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Tiisetso Maloma
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Building sharp South African musicians

14 September 2012, 13:55

According to old Wikipedia files; the global music industry generates about $40 billion. $12 billion of that 40 is enjoyed by United States GDP. I’m sure a huge chunk of this $12 billion comes from exports. These exports could be from online sales, radio/film royalties and shipping of hard copies. The revenue mediums are quiet vast this days.

Japan is second to the USA.

New records I’m told; stand at $33 billion; globally. I trust with these new figures; USA and Japan’s ratios haven’t changed much; if not improved. Well I rarely care much of these stats. Ideas make money; which is what matters most.

South Africa

Oh boy; apparently our music industry contributes over R800 million to our GDP. It’s so little compared to what USA and Japan make. Again; forget stats; concentrate on ideas and being innovative. There is so much happiness there; these stats could make you sick with discouragement.

What needs to give for a South African musicians to make it big globally; not like bro Hugh Masekela or the late Miriam Makeba [all love to these legends]; but in the sense of Trey Songz, Justin Bieber or 2 Chainz. S/O to our Nigerian brothers: P Squared and D’Banj. What happened to our own Red Angel?

Building sharp African (South African) musicians for the world to consume

What I’ve written below is in assumption that you understand the different role players artists can have around them: manager, record company, PR, whoever the artists appoints in need.

And it is written not only in the view of the artist; but in whoever helps grow and maintain an artist’s brand.

1. Absolute product.

Make your music. The music has to be a consumable product. A product has to represent value; hence you want someone (consumer) to exchanges their money for it.

I remember in my DJing days; the vinyl days. Buying a record wasn’t an easy task; at least for me. They cost between R80 to R180; so such a decision was well though out. I would to listen to the entirety of an LP before deciding to purchase. I scrutinized each second of the LP until I thought it matched the R120 I’m about to fork out.

So in making music; account each second of your song with scrutiny and meticulous effort. Then you will have an absolute product. Imagine every beat in the song in terms of it being worth the consumer’s ear, time, attention and money. Each second of that tune has to serve value to the consumer. But don’t over think it; just do it.

Lyrics. As a singer; you are maybe good at writing; if not you let someone write for you. My suggestion in writing solid songs is; after writing; ask someone who is good with putting together words in a solid fashion; to help. They can maybe rearrange the lyrics; apply synonyms where certain words are over used. But at the end of the day; such lyrics should satisfy your artistic intelligence, direction and ambition.

One other thing! Times are tough, life is challenging, so many bad news in the world. That is why we (as consumers) at times; deliberately so, avoid newspapers and news.  Sometimes (for me it’s most times) we just want crazy and stupid music that takes our mind away from the world’s sadness and miseries. Crazy and stupid music still has to be of quality.

2. Adding visual value (presentation presentation)

Every product has to be packaged. Give much thought to this process. Like it or not; this is the business of selling music. Your job is to give the recorded music a face.

You need images; you need a sharp dress sense. Put together a photoshoot (pictures to represent you in the media). It doesn’t have to be expensive. Get a graphic designer who is good working with pictures to fine it up.

Every song single needs artwork. Compare your artwork to high-end artists.

3. Relating the package (artist, artwork and music) to the market and mediums (marketing)

The press-play button starts with a one page press release about the music and artist (with images attached).


Out of all the music that you made; there is a song that can fit the various radio station formats. A song that you believe can be played on radio. This is the song you take to radio. I’m talking national stations, vernacular, campus and community; in that order.

If you can’t afford to pay someone to do this; compile the radio station list yourself. You can post or you can submit in person. They normally give feedback as to why your song wasn’t play-listed. Seek it. Research on how each station accepts music.

Take it easy in building the list; priority stations first. You will burn out if you go at it in one week. The good part is; once the list is made; it doesn’t have to be remade.

Online entertainment websites

There is a bunch of these. Local and abroad. Make a list of them. Send them. Press release plus single.


I’m talking Daily Sun and them. Make a list of these people. Again; with this kind of things you need to take it easy. One newspaper or magazine per week. Otherwise any rush will burn you out; for real.

Friends and social media

Lobby everyone to download (free) and share you music.

If your product is represented with sharp branding (tightly brewed music, images and artwork); you will conquer. Bit by bit.

Music video

If your music video is pretty decent; chances are high that it will get aired. Plus; there are some terrible videos being broadcasted.

Budget budget. If you don’t have R10 000 to shoot a music video; you can always do it at R1500; LOL. Look; you can’t wait 2 years to raise a sizeable budget for a music video.

