Joseph and I met at Ashesi University in Ghana in 2014. I had been invited on campus to be a judge on an elevator pitch contest that he ended up winning.
I was impressed by his energy, enthusiasm, and creative ideas. Fast forward to 2020, and Joseph has launched both a YouTube show and podcast. Impressed by the quality and consistency, I asked him to share about producing content for a Ghanaian audience.
My name is Joseph Nti, and I am a Ghanaian content creator.
I mostly grew up in Accra and started creating content at a young age. In primary school, I always won the English prize and really enjoyed the creative arts. When I was 10 years old, I wrote a 30-page story in my exercise book and passed it around to my classmates. They wanted more, and I kept writing. When I was not writing, I was busy watching tv, films and reading books. This fueled my desire to create too.
So, in junior high school, I told my parents that I wanted to do visual arts. They knew that I could draw since I sketched all the time at home. I even had a folder for my art. My dad had made a joke that visual arts were for road sign painters.
He is a car parts dealer, and he did not see much of an industry for artists other than those who did the signage for shops. I am not sure if it is still a general feeling in Ghana, but back then the creative industry was not where it is today, so I understood where he was coming from.
While studying Business Administration at Ashesi University, I started my own magazine called The Ink because I was drooling over fashion magazines and wanted to be an editor in chief so bad. I found a way to create something that was an intersection of fashion and trending school topics.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I managed to create an editorial team with 10 brilliant minds, and our plan was to publish a new issue every month. The semester was made up of four months, and it was wildly ambitious, especially with our course workload.
Because our big marketing idea was to take regular students and shoot them in very professional real-world cover shoots, we garnered a lot of attention after the first issue, and suddenly everyone had a submission for us.
Trying out new things
After years of drooling over documentaries and behind the scenes footage, I finally decided to make my first documentary. A close friend told me about a music project he was working on and sent me the cover of the EP that was called Time of our Lives. I really liked the artwork, and that is how I decided to film T.O.O.L. (The Documentary).
I started thinking of how great it would be to tell the story of how it was going to be made because I was privy to the process myself. He had always made me listen to his music while he made it, so that was how it developed. We did it over vacation, he flew in from Nigeria (he was an international student), and we shot the interview in one day and then drove around town with him to get some additional footage.
We waited for about three months until the EP was actually ready and in that time I had coordinated with a videographer in Nigeria to get me footage of the studio sessions. I also got my friend’s mother and brother to do audio recordings of themselves answering questions, and we got family photos to use as placeholders. Once the EP was done, we got some great footage from a listening session in Accra.
It took us eight months to edit because Micaiah and I had to figure out how to use video editing software to tell the story the way we saw fit. There were a lot of changes until we just let it go and released it.
Starting Off the Top
Growing up, TV was full of Ghanaian content that I enjoyed. Shows like Home Sweet Home, It Takes Two, Suncity, and Agoro. As I got older, I realized things had changed: the telenovelas and foreign TV shows had taken over.
With YouTube and streaming services taking over, I did not feel like Ghana was adequately represented on these platforms. I decided to start my own show after binge-watching two full seasons of BKCHAT LDN, a discussion show with an ensemble cast. It’s an informal panel discussion on various social issues from the perspective of African millennials living in the UK.
I wanted to do something with an ensemble cast but with the same level of excitement as some of the old Ghanaian quiz shows based on trivia. So I conceptualized it by borrowing the idea of pairs from It Takes Two, the idea of an ensemble cast from BKCHAT LDN, and the relatability of the questions on Agoro, to draw in the audience.
The process of casting was both intentional and unintentional. I wanted to have different personalities, but I did not want to create a show with only my friends. So I asked random people I had met or thought were interesting, at the time I met them (and a few friends), and the casting was done.
Thankfully, everyone agreed to be on the show so, I just had to figure out the location and equipment. Fortunately, I was working with a music label at the time, that had a very skillful video guy who became my resource person, and we built the team together.
It’s really a total of four people (including me): Micaiah Wiafe (Photography & Design), Mohammed Hanif (Graphic Design, Motion Graphics & Production Assistant), Desouza Nelson (Videographer), and me (The Dreamer).
