Friday, 28 June 2013
Nash Reed & AJ Brown – The Singer as a Product and Brand in the Music Industry: the Music, the Market and Me
In previous years at the festival I made it my mission to attend as many workshops on the bass guitar as possible, but since I’ve started focusing a lot more on my singing and voice – I decided to gravitate toward what I’m focusing on right now.
“Your (arts) degree is useless if you don’t do everything you can to support it.”
The first educational elective I attended at the festival was presented by the singers Nash Reed and AJ Brown, both notable artists in their own right.
South African Music Award nominee and Berklee alumnus Nash Reed, has been working internationally in a number of countries for the last 15 years, 10 of which were spent singing jazz in Japan. She performs as a soloist and in various eclectic ensembles with styles as diverse as funk, R&B, jazz, hip hop, pop and rock. She has performed for many dignitaries including Nelson Mandela (3 times) and currently resides in Cape Town, where she teaches singing at the Woodstock Academy of Music (run by Rus Nerwich – see previous post), composes music for films and is creating music and choreography for a unique performance piece called The Forge, which makes use of compositions entirely sampled from an iron forge.
AJ Brown is a British upcoming jazz singer/saxophonist and has performed at the Wigan International Jazz Festival and the illustrious Birdland Club in New York. For about a month prior to the festival, he had been touring South Africa with Ian Darrington (conductor for this year’s Standard Bank National Schools’ Big Band) and presenting educational clinics for young jazz players at school level.
I always find it interesting to pick the brains of career artists, especially when it comes to the inner working of the music industry and especially when they appear to be making a success. Which then beckons the answer to the question, “What does success actually mean?” A young girl raises her hand in response, claiming that success means that everyone should know your name – something that is most often, not the case for successful career artists – not only in South Africa, but in many other places in the world too. Added to that, South African musicians are not strong contenders for international careers – since they are considered to be of lower calibre than Americans and Europeans.
Nash goes on by saying that being unique and making a success in South Africa is much harder than copycatting international trends and sounds, which makes sense to me – since former winners (or finalists) of SA Idols always seem to sound like generic pop from artists like Daughtry or Nickelback.
One career artist once told me that it is more important to put food on the table and pay rent, than be concerned with fame.
Many of the jazz musicians who attend the festival are little known outside of the jazz arena and some like Shane Cooper (2013 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz) even dabble in electronic music (Card on Spokes) and other forms of music, where they do garner wider appreciation. Such validation, in as much as it carries some form of fleeting perceptual value; plays some role but is not the crucial factor – the music itself is. Nash claims this statement with a weightiness that will put any young musician’s pipe dream of fame to sleep.
What follows is a point by point guide for anyone who wants to establish a formidable music product or brand, or be a successful career musician as put forth by Nash Reed and AJ Brown:
In the music industry like any other, presentation is everything! Notions of punctuality, prompt communication, appearance and good music – are all part of what makes the product work. A career musician should have:
Good recordings: for clients and listeners to get a good idea of what the artist sounds like.
Good press materials: consisting of an EPK (an electronic press kit) which contains a well written biography, high resolution images of the artist and the artist’s contact details.
Good website: every business requires a website. If a business does not have a website, in marketing terms – they do not exist, period.
A strong social media presence: the artist should establish followings on various social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud, Pinterest, WordPress etc.
Google is your friend – A career artist knows how to get the most out of the internet, by searching for answers to the questions they otherwise would not have found on their own. The music business is an ever evolving organism and since most industries have shifted toward an online consciousness, musicians like everyone else – need to keep up and get with the times.
Get experience – everyone knows that the harder and longer you work on something, the better you become at it. That amount of hard work then gets coupled with the following point:
3. Develop Strong Relationships
A career artist requires three recurring traits that will ensure they develop strong relationships with those they work with, namely: self-respect, humour and patience. By building positive relationships with other musicians, media people and supporters; windows for opportunity are created where they otherwise would not have been. I am always baffled by the amount of unfriendly and difficult artists I come across, when almost every career artist I’ve ever met has known the highly important value of cultivating positive relationships. No-one wants to work with a meany, but everyone wants to know they can call up a good friend when they need help with a particular project or performance.
4. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify!
Many successful artists know the value of being versatile. Nash for one is able to translate her skill into many different forms including singing, acting and dancing and her voice flows easily over her SAMA nominated R&B/Soul album Mercurial, a pop rock song she wrote for a VH1 songwriting contest, her current industrial electronic and performance project and her roof-raising hip hop performance with Rus Nerwich’s Under the Poetree. In addition, she has created different personas for different projects, a type of human product line extension that opens a whole lot of opportunity for cross-pollination and additional streams of income.
Apart from getting into the habit of being professional, career artists should legitimise their music business by registering a Private Company (Pty Ltd) as a means to establish themselves as a legal entity – which in turn, creates an umbrella for all business endeavours. In addition, the Pty Ltd after the company name creates the perception of an established image, especially when working with corporate stakeholders and the like. Tax procedures are then also carried through by the legal entity.
