Welcome to The T-Spot. This series is the official MUSTA Talent Spotlight where we highlight some really talented people, from different creative industries.
In this episode of The T-Spot, Kenechukwu Ugwu, discusses his role as an A&R and artist manager and how he intends to transform the music industry of Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja.
Q1. Hello Kene! Please tell us about what you do.
I’m an Artists and Repertoire (A&R) and an artist manager. I also run a talent management company called Sparky Management. It offers A&R, artist development, and public relations services. Basically, my work as an A&R involves guiding the careers of artists and making them better at their craft. I also oversee their creative direction and pitch them to individuals or labels that can push their music careers. There are different types of managers: road managers, business managers, and personal managers. I mostly function as a business and personal manager for artists. I get business deals for them, I handle their personal affairs, supervise their recording sessions and schedules.
Q2. Okay, we want to know more about Sparky Management.
Sparky Management came to fruition during the 2020 lockdown when I was working with a lot of Abuja creatives, artists specifically, and discovered a gap in the music management space. Most artists didn’t have managers, so I founded Sparky TalentManagement LTD. For my first client, Mazi Codex, I A&R’ed his debut EP called ‘Drill Set’. It happens to be the first drill EP to come out of Nigeria. Since then, I have signed several other artists.
The music business is wide so I constantly take courses to expand my knowledge and advance Sparky Talent Management. There’s even so much to learn apart from the theoretical aspect of the craft so I seek practical experience by learning from and working with creatives—not only artists but also photographers, songwriters, audio engineers, fashion designers and producers—, organizing events and putting together musical projects. I have also taken part in mentoring and coaching programs like the Creative Enterprise Support Program Organized by the British Council. Under my company, I have collaborated with other music managers to work with my clients as well.
Q3. Where did it all begin?
My love for music management can be traced back to high school. I had so many friends into music: Eeskay, Phaemous, Equator, YoungSlim and YoungSpice. Then, I would occasionally follow them to the studio. Getting into University of Lagos for a degree in Computer Engineering, I didn’t have the time to focus on music, but in my penultimate year I had two housemates that were artists. They would always record in the house and that’s how I got involved again. I would write songs with them, converse with them on what they were recording and basically assist their craft in any way I could. Looking back at it, I was A&R’ing but I didn’t know what it was called then. When the pandemic started and the lockdown happened, it gave me some time to research music management and learn more about it. I took a course online, and then I took the Music Business Academy course. I was actually in the first set of Music Business Academy for Africa. Around that time, I sought practical experience with creatives in Abuja and the idea for my management company came up.
Q4. How has the journey been so far?
The journey has been good and tough. It’s been tough because I reside and work in Abuja, a city where the music industry is not as strong as it can be yet but that’s one of my major goals in the work I do: to develop the Abuja industry, give it life and give it a better structure.
Q5. What are the challenges you have faced along the way?
The biggest challenge has to be the fact that the music business requires a lot of funding. Getting funding to push the hustle is like the first bit, so I have to work multiple jobs to make more money to put into my company.
Q6. What is one thing you wish someone had told you about when you just started your career?
I wish I was told about the importance of networking. I mean, I knew it was part of the job but I didn’t know the extent of its importance in the industry. Your network is basically your strength. It’s not even about just knowing people, it’s about an exchange of values. What value can you bring to them and them to you?
Q7. What’s your favorite project yet?
I put so much care and attention into everything I work on to have a favorite.
Q8. Creatively what will you say is your biggest strength?
My line of business requires taking up many roles all at once so I have hacked multi-tasking. I literally can do different things at once. This year, I simultaneously worked with a client in Nigeria—Mannie Tseayo—and another in Canada—Fargo—setting up completely different teams to handle each project (Mannie’s EP ‘Eucalyptus’ and F$rgo’s EP ‘Wells F$RGO’) because they had two entirely different creative directions. I did that and I did it well.
Q9. Creatively what will you say is your greatest weakness?
If I have any best believe that I’m working on it
Q10. How does your future in the music industry look like?
The future looks really bright. Sparky management has grown so much in the past two years. I have more clients than when I had just started. Currently, I am working with a couple of producers in Abuja: Ransom Beatz, Marvey Muzique (they taught me a great deal of the publishing aspect in music), Cross and Afro-Faya, as well as some artists: F$rgo, Mannie Tseayo, Eeskay and The B. More people want to work with us so I’m currently in the process of employing more staff. We own a music blog called Nothing Bad Happens On A Friday, we have an artist’s development program running for new artists and our PR team is coming together. Everything is looking good and in the next few years I believe a huge song will come out of Sparky Management.
Q11. Who do you look up to in the music industry and why?
I look up to artist managers that were young when they came into the industry and broke barriers. I look up to Osagie Osarenz, GodwinTom, Muyiwa Awoniyi, Asa Asika and Tega at Mavins.
Q12. What is Sparky Management currently working on?
We just released an Afro-Pop/Afro-Fusion/Alternative EP called ‘Her Echoes’. It’s a collaboration between Nigerian producer, Hybrid Trips, and my client, Mannie Tseayo. We are also working on something for the nascent drill community in Nigeria