This is a burning issue that’s been on my mind for quite some time. Performing songwriters, particularly those in Johannesburg, work hard and pour their heart and soul into what they do. Yet I can’t help but pick up a number of glaring similarities in how they go about their business. This has forced me to draw up a few singer-songwriter tips to help you make your big mark on the burgeoning scene. Disclaimer: if you’re an easily offended singer-songwriter, this doesn’t make for pretty reading.
Singer-Songwriter Tips #1 – Add “Riptide” to your set – every time!
Rarely a performance goes by at your local Joburg market these days without at least two performers in succession murdering the Vance Joy hit, “Riptide”. To hell with the begrudgers, just sing it! And if a few heads sway to its catchy chorus, tempt fate and sing it again to close out your set. Surely this is a song that, by now, should have been swept away in the current of whiny hipster indie songs.
Singer-Songwriter Tips #2 – Sing every Song with the Capo on the 5th/7th Fret
A capo is an ingenious invention – it can adapt the song to the key you’re comfortable with. However, it should come boxed with the instruction of ‘moderate use’. I’ve lost count of the number of singers that struggle to remove a capo that’s seemingly super-glued to the fifth or seventh fret of their acoustic. One loses the ‘crunch’ in the playing and there’s precious little bottom end left to balance the high vocals. If this is you, take my tip; avoid any potential back problems and invest in a ukelele instead!
Singer-Songwriter Tips #3 – Don’t accept a gig for any more than R500!
To hell with that, do it for free! The problem with a pool of singer-songwriter talent in town is that promoters and booking agents know this, and will often book their line-up according to the lowest bidder. Who cares if you spent almost R20k on a top Martin or Taylor acoustic. You’ve been chosen, your name is on a poster and you can share the ‘Facebook Live’ clip to your friends on Monday morning. You’ll also enjoy more exposure than an all-day fishing trip on the Vaal river!
Singer-Songwriter Tips #4 – Focus on your Instagram Marketing
It all seems to be about hashtagging your way to fame these days. “Follow me on Instagram” is the definitive marketing platform for up and coming songwriters. Create an engaging audience, trade one follow for another, and filter the shit out of your rooftop gig photos. Why should you even pay for your own website in this day and age? SEO ain’t no method of tuning your guitar strings so leave that to the geeks. There’s only one social media platform to become an insta-hit and everything else is just a waste of your time and data!
Singer-Songwriter Tips #5 – Give everyone the same set
DJ Train wreck is never far from the tracks when a singer-songwriter is invited to perform to a completely different demographic. Being presented with your dream audience from a random inquiry is about as common in South Africa, as glittery cupcakes in an orphanage! Be wary of rebels like Nick May, as his extra ammunition of Zulu and Xhosa songs seems to cast spells on his audiences. He’s the guy that always runs out of business cards at a gig! Stick to the same songs – dozens of adoring relatives surely can’t be wrong? If all else fails, revert to singer-songwriters tip #1!
David Delaney is an Irish fiddle and flute player, currently based in Johannesburg. Not endowed with much, in terms of songwriting talent, he prefers to rather let his fingers do the talking. You can catch him performing with his band Beukes and Delaney or book him as a solo artist, for a “Riptide-free”, ripping performance. Contact David today for a quote, or a healthy debate on more constructive singer-songwriter tips.