For songwriters and composers, this legitimacy also applies to the registering of their compositions with the South African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) who administer the rights of copyright holders on their behalf and collect royalties from radio airplay, licensing for film, TV shows/advertisements etc.
Apart from discovering that I’ve got ‘swag’, when Nash asked me probing questions about my personal music brand – I was very much inspired by this three hour discussion on the music business. It is always very inspiring to hear artists speak so passionately about their craft and career. In saying that, here is a most inspiring quote Nash left us with:
“Do what you do, but don’t place hard judgements on yourself. Artistry is in the painting, in the lifetime.”
Laurent Coq, Ralph Lavital, Nicolas Pélage
Having been voted Best Jazz Musician by the French Jazz Academy in 2006 – Laurent Coq, a French pianist, film composer and musical activist was a featured artist at the third performance I managed to attend at the festival. Along with Ralph Lavital (guitar) and Nicolas Pélage (a singer whose quirky vocal prowess reminded me so much of Bobby McFerrin), they had embarked on an African tour before hitting Grahamstown on this particular evening.
Both Lavital and Pélage are notable connoisseurs of Caribbean music and this was apparent for most of the performance. Between Coq’s sparse piano comping and Lavital’s delicate guitar, Pélage’s voice created a gentle rhythmic pillow upon which the audience seemed to float away on, having been eased into an intimate pocket of simple melodic and harmonic structures. The end tableau created a picturesque vista of what life must be like where these musicians come from, and also a meaningful image of the countless possibilities that exist in sparse instrumental encounters. Lovely.
2013 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz – Shane Cooper
With Marc Stucki (Switzerland – Sax), Andreas Tschopp (Switzerland – Trombone), Kyle Shepherd (South Africa – Piano) and Kesivan Naidoo (South Africa – Drums)
What I can only describe as magic, was the next performance by 2013 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Shane Cooper, whose first performance at the festival emerged from the Jazz Werkstatt in Bern, Switzerland – while in collaboration with two of that particular festival’s organisers Marc Stucki and Andreas Tschopp. The performance featured original compositions by all of the members.
I knew it was gonna be special from the get go, having been a fan of Shane’s bass playing since the very first time I saw him play, but what intrigued me more was the possibility of what his personal compositions would sound like – and how he would find a way to break the conventions of what a lot of ‘bass music’ tends to sound like these days (solos all over etc).
This he did tastefully with a double bass solo at the onset of the show which incorporated both pizzicato (fingered) and arco (bowed) style playing. The bowed portion was played on the lower end of the bass, which created the sound of children playing on a swing – this was then put through a loop pedal, which took the audience into a trance like state, just before the full band came in with the hard beats (much due to Kesivan Naidoo).
I was intrigued to discover that the rhythmic heartbeat or backbone of the show was easily reminiscent of modern electronic music, the type that one would rather find in grimy industrial clubs than in intimate jazz settings. I also picked up on the cinematic quality of the ensemble (again reminiscent of a band called The Cinematic Orchestra – which I later learnt was one of Shane’s favourite bands). These notions were confirmed for me by Shane, the following day while in an interview with veteran jazz journalist Don Albert – where he pointed out that his musical palette isn’t restricted by conventional notions of swing and the like, but that the electronic and cinematic influence is something that comes out naturally.
Further highlights of the performance included Kyle Shepherd’s gospel infused piano style (which almost always alludes to Abdullah Ibrahim’s body of work) that brought a very delicate and spiritual experience into the fold, as well as the end horn lead vamp that grew into an epic cinematic cacophony of colourful sound.
With Marcus Wyatt (Trumpet), Bokani Dyer (Piano), Hein van de Geyn (Bass) and Kevin Gibson (Drums)
Steve Turre, of the Juilliard School of Music is one of the world’s most prolific living trombonists and has most notably played with the Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Orchestra, Dexter Gordon, McCoy Tyner, Ray Charles, Max Roach, Horace Silver, Carlos Santana, Charlie Mingus Big Band, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, JJ Johnson, the Saturday Night Live Band and countless more. He has also won the Best Trombonist award in the Down Beat Readers’ poll five times. Apart from such an exhaustive resumé, he is also an innovator of using seashells as musical instruments – something he first picked up in 1970.
Arguably one of the biggest, most renowned artists I’ve seen play at Grahamstown since I first started going to the festival, Turre’s ensemble was backed by some of the most badass jazz players in South Africa. From the get go, Turre bombarded the audience with the biggest trombone notes you’ve ever heard! Both his stage presence, attire and sound were larger than life and was unlike any other badass jazz shows I’ve seen in ages. It was bad to the bone – and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Each member of the ensemble added to the badassness of it all, with hard swinging grooves from the rhythm section and an impressive array of inter-dimensional solos from both Turre and Marcus Wyatt.
I hope to relive such a big jazz experience in future.
Keep your eyes peeled for subsequent posts.