Bizcommunity recently sat down with Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse to talk about Music Exchange 2013 - the conference that's got tongues wagging and interest piqued within the entertainment industry. With more than 40 years of experience, Mabuse is a treasure trove of knowledge for any aspiring musician.
You've had continuous involvement with Music Exchange since the inaugural conference in 2009, what is your role in this year's conference?
My role is multi-pronged, I serve as a director, I'm a partner, and I spoke in the last two and gave my own personal experiences as a musician. What's important for us is to formulate direction; I sit in the meetings that we have and we formulate direction, which topics do we deal with, and that's basically what I do.
The music industry is vast, and challenges are rife. How do you decide which topics to tackle?
We try and understand what the challenges of the music industry are, especially in relation to the younger generation, and how they feel their careers could be advanced through their chosen career within the music industry; we identify those we think will strongly advance them.
What do you believe are the most pertinent challenges for South African artists?
Interestingly, the challenges have always been the same, it's issues around royalties, copyright, remuneration and so on. Unfortunately, most young people, particularly black young people, see music as an escape from poverty, and it's probably the only way in which they can find themselves employed - through television, recordings and performances. Little do they understand the pitfalls and the challenges that are there. Most of them would actually choose to become performers, and these are some of the things we always want to talk to them about. We would not discourage them from wanting to be performers, but they also need to understand what it is that they are getting themselves involved in.
How is Music Exchange beneficial for musicians, apart from the informative talks?
We can only do what is limited to our capacity - we're not a record company, we're not music promoters, we're a knowledge / information centre. We acquire as much information as we can about the music industry and what is involved, and we interact with some of the biggest role players. Once we are able to tap into the experiences and the knowledge, we use that information - once the Music Exchange programme comes into being we invite all of them to come in and share their own experiences with aspiring young musicians.
What made you decide to associate yourself with Music Exchange?
In all the 22 years we've been friends, Martin (Meyrs, co-owner of Triple M Entertainment
) and I shared common interests, spaces, experiences and we love the same things especially in music. Even though my knowledge and understanding of music is probably much wider than his, I think his expertise in administrative issues and my expertise in the music environment make a potent marriage that would assist and help develop the music industry. Martin's interaction with the music industry has enabled him to see things that he feels must be given back to the community.
What's different about this year's conference?
The topics will obviously be different, but I've always believed that with education, you can never over emphasize a point. So we look at whether we have taught people anything from previous events and once you realise that nothing much has been gained, you have to re-emphasize some of the points, so we come back to the same things at a different level.
You know the adage that music is always a life of drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll - it is continuous, and somehow some people don't realise how destructive it can be. People make lots of money, and where does it go? You always read about musicians who've been very successful and suddenly they are impoverished - how does that happen? Why do they find themselves having to become basket cases? Nobody has taught them that you can save for the future, so these are some of the things that we feel become necessary to address.
Copyright, what is copyright, what do you own, do you understand that there are collecting societies that collect money for you? These topics can never be exhausted because we have a new generation that comes up all the time with young musicians. Five years down the line we will have young people - what have the old people taught the young people? Nothing. So we always have to re-emphasise the same points because new generations come with the same problems, and if at some stage we realise that we have exhausted everything that we cover, perhaps then our topics will be much different.
Do you think there are enough role models for younger musicians to look up to and aspire to be like - within South Africa?
I should hope so, but "role model" could be subjective - what are we looking for in terms of a role model? Do we look for people that have made material success, are those the kinds of people we consider role models? We have to find a proper definition of the kind of role model we are looking for. I would suggest that maybe we do have role models - all of them responsible for different areas.
Which speakers are you most looking forward to hearing at this year's conference?
We have the whole management team at SAMRO, which is a very critical part of the South African music industry - it's a collecting society that deals with ownership, protecting musicians' rights, composers and so on. That organisation in itself is so critical to the growth of the music industry.
We have Trevor Jones, who's a film and score producer. The sad indictment of what we have not done is to inculcate in the younger people that you don't all have to be performers - the music industry provides many opportunities for other things, for instance, people don't even realise that film score writing enables people to make a livelihood out of television, radio, movies and so on, but most of them think when they see performers on TV or hear them on radio, that's the end of what the music is.
Some of them can be managers, some of them can be technicians - it goes beyond just being a performer, a singer. We've spoken about film scoring, we talk about artist management, we speak about recording studios, film productions - it shows the broad spectrum of what the music industry is about.
