If asked to list the riskiest business areas to invest in this country, would you include music production?
If your answer is yes, then you are on the same plane with Mrs Theresa Mensah of Big Ben Music Productions. She and husband, Benjamin Mensah, have been in the music production business for about sixteen years and have tasted all the highs and lows of working in that sector.
Artistes currently on their label include Ofori Amponsah, Kofi Nti, K.K. Fosu, Sandra Oduro, Christiana Love, Lady Prempeh, Monica Konadu, Vine Praises and Ohemaa Mercy.
Known to many of the people she deals with as Mummy Big, Mrs. Mensah dresses well, has a pleasant personality and a sharp mind for the job she does. She's aware that it's a high risk area and doesn't mince words at all when she talks about it.
“It's like lottery. When you bring out a work and the public doesn't take to it, all the money spent becomes your burden. Upfront money for artistes, studio time, cassette and compact discs production, promotion and other things cost a lot of money.
You always have to figure things out properly before accepting to produce a particular artiste,” states Mrs. Mensah.
The lady and her husband appear to be figuring things out properly these days. Their Otoolege production for Ofori Amponsah , Rakia for Kofi Nti featuring K.K. Fosu and Ofori Amponsah and Sidney's Obia Nye Obia which they are part of, are among the most popular songs in the country at the moment. Most of the gospel artistes on their label are also household names.
Explaining what a music producer in the local sense does, Mrs. Mensah said the role entails sponsoring an artiste financially to bring out the best musical ability in him or her.
When the husband and wife team decided to go into production in the late 1980s, artistes they took on included Kofi Akosa, Asebu Amenfi, Wofa Asomaning and Osei Vasco. So how do they come by the artistes? Mrs. Mensah says:
“They usually make an approach for help. You listen to whatever they have and if you think it can get somewhere, you put some money into it.”
Of late, Big Ben Productions has put substantial amounts of money into gospel music. Recouping investment from gospel appears not to be as tough as from other styles because “more people are going to church so patronage for gospel is quite high and even non-Christians buy gospel.”
A cordial relationship augurs well for both producer and artiste. Unfortunately, relationship between the two groups are sometimes stormy.
Mrs. Mensah admits that some artistes are very nice to work with but others are also very troublesome.
She does not understand why a musician who has sold out his work and all the accompanying rights comes back to make demands of the producer when the work becomes a hit.
“People approach you in a very humble manner and say all they want is their material to come out. The moment they begin to hear their names on radio and see themselves in the newspapers and on television, they become arrogant and start accusing producers of cheating them”.
Nearly all Ghanaian music producers have had that accusation leveled at them at one time or the other.
Stating positions very clearly before deals are sealed is one of the ways to avert acrimony. Mrs. Mensah agrees to that but says an artiste bent on getting under your skin will do that no matter what papers have been signed.
She, however, admits that there are producers who don't play it clean with the artistes they work with.
There is friction between producers when one tries to poach an artiste a colleague has groomed from scratch into a top-selling act.
It could take hundreds of millions of cedis to transform a musician and nothing hurts more than seeing the guy who has spent nothing on the artiste's development come to snatch him away. Artistes are free to change producers but, to Mrs. Mensah, it must occur out of mutual consent.
Though competitors, there are times when producers feel each other's pinch and step in with words of encouragement.
There was a glow of gratitude on Mrs. Mensah when she recalled how Mr John Agbenu of Precise Music emboldened them to carry on with a then new gospel talent.
“With Sandra Oduro, we promoted her maiden album for seven months without much response from the public. We were getting discouraged when someone called and said he liked her songs and that we should carry on with the promotion.
We made a new video for her and she eventually broke through. Now the public knows her well”.
After spending a lot of money to record and promote an album, producers often feel like strangling all the people who flood the market with pirated works.
There are laws against piracy but the practice in Ghana, like everywhere else, never abates. “Such things make our work very hard,” Mrs. Mensah says.
When the issue of payola came up, she threw her head back and laughed. She said some of the disc jockeys are very helpful and play the songs you want with or without payola. There are others too, she accedes, who collect the payola and don't play your music.
Mrs. Mensah, who comes from Kuntasi Onwi in the Ashanti Region, is not sure she would have ventured into music production if she had not met her husband.
He, might have contented himself with his original business of selling music if he had not interacted regularly with the veteran music producer, A.K. Brobbey from whom he bought records to sell.
“I call Mr. Brobbey my father-in-law because he regards my husband as his son,” says Mrs. Mensah. “The current crop of producers have taken over from his generation. We will also give way to others in the future to carry on producing Ghanaian music”.
Mrs. Mensah is also artistically inclined. She sometimes spends long periods with artistes in the recording studio and is not shy to suggest how certain songs could be structured or recorded. In fact, she used to be a member of a group called Supreme Divine Singers in Ashtown, Kumasi.
Maybe Big Ben Music Productions will one day release an album from a lady whose office is near the Circle Post Office in Accra, is married to a music producer, has three children and is known to everyone as Mummy Big.
Source: Ennel Kay, Graphic Showbiz