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TRACE Urban Music Channel has become very popular in Africa within an impressively short period of time since franchise owner Sam Onyemelukwe got the license to operate the company in west and Anglophone Africa. Sam who is Nigerian and born to an American mum is the CEO of Entertainment Management Company. He spoke about the running of TRACE Urban in Nigeria, and Ghana.

How did you start your journey with music?

I’m a creative man as well as a business man. My school leaving certificate was in Painting and sculpture, full arts. In 2001, I signed a group called KUSH. I’m a music lover, I play a little Drum, and so for me music is my passion.

How did you get the TRACE Urban deal?

I was referred to Olivier Laouchez, the co-founder of TRACE, while I was Country Manager for MTV base for 2 years; I left MTV after the most recent awards. I liked the look and feel of the TRACE Urban brand when I first saw it, really nice and sharp. We were watching it (TRACE Urban Channel) but it wasn’t popular and I thought there would be a big chance here for TRACE Urban. I started to discuss with Olivier and then realized they were eager to do business in Nigeria but the company didn’t know anyone in Nigeria. I made a proposal, they agreed over a few months and since, we’ve have been working together. I work through my company, Entertainment Management Company (EMC) which has exclusive rights to TRACE and is its executive sales representative although we also handle other properties. Right now, we just finished a package for African’s Next Top Model with Oluchi (the African Version of America’s Next Top Model). TRACE Urban is like a foundation stone for the business for me.

EMC’s role is very dynamic for TRACE because this is Nigeria, if you are not flexible, it will be very difficult to do business here. So they need business men who understand the terrain. It’s a dynamic industry, things are changing and we do have to change.

Do you also do Talent Management, Who are the talents you currently manage?

What we offer in this regard is called Celebrity Management Service. We are not the day-to-day manager for any given artiste; in fact our simple proposal to them, which is much like that of TRACE in a way, is to show them how to make more money apart from just doing shows or movies. In other words, EMC helps them to maximize their merchandising potentials. We are taking entertainment to the market and redefining the business of entertainment in Africa. EMC is currently finishing up a couple of deals; right now, I’m really excited about the really big ones in the pipeline like that of MI, D’banj, Davido and in the movie industry Genevieve Nnaji. It’s a new service though, yet it is going well already.

How come TRACE Urban doesn’t organize awards, concerts and events like to recognize and reward excellence in the entertainment industry?

SAM EMCIt was more of a business decision to stay away from doing a lot of stuff so we can generate good revenue and be profitable. We made the choice because we want to work on popularizing the channel as a business destination for advertisers; we partnered with some shows and you’ll see a whole lot of that in the next 6-9 months. We have only held one event in the past 2 years since I started running TRACE Urban. Now that we have the business moving normally, we have restructured and added more capabilities even though we will continue to focus on the basic business of getting merchandising the TRACE brand. EMC will be project managing the Nokia DON’T BREAK THE BEAT campaign this year. We are project managing the entire program, of course, we’re bringing TRACE Urban into it. We have made it different this year to be quite digital interactive. Thus, instead of your regular TV shows, we will start with Twitter. Participants can enter the competition by posting their rap lines on social media, and people can vote online for their favorite videos. We are working with some of Nokia’s agencies on the event and TV and digital Media partners will play a huge part too.

What is the essence of the EMC’s partnership with Nokia?

The reason we were brought on to manage the project is because, of course there is the TRACE aspect, but there is the fact that due to our representation of TRACE, we really have a solid pulse on what the youths want and what they are doing. Due to our exclusive representation of TRACE, we were able to within that contract, include a solid amount of media mileage for the Nokia Don’t Break The Beat campaign on TRACE. So in essence they get a two-for-one. Some of the capabilities we have build as EMC is beyond our license of the TRACE brand and that includes project management, development of campaigns, talent management, engaging the talent for a given campaign, and creating the contracts and deliverables. In-house we are also able to manage the TV production and more. We engaged talents as well; In this case some of Nigeria’s greatest rappers, Mode 9, Eva, Phenom and TK who won the contest last year. We work with Nokia and their agencies to develop part of the campaign for this year. Viewers will see a different contest this year. We are working with Nokia and its retained agencies on this project.

So what should viewers expect differently this year?

Last year, Nokia Don’t Break The Beat was extremely successful, fantastic show; people really enjoyed it, but it was basically a TV show. There are a lot of competitions out there but one of the things that differentiate Nokia Don’t Break The Beat is that it’s a rap program for people who are rap enthusiasts. So we decided, to make it interactive this year, and create interactive ways for participants to enroll, they can enter from anywhere in Nigeria by tweeting their rap lines. So they don’t have to travel all the way to Lagos for an audition.


What other similar partnerships and engagements do you have ongoing?

We have a number of great projects going on. Let me speak about our partnership with Glo. Glo obviously is a brand that is committed to engaging youths and being in the youth space where youths like to play. “X Factor” just kicked off now and we have been following the Glo Slide and Bounce Tour, we provide some technical aspects to the audio visuals production; basically plugging into the engine of Glo and bringing out the experience in a very different way that appeals to the youths.

So are there other innovations you are bringing to the entertainment industry, even beyond the youth market segment?

What we are offering in the market place is a suite of services that help brands achieve their objectives. That is the simplest way to put it. For instance; we recently worked with Baileys when they launched the new bottle. Again, when it came to producing the show, they had agencies that they work with, but in engaging the right artistes for the show, they had to bring us in to engage the right people that could connect with their target audience. It was a pure opportunity because they wanted that concert to essentially reach out to the beautiful, bright, aspirational women in Nigeria. So in this case we brought on Tiwa Savage. The women got to see Tiwa in an intimate setting, so it was very engaging. So by providing the strategy and thinking through projects to ensure that they are impactful, we are able to work with great brands and help them deliver results.

Would you say your educational background is the key factor for your success in business so far?

 I guess it’s a mix between learning business and business coming naturally. I learnt business with a lot of cuts and bruises, daily focusing and hard working. I am a natural businessman,  I always liked making money. I have had the opportunity to work with great companies like MTV, Sony Music, Disney and DKG which was eventually sold to Universal Music. My education has also been very valuable. I have a degree in Information Systems from Boston University and also have an MBA.

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