The production workflow
Every season starts with me thinking through the content, promotional themes, and production ideas before sharing with the team. The group chat gets chaotic sometimes, but after we agree on the direction for the season and I am fully confident with the content ideas for each episode, we secure a location (we’ve used four so far) and schedule a shoot.
I then let the cast know when a shoot is happening and make sure everyone is available to film from 9am to 4pm that day. On shoot days, crew members arrive an hour earlier than the cast. The cast usually has a holding room where they change and wait to be filmed. This is how we ensure that no one hears or sees the questions beforehand so that their answers are really off the top of their head.
After we are done, Hanif and I work on the episode. I edit the film, he colors it and adds graphics. Micaiah prepares posters for the rollout of the season and each episode. We usually edit at least eight episodes before we start the rollout. That way, we do not have any break and stay consistent.
While shooting the third season, it became evident that I could not sustain the show with my personal finances. I took the advice of a really close friend who worked in media and marketing.
I created a rate sheet and started sending it to brands. I did not do this earlier because, at first, I did not see the show as a business. I started it to have fun and entertain. The business aspect became apparent when I realized how much money it cost to produce, and self-financing was not sustainable.
None of them replied. But I happened to know a guy who worked in Jameson’s marketing department, and I would always joke about them sponsoring the show. He took me seriously enough to give me some of the products that I included on the next shoot.
I wanted to show them what their product would look like on the show. I did not care if we got paid or not. They had to see it in action. And they did and called us to fully sponsor season 4.
“Sincerely Accra” is a podcast that Kwame Asante and I started after I had finished “Serial”, a podcast about a murder that was inexplicable. We wanted to investigate issues related to millennials like work-life balance, salaries, etc.
It did not quite work out how we wanted to, because the people we interviewed were not being forthcoming. The seriousness of the interviews may have intimidated them. So we pivoted to vox pops and made it more lighthearted. Just thought-provoking questions like: what would you buy if you had money, a house, or a car? Or, how long should a man last in bed?
The responses were more direct since we kept them anonymous. It worked really well and the podcast has been running for two years now with 46 episodes!
We release a new episode every two weeks via The Gold Coast Report, a podcast hosting network with over 11 exciting podcasts in Ghana. We put out episodes every two weeks.
Advice for those who want to create content
You need to be original and creative. People do not want to watch an ad, so the less your content looks like an ad, the better.
I look at it as a seamless way to integrate the product without making it look out of place. The idea is to match with brands that reflect what you do and what your channel is about. We already drink alcohol on set, so working with alcohol brands was a good fit. So there’s top of mind awareness, there’s fun content that they can post on their own page as well: value.
Content creators in Africa need to know why they want to create content. If it is meant to be a business, you need to fully understand every aspect of the business and build a strong dedicated team and a good schedule. Also, consume a lot of content so that what you create isn’t stale. You have to stay up to date with trends!
Sometimes, being a creative in Ghana is a struggle. Maybe it’s just me and my lack of drive or fear of being broke, but I need a steady stream of income. I started creating because I loved it, but I realized that to survive on it in Ghana, I would need a whole lot more than just a passion for it.
I got this from Issa Rae: network with your peers doing similar (or different) things in your field. Many times we want to be known by these big names in industries we want to succeed in but a sure way to get where we are going is to work with the people on our level because we have access to them and there’s strength in collaborations.
You also need to have a strong support system, because there’s a lot of self-doubt that comes with being creative. I’m my biggest critic and I, sometimes, convince myself that the work I’ve done is not good enough. It takes a push from (objective) friends who really see the value in the work that you do, to actually reach your full potential sometimes.
In the end, it’s a numbers game with the brands, so focus on what value you can bring to the brand. The numbers that matter are subscriber numbers, views on each video, average time spent watching the video, and demographic breakdown (brands have demography targets, so this is important). I actively put out trailers, post on my personal accounts, do one paid ad per episode on Instagram, and track numbers with the YouTube Studio app.
I’m hoping to be able to build my own production company so I can create a larger scale and allow new talent to create on the same scale. Many people have ideas to create, but they do not have the means or equipment. So my aim is to have a production company that can shoot shows, series, film, but also have a studio for content creators to use with a wide array of services.