Eric Musyoka
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Eric Musyoka: Why P-Unit producer now prefers films over music

Legendary Kenyan producer Eric Musyoka, alias Musyox at his studio in Nairobi on February 27, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Eric Musyoka comes into his Decimal Record studios patio on a KTM 1190 Adventure R-superbike.

He loves crazy speeds just as he loves music, the only thing he has done to butter his bread since the 1990s when he was still in high school. Just days ago, he and his friends did an overland of 240 kilometres from Moyale to Marsabit in one and a half hours.

“The bike has a top speed of 320km/h. After 220km/h you don’t feel anything, it’s like you’re inside a bubble, the way the bike sounds, the rave of the engine, the wind speed everything is constant, the gears aren’t shifting, its very relaxing but also dangerous if you do that on the streets. 

Such speeds you hit them in the middle of nowhere like we did on Moyale to Marsabit, it’s just you and the desert,” Mr Musyoka says as he walks us into the inner chambers of the studio.

Even then, the 44-year-old doesn’t see any problems with that. “Living is a risk, investing is a risk as well, I choose to invest in this kind of vibes.

Bike is my detox, it helps me decompress after dealing with music charade,” he adds as he brings the machines in the studio to life.

For 27 years now, starting out as a rapper, Mr Musyoka has been fully immersed into music and sound production, creating records for big names from Kenya and beyond — Sauti Sol, Morgan Heritage, Nyashinski, Profesa Jay, Mwana FA, Juliani, Hart The Band, you name it.

The walls of the Decimal studio are a testament, littered with decorations of vinyl’s and placards of his creation, some dating as far as 2000s. One that stands out is the Coca-Cola pop star group SEMA that Sanapei Tande into the limelight. 

For his virtuosity and finesse, often than not there has been an argument as to whether Mr Musyoka is Kenya’s Dr Dre – the popular American billionaire rapper and producer. Despite lack of academic success, Dr Dre is ranked among the most shrewd and powerful forces in the world of hip hop and music.

Just like Mr Musyoka, Dr Dre is responsible for launching careers of a notable number of influential artists. The six time Grammy Award winner and Aftermath Entertainment founder was listed by Forbes as the second richest hip-hop producer in 2019.

But Mr Musyoka politely agrees he has been instrumental in shaping a lot of musical careers in Kenya but insists he doesn’t compare to Dr Dre in many ways. A case in point would be their different upbringing. Whereas Mr Musyoka was raised in a well-off household by a frugal accountant mother and an artistic father, Dr Dre grew up surrounded by questionable influences.

The American associated with known drug dealers and spent most of his younger days getting well acquainted with the street hustle. However just like Dr Dre, Mr Musyoka can easily point out to you where exactly the money is in the world of music, something which most music producers in Kenya seem to miss.

Mr Musyoka reveals a chunk of his money comes from licensing of music and scoring for films – a business strategy majority of Kenya producers do not know or understand. “Distribution and licensing are the two main aspects of monetising music. 

I don’t subscribe to this idea of just creating and selling beats - a model liked by many Kenyan producers. With distribution is getting the content to different distributors through various music streaming platforms. Licensing is lending license to commercials, TVs etc for a set period of time at a fee, ” he says.

Running of his Decimal record label is yet another venture that adds to his basket. “A good example is a Somali movie called Bufis by an Italian, shot in Eastleigh. I licensed four songs from Decimal Records, used in the movie at $4,000. The film is currently doing festival runs in Poland.

The songs aren’t even that huge in the country, but because they fit in the movie script they are good,” he says. Trained at School of Audio Engineering (SAE) Institute in the US, that’s where Mr Musyoka finetuned his craft with key highlights being when he interned at the American rapper mogul Sean Combs alias Puff Daddy’s record label.

“ Our school had good connection with New York labels, some of my colleagues got placements at Wyclef Jean, Jay Z, some went to Sony Music, I landed mine at Diddy’s,” he says. Armed with all the knowledge, expertise and experience while in the US, Mr Musyoka says he saw an unexploited opportunity in Kenya and that’s what informed his decision to start a music label immediately he jetted back.

P-Unit were the first artistes Mr Musyoka signed at Decimal Records and that’s when his name started gaining traction despite having been in the business for 10 years.

“The market was growing, social media had just started, we had proper PR (public relation) and now there was a face to the product, so I began to get noticed with the masses.” The model employed here was Decimal to run as a label.

When the label began in 2009, Mr Musyoka says there was good money. “In terms of performances P-Unit were making up to Sh500,000 per concert right now I see people going home with Sh1.8 million and even more. Licensing wasn’t a big source of income for us but streaming sales and performances and brand endorsements,” he says. 

At this point, a majority of Digital Service Providers (DSP) hadn’t opened up in the Kenyan market. “What we did was find distributors for our music worldwide so people in diaspora had access to P-Unit music. iTunes was the biggest stop. Spotify was also there but not as huge.

We would make about $3,000 (Sh300,000 at the then exchange rate) a year from streaming,” he says. When the group P-Unit of Frasha, Gabu and Bon-eye folded in 2015, Mr Musyoka took a break from label business.

“For close to three years I didn’t sign any artiste. During this period, I became work for hire, producing Sauti Sol, Octopizzo, June Gachui, Elani, Gilad, Hart The Band, Arrow bowy albums.” Besides music placards furnishing the Decimal Records wall studios, several films placard add to the tally.

Katikati, Nafasi, Country Queen, Supa Modo, Nairobi Half Life, Veve, Twende are but a few of Kenyan films productions Mr Musyoka has written sound tracks for. “I also score for movies. This is basically writing music to a motion picture. You are paid a one of fee to write music for the project whether it flops or becomes a box office. We still earn money from movie royalties every time its screened from what is called a cue sheet.,” he says.

The model of making money here is pretty much different from music. “In the film world, you charge your labour cost, that’s the amount of time you will spend writing music to the film. If its an hour movie I know I will need to compose 38 minutes of music, then I give a quote. After finishing scoring you do a cue sheet which you submit to your publisher. That cue sheet is what collects your royalties every time the films is screened from anywhere in the world.”

“The beauty of films is that they have good budgets, I mean you could even make over $6,000 plus if you lock in a good deal. Another beauty of scoring for film is that you don’t have to wait long enough to get paid, you are paid up front,” Mr Musyoka says.