Befriend a tight team that can deliver great scenes for you. Most artists that are trending today; shot their early career videos with one camera. A good camera costs less than R200 per day to rent. Great if you have two.

Television gets people’s attention more than radio as it has the visual advantage. Key phrase being “visual advantage”. This is an opportunity to combine 2 explosive elements; music in its audio form and the visual sensation of moving images.

Sit down with your director; break down each second, lyrics and emotions; of the song. Get creative and represent them with moving images.

Check videos made by @DreFilms of Maybach Music Group. I think this fella gets it right; low budget videos that is. And he has made some big budget videos as well.

4. Relentlessness

Some fail and give up. The only way to reach success and maintain it is to keep going at it. If your single/EP/mixtape doesn’t get you national airplay; try again with a different song. You will be at a point where a thinking of what went wrong has shaped. Apply your mind in the follow strategy.

The point is getting your music to the end consumer; if radio or TV doesn’t play ball; maybe downloads and streets will work out. Push both sides. Or any other side you can think of.

At the end of each month; sit down and think how you can improve.

5. Connecting the dots and pushing further

You made it on national radio; business goes beyond South Africa. Do collaborations with artists in other spheres of the world. Some will say no; some will say yes.

Always think; always think how you can leverage your brand beyond South Africa. There isn’t a secret formula that I or anyone can give you on how to conquer the world; you have to think your way through. Read for inspiration. Read on how other artists are doing it. Importantly; know of artist managers in the world. Read up on them. Find out if they have blogs.

The best thing that can happen to an entrepreneur is rejection. Rejection stimulates your idea muscle. When you get rejected; you get to think of 10 more ways you could have approached/done that particular thing you got rejected for. On the next deal; you will have 10 better ways to propose.

The best thing to have happened to artists in this century is; the internet. You can share your music with people across the world instantly. There are thousands of entertainment websites in the US, Nigeria, UK, etc; high end and startups. Two of them will profile your music; at least. Someone will like it and they will share it. If you keep providing them with more music; you will be building communities of fans across the world.

All you have to do is keep connecting the dots. Never stop.

6. Performer value

One rough point that young entrepreneurs tend to miss is; thinking in terms of the consumer. The consumers in this point here is; of the course the public and promoters.

Promoters should book you for these reasons: i. You have more than one known and popular songs ii. Which gives this reason; you can entertain the crowd for longer than 40 minutes.

The risk of having only one song is; you might bore people with your other unknown songs. Hence a mixtape or EP is necessary for new artists. For example; Skwatta Camp can even today kill a performance. You know why; because they have hits for days. This is performer value.

A perfect example here is Mac Miller. He created performer value through releasing a number of good mixtapes. Given a performance; he was able to connect with his audience for longer because he has familiar songs.

The next question is; besides delivering music; what else are you going to do on stage.

7. Targeting

I will use the Facebook advertising as example. Anyone can advertise on facebook with any amount of money. The awesome part is you can target your audience. First; it’s the location of your targeted audience: South Africa > Gauteng > Sandton. Another is you can target them according to their interests and age.

You know when marketers say that arrogant statement “you can’t say everyone is your market”. Whatever! Anyway; with the songs you’ve recorded; you sort of get a swing of who would listen to your music or whom your music would appeal to. Also judging from responses you get; you can analyse which people like your music.

That’s a fan base there. Start trying to please it. But always live room in your music to appeal to other categories of people.

Take an artist like Trey Songz. He appeals (his manager says) to women of 16 years to 30 something. And he capitalizes on that. But at the same time; he still collaborates with other musicians of a different appeal as to his e.g Lil Wayne, Drake. In that way he gets to tap into their fan base.

At the same time; Trey Songz and Lil Wayne’s fans could be the same people; but attracted to each for different reasons. You know what; read up on Kevin Liles; Trey Songz’s manager; inspirational and informational dude trust me.  

8. Record companies and other role players.

You shouldn’t do everything yourself. An artist has to have team members: record company, manager, PR etc.

Everything is about value proposition. Even the record company. Especially them. The best situation is where you control your music. If you don’t know what you are offering the record company; then they surely know what to take from you.

Know how to give value; then you will know your value.

**** The point of the article is; don’t stress but apply your mind through achieving your goals. Mistakes are made along the way.

Tiisetso Maloma is an entrepreneur; scholar in development economics and culture marketing. Director/brand-mapper and Follow him on twitter @tiisetsomaloma

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