A Conversation With Nkazimulo Mabaso: Formalizing The South African Music Industry From The Ground Up

A few weeks ago I attended the Monthly YouTube Meet-Up at the Old Mutual AMPD Studios in Newtown where respected and accomplished South African YouTuber, Sibu Mpanza, the Head of Digital of Digify, Qhakaza Mthembu and UK-based music industry professional T-Roy. The session was very insightful as the panelist shared a lot of great insight about the YouTube platform. I met a really great music industry professional who goes by the name of Nkazimulo Mabaso who has over 20 years experience in the South African music industry. We connected and set up a meeting so we could have a chat about his beginnings, what he does, his work and his role in the South African creative and arts industry.

The interview was condensed for easy readability purposes. Read it below.

image of nkazimulo mabaso
Image supplied.

Nkululeko: I have to thank you for availing yourself for this interview. I really appreciate it. So yeah, uhm, I think the main question is to find out more about you and what you do?
Nkazimulo: The name is Nkazimuloyasezulwini and I run a movement called ‘The Street Government‘, and I call myself the Street Governer. So, on my side, I have a foundation called Inkazimulo Yasezulwini Foundation and its main focus is art in its entirety. Through the foundation, we also mentor artists as well about how the music industry works, the business side of music and how to build careers in the music industry. Many artists lack industry knowledge and all they care about is fame but when it comes to money they are suffering. So, my mission is to curb that by balancing everything in their careers especially in the fourth industrial revolution. Artists should be more empowered than ever before and they don’t need record labels but what they do need is great management.

So your focus is more on the structure and framework side of the music industry. You believe that management is a key component that artists should focus on especially in the times we’re in. 
In terms of management, I will say that you get studio time where you record your music and that is where it is important to master the follow up steps. Because I will say that you have different types of managers; stage, road/tour, marketing, PR and distribution manager, and it depends on what exactly you need at the particular stage in an artist’s career. I don’t believe in doing things the traditional way because sometimes that can translate into no returns and that is why I push to always find new ways of doing things especially when it comes to management. I have been in the industry for so long and I have identified where there are gaps, opportunities and means of growth.

You work in different spheres of the music industry and one of them is the events space and you mentioned that you are planning to launch an event series targeted at universities in South Africa where you give unsigned artists a platform to tap into the varsity market. Can you tell us a bit about your process when it comes to organizing such events? Who do you approach and what happens in the back-end?
So when it comes to events at universities, I started in 2009 and I have built a solid track record and reputation in certain spaces. Most students stay in student residences and when I am about to pitch an event like that, I have to go to student housing and I speak with administration team and I say that I have this plan that I want to pitch and who can I speak to. I explain the value that the event will bring to the student community with a detailed. Most of the time I am often referred to speak to the resident advisor who is the one who is in charge of the different residences. I approach the SRC differently because they have their own office, so I check who is in charge of the SRC, be it EEFSC, SASCO or DASO etc. It really depends on what you want. For me, I want my artists to reach students and how do you reach students, by approaching the relevant bodies in the spaces that students exist in.

mage of nkazimulo mabaso
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That’s great and insightful. You mentioned that when you approach varsities, it is often because you want your artist to access the student market. When it comes to management, what is the process before you manage an artist? Because I have come across a lot of artists that say to me that they found managers but the relationships are not working or they are not seeing results. What are your tips on find a good manager? 
My advice to artists is always this: before you even approach or look for a manager, understand your music and have a vision. Know what you want to achieve. When you give your demo to a potential manager telling the manager to listen to your stuff, it must be pretty good and you must be unique. It’s easy to get management because us as managers we like money, so we see that is guy is dope and talented, I have to look at how we can make money. With me, it is slightly different because I don’t work with just any artist especially when it comes to hip hop artists because they often follow trends that are not authentically South African. I am working on a rhythm or beat when it comes to artist management, I haven’t perfected it but once you hear it, you will immediately notice it and you’ll be like that’s it. I look for uniqueness and authenticity. Artists should always push to do things that are unique and we have a lot of those artists in our country such as Big Zulu who does inkabi rap, Sho Madjozi and more.

So with that being said; if you do find an artist that is unique, from a business perspective what is your process to package all of that to take to the market and make money. How do you package that uniqueness to sell it to the whatever market you have identified? 
To answer this, I will go back to one of the answers I gave you for one of the previous questions. The reason artists make music is because they want to sell and make money, so where I fit in is that I am good with marketing and how to connect with fans. Let me give you an example of a guy I met back in 2010 who was making Maskandi music. This guy was a Maskandi artist and I knew that people that are most likely going to connect with his music are mostly Zulu and reside in hostels and that was his target market. So this meant that I had to take that music to those people because if I were to take his music to Universal Music to distribute the music, they won’t take it there and they will take it to the music stores.  I went to the elders of that particular hostel and asked if I can get this guy to perform there and they gave me their blessing. We didn’t even print posters or any other marketing material. I just told the guy to make as many copies of his music as possibles and he made 75 copies. He performed at the hostel and after the last song, we sold all the copies and each copy went for R75. We made R7500 within 30 minutes.

