He’s both a music producer and a songwriter. He also dices his releases with a rib-cracking edge of humour. Paul Cleverlee’s artistic routine, which sees him unite his remix engineering with comedy, leaves many questioning all the rules in the book.
It didn’t aid his rivals that the Lagos-based keyboardist opted for a university degree that equipped him with first-hand knowledge in human language computation, the physics of sound, and speech synthesis at a time when he was becoming a pro in the use of musical instruments and production software.
Even at this, he isn’t just another addition to the gadget-savvy music experts in the entertainment scene.
His video-making dexterity, which evokes a twinge of sarcasm, weighs into topical issues in Nigeria’s socio-political space — targetting audiences with perspectives beyond entertaining them.
“I’m Oyewumi Paul Oyebanji; born and raised in Ibadan but based in Lagos. I studied Linguistics at the University of Ibadan, finishing in 2019. I’m a music producer known for mixing comedy and music together, making videos out of funny speeches on Instagram,” he tells TheCable Lifestyle.
So, Paul, you seem to be into quite a number of things—music production, remix engineering, social media influencing. How did you foray into the sound industry?
I started making a move to comedy music back in 2018, having always loved ventures that would allow me to make myself happy while at them. I’ve always loved comedy as well. That was enough drive for me. When you break language, the smallest unit of it is sound, which is, in turn essentially what music is made of. I can’t say my course of study has something to do with music. But I’ve been into music my whole life. Back in primary three, I had started playing for my school, growing up under the tutelage of the church. This knowledge alone helped me in school. Also, I did computational linguistics while I was already familiar with music engineering software.
Some music experts argue that much of what used to be the job of a record producer can now be handled by the sound engineer. Is there a fine line distinguishing the roles to be played by both parties in the music-making process? Can you explain it?
No, I wouldn’t entirely agree with that. We have three distinct aspects of music production including beat making; recording; mixing and mastering. However, some sound engineers do mixing alone and don’t master songs, although I think a good sound engineer should be able to do both. So the beat making is also music production. The song recording is somewhat music production as well.
Mixing and mastering then follow, so that it collates everything together as the final process that makes the song sound well. Why it seems so is that the three aspects have a lot to do with music production. You can’t really take producers away unless an artiste wants to do Acappella that has no sound. Only then can you eliminate producers and go from recording to the sound engineer.
You’re a pianist too?
My major instrument is the keyboard, although I have some ideas about several other ones like percussion, agbamole, shaker, and pretty much anything that has to do with beating something. I’m not too good at drums but I have an idea as well. All these musical instruments can be played if you know the keyboard. This is in the sense that you can play some of these instruments on the keyboard using different software. You can play violin and drum sets on the keyboard for example. Even the saxophones can be played on the keyboard as long as you have the VSTs, which are like the software that allows you to virtually synthesize pretty much any kind of sound in music-making.
What’s your creative process like? How do ideas for new sounds and videos come to you?
Yeah, ideas come when I’m in a good mood. Social media helps as well. I could see something online and realize I have preexisting materials that could go with it. Also, something could be trendy and my fans tag me to bring my attention to it. All I’d do is get to work; create something.
For the record, can you give us a rundown of the projects you’ve worked on over time; those you’ve had to work with, and how fans received your works over the years? How have you been able to build your brand all this time up to this point?
I’ve done a lot but the most popular ones I can remember are the ones I did of Buhari, the ‘UEFA Remix‘. ‘Fainting MD‘ (of NDDC), and then ‘Entanglement‘. Most of the feedback I’ve gotten from my fans are positive remarks. I don’t know about the negative ones ‘cause those don’t affect me as long as the majority of the people that are my audience like what I do. Negative comments, I don’t pay attention to them. I’ve been able to build my brand with the help of my wonderful fans that appreciate what I do. They share my content; find them very interesting, exciting, and funny.
There’s also persistence and consistency. I don’t like giving up when I’m up to a project. Even before I start working, there’s always this creative process being mapped out in my mind about how I want this thing to sound and what I would need to put together. I think that’s the longest process for me to create the content on my page. Creative thinking tends to take much longer than execution for me. I could take hours to think the project through or there could be preexisting materials I have in mind. It’s not in my nature to give up and that has always been the drive for me.
You’ll agree one thing drowning music artistes’ careers is the lack of constructive criticism from listeners. Some hail breakout stars even if they make bad music. Citing cases, what’s that one thing observing the music industry over the years taught you?
