A discussion about the SA Music Industry with Jean-Michel Wickli

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The SA music industry is overwhelmingly considered somewhat of a tough cookie to crack, in the effort to cut through the shroud of confusion and misperception, it is important to take the time out to ask the questions that emerging artists can use to formulate an a view point of the current standing on the South African music scene.

We have posed several questions to several industry professionals to help isolate some key points to consider when pursuing a career in this beautiful industry.

For the first part of this series we had a chat with Jean-Michel Wickli on his opinion on the best aspects when working with artists in South Africa, why they are important, how they relate to his experiences and some advice to for bands to consider.

Jean-Michel’s career started at the age of 17 and since then he has made a prominent mark in the music industry. Apart from his amazing work with Johnny Cradle and BCUC,  he is also a booking agent, festival booker, venue curator and hobbyist DJ. This is what he had to say:

What is the best aspect when working with musicians in SA at the moment?

Working with any creative and their creative practice is always exciting. Seeing a project come to fruition and the joy it brings the artist and the people that the art affects is truly a special. Naturally thing don’t always go right and coming up with creative solutions to problems is always an adventure, but that being said, seeing someone so steadfast in their creative vision is amazing and to be part of that journey is what I really enjoy. Creating once in a lifetime moments for people and the experiences that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Why? Pick a particular point that motivates above. (Quality of music? Genre? Stage Production / Presence? General attitude and professionalism? Crowd Drawer? Exceptional Marketing, etc.)

The coalescing for performer, performance, sound, production and audience is the closest thing to magic I can find. When everything gels, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It’s the drug that musicians really chase.

That moment where everything works. And then to try and recreate that, time and time again. I’ve personally seen it when I watched Taxi Violence at Oppikoppi in 2009. Seeing Sawagi in Tokyo, not knowing who they were and instantly being hit with that “What the fuck is this and where has it been my whole life?” moment and most recently watching Femi Koya for the first time.

Why it’s important to you?

These shared moments are fast becoming the only real, tangible moments we share as a community. This escapism for the day-to-day, the finding of communities of likeminded individuals with similar interests/ shared passions. In a social media world where it’s easy to stay in and not engage with the real world, music and a live performance is the last bastion of this ideal.

What acts in SA currently share these aspects best?

Artists are slowly leaning towards putting on a show rather than simply playing songs. My argument is not to go full pop with dancers etc, but as a rock or hip hop act to watch, learn and steal elements of this to adapt and appropriate in ones own way to suit their objectives.

Sol Gems do it really well with the considered stage look and the curation of the stage / visuals. Josh Kempen and Shortstraw did it with Punchbowl and Boosh respectively. Mafikizolo do it with their outfits and choreography. As DIY and punk as fuck as some of these may be, they work.

Do you have any advice or suggestions about your point to SA acts?

  • Consider your audience: South Africans are complacent. We live in a country where if you’re slightly well off, you live comfortably, have a pool (or access to one), can stream music and have a speaker. So you have an instant party fairly quickly. Sun is shining most weekends so it’s easy to chill at home. As an artist trying to coax these consumers to a a club or a day festival you need to give them value. That bang for their buck. Consider what they are going to be experiencing at your show. If it’s just the music, they might as well stay home and stream it while they chill in the pool.
  • Know your worth: The economics of live shows are tricky. You can’t make shows too expensive, because your audience is likely majority student based and they are not flush and want to spend at the bar. Concurrently you’re trying to pay for your time and the product you’ve produced. If you’re able to show that your product is valuable people will pay for it. They will part with their hard earned cash as they feel like they are getting a finished product and sharing in a communal experience that is more than just four dudes playing songs on a stage.
  • Don’t rush: You’ve started a band with friends. This does not mean you need to instantly play gigs. The level of entry is too low currently and you need to be sure in the product your putting forward is as good as it possibly can be. Workshop the material. Only release something you are proud of and will at to the discourse of your respective scene.
  • Get your admin together: If you have your admin sorted from the get-go, life becomes substantially easier. Things like invoicing, tech riders, passport scans, tour schedules, SAMRO registrations, the list goes on…The internet affords us a cloud based solution to house all of these documents, so there really isn’t an excuse not to have your shit together.
  • Fuck the gate keepers: There will always be gate keepers. As much as the industry is who you know from time to time, numbers speak. A promoter might not like your band, but if you’re putting on your own DIY shows, galvanising your friends/fanbase to come out and support you, then they are forced to book you because they will want access to the market that you’ve cultivated. This takes time but it pays off. At it’s core the music is the most important and it’s the entry point, but it’s not paramount.

I’d like to thank Jean-Michel for this interview and providing us with this insight and advice. I wish him all of the best with his future endeavors.

Watch this space for regular updates in the Music category on Running Wolf’s Rant.

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