Wow. That’s super impressive. And that is the one thing that I have noticed from hip hop and dance music artists in our country, is that they struggle with finding their audience and monetizing it. 
You know what the problem is? We watch too much TV [laughs]. Because if you want to be successful, switch the TV off, switch off your internet and think of your career. If you feel like you cannot make it without social media, know that you are not good. There are certain artists right now that are in a position where if the internet where to shut down, they would have no means of connecting with their fans and they’d fade away because they are heavily reliant on these platforms.

Are you saying that in the context of South Africa, it is more effective to sell product from a grassroots level, approaching people in real life rather than sending them links to your music online?
What happens if I don’t have data to access your music if it is just online. We have to think of and face the reality, data in South Africa is not cheap. The other thing artists overlook is where they come from. For example, you can get an artist from Katlehong and they make a certain style of music and they would rather go to Jozi to try and push their music forgetting where they come from. Why forget home? There’s treasure there. If I start at home, I won’t be spending much on transport, spending much on trying to find those fans or even finding venues. You can even take your music to taxi drivers as well. The taxi industry is a channel a lot of artists are ignoring. When I still stayed in Durban, I approached taxi drivers to play the music from some of artists and the response was amazing. Music discovery often happens in taxis and we cannot ignore that.

That’s powerful. I never really thought of taxis being a music discovery platform/medium. What is your view on the internet and its power in the times we live in? How can we use it to make all that we do better and the progressive in the context of South Africa and Africa? 
The one thing I know is that most South Africans have WhatsApp and you know how powerful that thing is. With that platform, you have an opportunity to sell what you do using features like stories. Let’s say you are in studio, you record a snippet of the session and share it on your stories, and with those 30 seconds in a story you can connect with people. You arouse interest in your contact list. Some people have close to 100 people on their WhatsApp and when they view their statuses and that is content consumption. That is already an audience you can sell to. Imagine selling 100 copies for R100 to those people and the amazing part is that these people are close to you which makes it easier. You can use WhatsApp to create the hype and as a sales channel. Give yourself three months before you release a song. Prepare and market properly to build hype using accessible channels like WhatsApp. You can also get constructive feedback from the people on your WhatsApp and the feedback that you get will help you grow as an artist. You must build interest. With social media, you can build your leveraging by sharing meaningful and great content which and these days major labels find talent online and if you position yourself well online, they can sign you. And because you have your own audience and content, you have leverage and you can negotiate your own terms provided you are given a contract for a deal.

image of nkazimulo mabaso
Image supplied.

You would advise artists to do the grassroots push and ground work to build the audience so that by the time they get to a record label they have leverage.
Yes, definitely.

Can you please tell us about the situation centered around the Copyright Amendment Bill that is currently sitting before our president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and why it is important for us a the creative/arts community rally against this new Bill they are trying to introduce?
The current law we have pertaining copyright in South Africa was last updated in 1978, if I am not mistaken. So, right now you see how the world has changed and see how everything has progressed. This law needs to be updated to fit the world that we live in so that it accommodates everyone and is fair. So around 2015 or 2016, some key people in the creative/arts community came together to write down their grievances, requests and suggestions on what needs to be changed on the Copyright Amendment Bill and they were submitted to the Department of Arts & Culture. But to their surprise, although there were some changes, there were many things that were left out. So it still became the similar as the old one which means it wasn’t really upgraded to fit the current landscape. When this new bill is passed, it will mean that anyone can use your music, your paintings, writings, photographs and more for free without having to pay. Right now you have to paid for the use of your intellectual property and you can sue if your rights are infringed upon. That right will no longer exist if this bill is passed. In the early 2000s South African music industry earned about R3 billion in revenue, right now it is on 600 million and if this bill is passed those numbers will be R0. No one will be making money except the big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Spotify, Apple and more. Creatives not earn anything for their work and that is bad.

As a creative community,  we really need to take this Copyright Amendment Bill situation seriously. So where can we go to contribute to existing rallies or movements that are fighting this thing? 
On the 28th of August, we had a march which was organized by MASA (Musicians Association of South Africa) with the support of organizations like SAMRO, CAPASSO, SAMPRA and more. We submitted a memorandum and we are waiting for the president to respond on follow-up steps and if the feedback is negative, we still have to continue fighting. If you are interested in fighting this, you can visit the SAMRO building in Braamfontein and go to the MASA offices on the 9th floor. They will be able to assist.

Thank you so much for your time. I hope people find value in your insights. 
Thanks. Until next time.


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About Author

Nkululeko Nkosi Creative entrepreneur, self-starter and writer are some of the words you can use to describe me. Inspired by the grit, rawness and passion you often find in underground and alternative culture. Based in the greatest city in Africa, Johannesburg.

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