This is one of the most difficult things ever, even as a human being regardless of what you do. As for me, I’m brutally honest with my commentary. If you’re my person, I’ll tell you, “Guy, this is a no.” But sometimes people think you’re trying to kill their vibe after they’d spent so much time working on the project. In their mind, they would be like, “This one is a banger!” At least you should find listeners, not even one person, that would review it. Don’t tell them yet that it’s your song. Just play it and hear what they have to say. You could even be in your car. Their reaction shouldn’t always be a deliberate one that they know you’d be expecting. It could just be a natural one. You’ll find that they could be nodding to the song; you don’t even need to ask what they feel.
Being within a division of the industry critical to creativity, what do you think of the structure of Nigeria’s showbiz? How about your view as to how we can grow further, perhaps concerning record labels, contracts, artistes, or the role of the government?
Well, I think the industry will change positively if labels and whoever is signing artistes understand these singers in person. Not everything is strictly business. There should be a cordial and mutually beneficial relationship between both parties. Also, artistes should pay attention to the contract they enter into. What we see on many occasions is young singers falling for the label’s packaging (brand). They end up not reading in-between the lines of the contract agreement. So, if you’re an artiste and you have a record label that is willing to sign you, find an entertainment lawyer or someone who is knowledgeable in terms of the music business to read on your behalf and explain what you’re getting yourself into. Some sign contracts and later realize there’s a clause they don’t agree with. The record label would say, “This is our contract and how it has to be.” No, it’s not done that way.
As for the government, mechanisms should be in place to reduce the rate of music piracy. Don’t get me wrong, but music should never be free. You streaming or downloading music isn’t meant to be free because a lot of creative processes, time, and effort go into one music production. Then artistes put it on commercial music platforms that generate funds for them but, at the end of the day, they’re pirated to become songs that people get for free. Bloggers now steal the song from these platforms and put it on theirs to amass traffic. The artistes end up not gaining anything. So the government needs to think up a tech-assisted strategy to reduce or end music piracy in Nigeria.
There’s obviously a global scramble for Afrobeats — sounds and creative inputs from Africa — which is evidenced in Beyoncé’s recent projects. If at all, to what extent do you think our music should tilt towards accommodating the western music audience?
I don’t think ours should change. We should just keep doing our thing since they’re the ones now trying to use our sound. However, I think Beyonce needs to visit West Africa; stage some concerts, the way Cardi B did. I think she’s doing everything right. But you showing you love these people since you’re using their sounds and culture, she should try to mingle and talk to us as well. Let’s just feel like you’re one of us, even though we know you’re of a different country and background.
Plus, recently, Africans questioned the portrayal of their cultures by US singers in music. What do you make of ‘Already’, Beyoncé’s recent video with Shatta Wale, which depicted black people as beings masked in face paint and clinging to treetops?
I don’t think that should be an issue. We’re getting the recognition we deserve. They love what we’re doing, so they’re welcome to it anytime. To me, reading meanings into that isn’t necessary.
You’ve had several projects including the remixing of Justin Bieber’s ‘Yummy’. What was the idea behind the touch of Afrobeats you gave to the UEFA League’s theme?
It was to make UEFA’s song, which is already dope, to be danceable. That was pretty much the idea.
Aside from remix engineering, you write songs. How’d you describe the recognition accorded to songwriters in the Nigerian music industry with your experience so far?
Most people don’t credit songwriters. But, anyway, it’s fine. The artistes often want to take all the credits. To me, it’s no big deal. It’s understandable. Some songwriting agreements are one-off. They pay off the writer. There’s another where the writer gets a percentage of the revenue from the song.
What moments and career success milestones are you most proud of, and what artistes have you had to join forces with, you know, to further put your skills to work?
There have been lots of beautiful moments for me. One of which I’m most proud of was when I had a sort of breakthrough in terms of my online presence back in 2018. It was towards the end of the year. I had targeted 10,00 followers from 8000. I ended up with over 60,000 as the year ended.
I’ve worked with some top artistes including Olamide, Speed Darlington, Speckinging, Anas, and Magix.
Some people will disagree but these guys are talented. I’m still working with some.
There are a lot of unreleased projects that I’ve done with top artistes. They’re still coming out. I’ll like to work with even more artistes who are driven by passion and know what they’re doing. We go well together.
Now, tell us, beyond entertainment, how do you monetize your work? What are your aspirations and where do you see yourself in terms of a career in the coming years?
I’m still a man of my own, not affiliated with any record label just yet. About monetisation, there are so many ways I make money from this thing. First, I’m a music producer. I have artistes that come to me for beats; mixing and mastering; recording. All these get me some change. Also, with the kind of content I put up on Instagram, I can do something like that in the form of an advert.
I use that skill to create ads for brands looking to sell their products to people. Personally, I don’t see anyone as a rival. My biggest rival is myself. I always want to be the best version of myself. It’s just me. My intention has always been to make people happy as well as make myself happy. With subsequent career strides, I look to reach out to a larger audience; make Afrobeats more global.
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