The first annual South African Music Exchange takes place in Cape Town next weekend bringing together international luminaries and local industry insiders. Co-founder Martin Myers, a music business veteran, explains the need for the conference.
This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ section on 14/15 March 2009.
‘This has been a dream of mine for a long time,’ says Myers of the inaugural Cape Town Music Exchange. ‘I’ve been involved in the music industry for 20 years and I want to give something back. For too long, we’ve been building things on sand – we’ve and have never had the opportunity to get top professionals from all over the world in one room, and get answers from the people who’ve done it. Each of the speakers has contributed something significant to the music industry: whether it’s a Stuart Rubin who achieved millions of sales for Elvis Presley across the Asia-Pacific region, or a Dave Alexander, who knows more about publising in South Africa than pretty much anyone, or RhythmOnline, who are doing amazing things with internet music sales here,” enthuses Myers. “We’re talking about a chance to ask John Langford, the COO, about Big Concerts and how tours work…’
Myers regards the music industry as being in turmoil: ‘We still have to get the fundamentals right here,” he says. “Of course you have to have a good song but, after that, what about distribution? What about the publicity and the PR machine? What about proper distribution, and the accounting behind that?’ As an example of the industry knowledge on offer, he cites Nick Matzukis: ‘Here’s someone who’s written a book on music law and contracts in the contemporary world: what is digital right management? What is pay-per-download? What are these terms but, more importantly, what do they mean for the industry and the musicians in it?’
The international keynote speakers are Stuart Rubin, former Senior Vice President for Sony BMG, who helmed the careers of the likes of Puff Daddy, Christina Aguilera, Dave Matthews and Dido, amongst many others, and David Vodicka, chairman of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR) and Vice President of the Worldwide Independent Network. Myers met Rubin in 1997 when he was touring Lisa Stanfield and the then newly formed ‘NSync. “We met when a very young Justin Timberlake was playing at what was then the Cape Sun Hotel, and became firm friends. Stuart encouraged – ‘You’ve always wanted to do something where people can learn,’ he said, ‘So do it’.”
‘Musicians don’t get to interact with these kinds of people in a business environment,’ adds Myers. ‘We also have breakaway sessions where artists can get to meet them. It’s something that you only really understand when you’re older – that it’s all about the five degrees of separation: who knows who, that knows someone you know. Sometimes, it’s not the right piece of music for a particular time, but if the right people know about your music, the time will come.
Myers has held positions within BMG and Sony, managed hit Cape Town band The Usual and tour managed artists across South Africa and abroad, not to mention the music hiring business he runs, which services premium clients like the fashion shows directed by Mary Reynolds. He started in the business in the mid-80s as a DJ on UCT Radio, through which he met Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse. ‘It was an honour and a privilege to meet him, and we got on so well that he agreed to let me put on a concert. We had Sipho, Bright Blue and Askari – I think we might still hold the attendance record for a student concert. Sipho became like a brother to me, and opened up phenomenal doors.’ In 1989, Myers travelled with Mabuse on a tour of Germany. ‘This was the height of apartheid, and there we were with 11 musicians of the calibre of Hotstix and Don Laka… I was the tour manager, the lighting engineer the truck driver and the tour accountant and, at the end of it, the German tour company offered me a job. I thanked them, but I told them I loved South Africa and needed to go back.’
Myers partner in the South African Music Exchange is Peter Lacey, MD of Musketeer Records, Record Industry of South Africa financial sub committee, South African Music Awards Committee (Global Chart) and Moshito 2009 panelist. ‘I’ll admit it,’ laughs Myers, ‘We’re old school friends who went to SACS together – but he’s doing this because he’s and incredibly passionate music man; someone who has a small label but produced a monster act in the form of Seether, probably South Africa’s biggest music export in the last few years. If they can do it, the dream is that another South African band can make it. It might not happen this year, or the next, but our dream is to help lay the groundwork so that it will happen.’
Key local speakers include Damon Forbes, founder and owner of Sheer Sound (South Africa’s largest independent label, boasting over 30 SA Music Awards and as many gold or platinum albums), Dave Alexander (Sheer Publishing MD), Langford, Matzukis, Lacey, Peter Theunissen (CEO of the Cape Music Industry Commission) and internet guru Arthur Goldstuck. Panelists include respected music journalists Miles Keylock (GQ, Channel24) and Jason Curtis (NMP, Top Forty, Cape Times), online marketing specialist and music researcher Brian Currin (Rhythm Online, SAMP3.com, SA Rock Digest), Gavin Meiring (Arapaho, MD of Heart104.9), Nancy Hillary (Authentic Ideas, Music Managers Forum of South Africa, Tweak, Sugardrive, Lonehill Estate, Woodstock Festival, Lucky Fish Music Festival) and entertainment development consultant Yoel Kenan (MP3.com, Il Divo, Avril Lavigne, Freshlyground).
‘These are serious people and we’re collecting them together,’ explains Myers. ‘This will be an annual event and we’re starting off small, probably just 100 delegates at first,’ says Myers. ‘But the Design indaba started small too and sometimes, in this industry, you have to take one step backwards to take two steps forward.’
The first annual South African Music Exchange is on Thursday and Friday, 19 and 20 March at the Protea Hotel Victoria Junction. Full speaker profiles, agenda and registration details on MusicExchange.co.za, including details of a presentation by SANDisk on a proposed new digital music format (conference tickets R900 (full pass) from Webtickets.co.za). Zula Bar hosts a demo showcase and meet-‘n-greet evening open to delegates and members of the public on Thursday 19 March (194 Long St, 4242442).