develop products that will fit into the reality of limited broadband capacity. This is where the TRACE Star contest comes to significance because even if you do not have a smartphone, you can just call, record your song and you do not need to have an expensive handset to participate.

My TRACE gives you personalised service. People have their personal preference in music. People have said they want more air play for their country’s music. Some want 100 per cent Nigerian, others want 100 per cent South African music. With My TRACE, you can have exactly what you prefer.

How has the TRACE brand affected Nigerian artistes?

You know that Akon opened his African label, Konvict Africa, and he was looking for artistes to sign on his label and decided to sign P-Square. When I met him recently, he told me that one of the reasons why he sighed P-Square is because of the exposure we gave to the group all over the world on TRACE. We can say that we do contribute to the success of many Nigerian artistes by making them known all over the world through our platforms. So, it is true that Nigerian music is really important now. We play P-Square, TuFace and Ajebutter 22, next to a Kanye West because they deserve that respect; because their music is great. Their videos are great so we give them that platform.

How would you rate the quality of Nigerian Videos?

I would say that in the last 10 years there has been a revolution. Nigerian artistes really invest a lot in their production and the Nigerian urban music is easier to export than that of other African countries. They can easily be accepted across the world. For instance, the South African music is much more complicated to export, the sound of South Africa is not as crossover as your songs. You have this capacity to bring your own DNA and make it acceptable globally.

How do you find time for yourself and your family?

I am extremely busy. I travel for about six months per year. I have three kids and I always try to spend some time with them. I think that when you want to build something that is viable for the future, you have to work a lot, especially when you have to do that in multiple territories.

Has any of your children indicated interest in going into the entertainment industry?

My son is passionate about music; he is a big fan of Hip Hop music.

Considering the sacrifices you must have made to build the TRACE brand, do you have any regrets?

If I had to do it again, I’ll do it again because I am building an asset; and that is good for the future of my family.

Are there any peculiar challenges you have doing business in Nigeria?

Oh! Yes there are challenges that are peculiar to Nigeria. Sometimes, you get the feeling that things take more time than they should take. Sometimes clients delay payments. And even the very big companies delay payments. But then we are lucky because we are not only in one market. I think each country has got its ways. You have to understand Nigeria. There is a huge optimism in this country. They always feel that tomorrow will be better, and that is great

Co-founder of TRACE TV,  granted originally this interview to Ademola Olonilua of Punch Newspaper.

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