Where do you think the music industry is lacking? Many musicians we interview say the industry is not supportive enough - from radio to venues - the whole system is not conducive to a musicians survival.
We need to look at the state of South African politics, maybe economics, how it affects people's psyche - we look at how people make reference to that. People will talk about the music industry on the basis of employment, this is what the industry is not providing, enough employment, like all other industries. You cannot divorce the music industry from the economic activities of this country. People want to be in the music industry because they see it as an employment vehicle - very few people want to go into the music industry because it's artistic, because no government in the world goes out and puts money into an environment in which people will just develop as artists, very few will do that.
I think the lack of proper infrastructure, yes, as all of them would say is actually what is lacking in the industry - we do not have the right type of venues, or maybe we have ignored and neglected some of the venues that have existed that we feel that the only places we should be performing at are big stadiums and yet there are venues.
Also the dependence syndrome is also what is affecting younger musicians because most of them believe that the only way they can grow musically is through record companies and promoters, everybody else but themselves. "I want to remain an artist and let everybody else take care of what I do..." That in itself is very dangerous because you find that you cannot create a space in which you can operate on your own.
I come from a generation of musicians who saw themselves as an investment, we would invest in ourselves, and this is one of the things that I always want to talk to people about. If you believe enough in what you do, then you have to invest in yourself so that others can believe that they can invest in you, be that materially, or intellectually. Now we would go out, we would rehearse, we would go out and book the halls, we would write the banners and put them up, we'd load the equipment, we would drive ourselves to a venue, and we were investing in ourselves. You don't find people doing that anymore - all they want to do is rehearse all the time and wait for this promoter to knock at their doors, and that should come to an end.
A lot of our musicians just focus on the creative and expect the business side to just fall into place. Do you think this has improved over the past few years?
No. Most of them still see themselves as victims of exploitation - have you gone out to create opportunities for yourself, if so, how have you done that? What would you like to see the Music Exchange Conference doing to advance what you have already contributed to your own development?
Yes, there has been self-reliance, self-realisation from some of them; they go into their own little bedrooms with their own little computers, and of course, technology has allowed advancements so we don't have to rely on the big record companies and studios.
I get a number of phone calls - "I have a demo, can you please listen to my demo and see what you can do for it?" I cannot do that for them. I can only advise as to what you do, who you go and see, and point them to those that have the proper infrastructure to ensure that the product is disseminated as information to the retailers, radio stations and so on. Those are the people that should do the job, I can only advise, but people must stop this dependence syndrome, because immediately when we become dependent on others to make your life, you're doomed.
What do you think are the key ingredients to a flourishing music industry?
Commitment. Commitment and dedication - those are very key. You go in there and you understand exactly what it is that you want. If you want to become a musician because you want to be seen on TV, you want to be all flashy and stuff, good luck. But there's more to it than just that; acquire as much knowledge and understanding of the industry itself - that becomes more helpful.
What's the greatest advice you ever received?
The greatest advice I received was from my headmaster, go out there and do the best you can, and be committed. And I always say to young people, don't believe the hype, because people will be writing about you, paying you all the accolades, and it becomes a hallmark of how you make your own life, and you forget the purpose of your life.
You've had quite a few highlights in your career, which are your personal favourites that really stand out?
I guess all of us would have been at our greatest moment meeting Nelson Mandela. For me, playing at both the 46664 concerts, one in England and one in the US, are probably the greatest highlights of my career - not only because of 46664 itself, but because I got to share the stage with Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Wyclef Jean, Yvonne (Chaka Chaka), Loyiso, Baaba Maal - some of the greatest musicians I would never in my life have imagined sharing the same stage with - what more could you ask for - being on stage with such talent.
I like to believe I am a committed person, I don't like to be idoled, I try and use space as much as I productively can, and I put as much effort into everything that I want to do and I look at what other people do. For instance, I went to a circus (Cirque de Soleil) yesterday; I looked at all those performers - some of those things they were doing you would think are unimaginable, and as I was sitting enjoying everything they were doing, at the back of my mind I was thinking, how much work did they do just to do that for me to react and respond the way I do, and then you realise how much dedication and hard work these people go through on a daily basis just to be where they are. I always model myself off what I see other people are capable of doing, and I think if they can do it, with everything that I have why would it be impossible for me to achieve it.
What is needletime? Who is SAMRO? How do I get my album in Musica? These are some of the questions that will be answered at Music Exchange 2013 happening tomorrow, Thursday, 21 March to Saturday, 23 March 2013.Download the 2013 Music Exchange programme.
For more info, go to www.musicexchange.co.za