As South African musicians, of which many exist but few of us flourish, we endure daily struggles that many other professionals cannot comprehend. Yes, ultimately we decided to allow our passion to become the mainstay of our career pursuit. Opportunities will often lie in once-off performances, tours, and projects. Struggles can catch up with us at any time of the month, season or year. But there are avenues to create a better life for ourselves and the people that depend on us. Being a musician in this day and age can no longer be sustained by your niche for an occasionally-requested feature performance (in my case, Irish Fiddler!). We need to get savvy, up our skills-base and put ourselves out there to a wider network of platforms, connections, and industries. Consider some of the following avenues to untie yourself from your struggle and turn challenges into unexpected success and growth.
As South African Musicians, don’t depend on Agencies to fill up your Diary
Perhaps we, as South African musicians, have only ourselves to blame for the saturation of entertainment agencies that control much of the bookings and high-profile entertainment in this country. Before the internet, and specifically, Google Search became the starting point for sourcing musicians, we pretty much had it our own way. However, the antics of a few shot us in the foot as we gathered an unfair reputation as being privy to turning up late, smashing the free bar, and pissing off the organizers. In the eyes of the client, the multitude of options, contracts and ongoing support that entertainment agencies offer them in advance of an event benefits everybody. Agencies do play an important role in the entertainment industry but they can’t be the be-all and end-all for your career prospects.
So, back to you, the musician, and what you can do. Own your profile, talk directly to venues and marketing managers, invest in a professional photoshoot, demo recordings and video footage which you can send directly to potential clients. Show your target customer that you are in control of building your brand, and ultimately they will trust that they can deal directly with you, thus limiting your dependence on an agency to generate work for you. Take ownership and self-direct your progress.
Look beyond Social Media as your Primary Voice!
As an Irishman, I always try to see the humor in an awkward situation. We will do our utmost to avoid offending people. However, there’s always a stage where my patience runs dry. Last year I let my frustrations out on paper by penning the tongue-in-cheek article on Singer-Songwriter Tips – How (Not) to succeed in the industry. If I had a penny for each musician that pitched “check out my Instagram page”, I’d have one hell of a brown coin statue to chuck at the barking dogs over my wall! Don’t get me wrong, Facebook, Instagram, and others are great tools to promote awareness, generate engagement and a hopeful referral to an upcoming gig. But it doesn’t cut it in the long run for the vast majority of us. Think outside the scope. Put yourself in the position of the client seeking great South African musicians. Which takes me back to Google search again. How you can get there, and stay there, is by learning SEO (search engine optimisation), climbing up the pages of Google and elevating your brand in more focused searches. Ensure your website is up to date, imagery is professional, and you have clear calls to action to entice a client to get in contact with you and make that all-important quote request. You’re already quite the whizz on social media, it doesn’t take much adaptation and you’ll learn great new skills in the process.
Explore a Career in Digital Marketing
Let’s just say you’ve already been following steps one and two above and I haven’t given you much advice that you don’t already know. Well, if you’re hopefully still following this article, I may finally have the answer. Use your skills to kickstart a career in digital marketing. You’ve built up a pretty good brand for yourself, and let me assure you, there are many companies out there who could benefit from your experience to get their brand back on track. This is precisely what I’ve done, and it has helped me to convert what was once a daily struggle as a South African musician, into a wider scope of opportunities. I have a child to raise, a car to fill up and a property bond to maintain. The beauty of a freelance career as a digital marketing strategist is that I am able to complement my gig income with a fixed income. A guaranteed cheque or two that relieves the pressure in the quiet months. Allow your online brand to become your resume, your promo material to represent your content creation, and rid any lingering mindset that taking a day job is akin to being a “sellout”. You’ll quickly realize how natural the digital space is to you, and flourish in your new-found talent. And the best part – you get to invest your rapidly-expanding digital ninja skills back into your musician brand.
I am both a Wedding Violinist and Digital Marketing Strategist. As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I’m committing to writing at least one blog per week in 2020 to impart as much of my music and life experience to help anyone overcome struggles and grasp opportunities. If there is anything you would like me to write about in an upcoming Blog, please feel free to get in touch.