Wyclef Jean is big on setting goals and reevaluating his life’s direction every few years. The founding member of The Fugees took inspiration from Quincy Jones for what his career would look like by the time he was 50. There was a detour toward politics in his mid-forties. After an unsuccessful bid for president of Haiti a decade ago, he reexamined what his life in the music industry would look like moving forward.
Jean, who hit that half-century milestone back in October, decided that he would shift his creative and business knowledge of music toward teaching younger musicians how to own and control their content no matter where it gets distributed, and that’s how his newest venture was born.
Today, Jean announces that Carnival World Music Group, his newly launched music publishing and distribution company, has raised $25 million in funding, which will be used to sign songwriters and producers in parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and other underserved markets with the goal of empowering creative artists by giving them the publishing and distribution resources they need to promote their music and earn royalties.
“I’m perfect for this because I have a very lucrative catalog, and at the same time, I’ve made people a lot of money, so this is my epiphany,” Jean says by phone in an exclusive interview with Fast Company. “When I produced ‘Killing Me Softly’ for The Fugees, we were making money, but I made somebody like $3 or $4 million that had nothing to do with us or Roberta Flack. The person that I made the money for was the composer. I understood then that I was on the wrong side of the business. I can’t just be on the side of the curtain cutting samples and doing a remix. I have to be part of the songwriting, and so for me, I also encourage kids that writing music is very important right now—not just for putting music out right now, but so that you can build your publishing catalog. In order for you to survive in this industry, we encourage kids to understand that their publishing is real estate.”
The funding comes on the heels of Carnival World Music Group’s recent partnership with Alex Heiche’s Sound Royalties, an entertainment industry finance firm that helps creatives fund projects without having to put their copyrights at risk, and Heads Music, the first woman-founded and led distribution company headed by music industry vet Madeline Nelson, which will handle global music distribution.
For Jean, the collaborative effort of this joint venture is important, particularly when it comes to grooming fiscally responsible and in control artists. “[This is] a label that’s actually going to care; a distribution company where kids can go and look at the back end of what they’re actually making,” says Jean. “If they don’t understand what they see on the dashboard, they could pick up the phone and actually call people that will care about explaining to them parts of the analytics. It turns them into businesspeople overnight.”
Jean’s interest in Africa also has a personal touch. It was inspired by the intersection of his Haitian roots, his first trip to Nigeria when he was in his 20s, his work with OG Afrobeats superstars like 2Face (now known as 2Baba) and D’Banj, as well as the current success of younger Afrobeats artists such as Burna Boy, WizKid, and Davido. However, Carnival World Music Group also plans to focus on other parts of the world, including Latin America and the United States, in what the “Hips Don’t Lie” cowriter refers to as “Global Gumbo.”
Jean and his partners don’t have any creatives lined up just yet, but they are currently looking for artists with strong writing skills to join what will eventually become a hub where musicians can create content for themselves and others while getting paid fairly for their work.
“Somebody gave me the knowledge and protected me, [and] what I like about Sound Royalties is that Alex is in the same place,” says Jean. “My heart is with this partnership because he has already helped artists in different ways, but the idea of solidifying this with a publishing company takes it to the next level.”