South African Music Zine
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this weeks feature
Between SA rock and a hard (to sell) place
15 August 1998 To be able to build a successful and strong infrastructure to support, expand and ultimately sell tons of SA-produced rock music CDs, all the various and critical players in this industry have got to become more efficient and focused.
After almost 40 years of trying to achieve this, all we have to show for our efforts in terms of international chart success is Hugh Masekela's 'Grazing In The Grass', David Marks' 'Master Jack', Clout's 'Substitute' and the obscure Ladysmith Black Mambazo song that was used as the soundtrack for the Heinz beans commercial and which subsequently went to the upper reaches of the UK charts.
This year we heard all about the "SA Music Explosion" which was imminent and which would finally see SA rock music getting the attention and sales it truly deserved. After a few months, during which it became obvious that this was the same old pipe dream in a differently worded and snappy conceptualised phrase, the media knives were already drawn and being used.
others in the ARCHIVE
CD stores, online and offline, are stocked and ready
5:20 pm There's no shortage of music pumping out of the studios all over the country nor a lack of venues where these bands can showcase their music and sell copies of their CDs. The radio stations have, for a while now, been sticking to their SA music quotas and often exceeding them in their bid to allow radio play to create a consumer demand for this music.
Musica, the biggest CD retail chain in South Africa have linked themselves to the new independent CD company, Nebula BOS, and will soon have special racks in each of their 100 (or so) stores which will only contain CDs by independent SA artists of any genre.
The Internet has also begun to play a role, with the various online CD stores offering a secure and fast way for overseas music fans to buy and receive SA music CDs as well as listen to Real Audio sound bytes and see the covers, track listings and reviews. It is intriguing to observe which SA CDs are being purchased online and to which international counties they are being sent.
Online sales of CDs have shown that there is a demand for this music out there in the great global market. Unfortunately, this interest is only achieved through word-of-mouth mentions coupled with, hopefully, a keen interest on behalf of the consumer to search out and experiment with this new (to them) music.
Where's Johnny Rotten now that we really need him?
So everything is in place for an upsurge in the popularity and sales of this music, yet, so far it's just been the same old damp squib. Just Jinger's soft-rock managed to break the mould and copies of their two CDs and live video out-sold anything in that genre to date. Instead of focusing on how they managed to achieve this, the reaction has paradoxically been a negative assessment of why Just Jinger didn't really deserve this success. Que?
So why is this so-called "Explosion" turning into a "the cat's pissed on the matches" type of scenario, again! Writing in the recent edition of Top40 magazine, Dave Chislett discusses this very problem in an incisive article called "Managing Mula" (the title of a Springbok Nude Girls song appropriately as they are one SA band who are organised, well-managed and working to a specific plan). Among the accurate points made in this piece, is the over-riding message that the area that needs the most work is that of band management. A much maligned and mistrusted breed, a shrewd and proactive (is it proactive to constantly use the word "proactive"?) manager is often the key to a band's success.
Most bands or artists, specially the rookies, put so much into the writing, recording and playing of their material that their objectivity disappears in a storm of feedback and they are content to lie back, enjoy their creation and wait for the sales and money to come rolling in. Chislett argues that the artists themselves need to play a more active role in promoting their music and should not rely totally on their management regardless of how efficient it may be. Here the example of the Sex Pistols should be framed and mounted on the walls of every manager in the music business. The music industry has always been fuelled by a high level of hype and hyperbole and this gives the bands the opportunity to assist in creating this hype.
So what's your point?
5:20 pm Ultimately, the success of a song depends on the reaction of the listener and no amount of hype will convince someone to buy something that doesn't "ring their bells". But a market full of this glitz and hype is attention-grabbing and creates an excitement and lure that should see consumers walking past the Simply Reds and Celine Dions and straight to the SA rock section of their CD store.
The SA music media have for too long been nothing more than sycophantic thumbs-uppers (yours truly included), too scared to savage any SA music for fear of being disloyal to the music they want so much to see succeed. As a result of this subjectivity, the artists begin to believe their own hyped critiques and reviews and this furthers their reluctance to soil their hands and craft by actually getting actively involved in the marketing of their music.
Sales of rock albums in the US are down and going, erm, downer. It seems the folk in the US are tiring of the Pearl Jam, REM and Counting Crows sound and are looking further afield for new and interesting music. Many of those eyes and ears have shifted to our rainbow music. While sales of Juluka, Soweto String Quartet, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mahlatini, Ipi Tombi and Mango Groove continue to grow, sales of CDs by rock bands are not as lucrative. Net surfers go to sites that have live radio streaming or to Qradio or TheDJ.com where they can hear this music and that sets up the "impulse buy" that for which rock fans are so renowned.
So what's the solution and is there a simple solution? If there was, someone would be implementing it but after watching this situation lurch from one slump to another for so many years, it seems that other changes are needed. There has to be a greater degree of objectivity among the music media where bad albums are panned and the better albums touted. This will give the consumers and artists a better idea of what people really think about that particular piece of work.
And in South Africa
Mandela's birthday blush
The specific albums that are popular in South Africa should be heavily marketed to the international companies and the success of just one of these SA albums in the US or UK charts will open the door for other SA artists. Putting songs on film soundtracks also creates an awareness and exposure that can have a successful spin-off for the artists involved. The recent Mandela birthday party is a case in point. With millions of eyes following the proceedings, a variety of SA acts were rolled out in front of the cameras with no introductions, no on-screen titles nor song names and most wasteful of all, a reluctance to include a wider representation of our musical styles. Where was Pops Mohamed, Jimmy Dludlu, Tananas or Arno from the Springbok Nude Girls singing 'Happy Birthday' to our president? Come to think of it, where was the 'Happy Birthday' we all know and wanted to sing along to? We got Stevie Wonder to sing his Martin Luther King-inspired version of this song but not the real thing. All in all it was just another wasted opportunity.
PRun the band like a sports team, get them fit!
We have seen how team managers like Bob Woolmer (SA cricket) and Nick "Hammer of the All Blacks" Mallett (rugby) have built successful teams by getting the simple things right and working hard and intelligently to master the difficult things. That is how it should be in the rock "game". Ex-national SA football coach Phillipe Troussier is the example that disproves the following point. It is always helpful and educational when struggling, to put up one's hand and ask someone who knows better, possibly someone from another country, no shame in that. While there are obviously many competent and successful managers in South African music, the value that this international experience could bring is immense.
Time alone will tell how this problem was solved, but it will be solved and the "SA Music Explosion" will eventually happen. Till then, it's back to basics, objectivity and hard work on the parts of everyone involved in this industry.
So…knock knock…whose there?…Biggish…..Biggish who?
Lots of SA CDs to buy online at One World.
There's also the Two Oceans Trading online shopping mall where you can purchase Springbok rugby merchandising, SA books, jewellery and CD-ROMs, amongst many other items.
Any thoughts, requests, problems, complaints, praise or interesting and relevant SA music news, please email it immediately to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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