I’ve set myself a goal of becoming a better public speaker. I didn’t do a lot of that in my time at Universal Music, and I used to be pretty good at it. Turns out though, public speaking isn’t like riding a bike. In my efforts to improve I keep saying yes to requests, so late last year I spoke on a panel at the Botswana International Music Conference and did an interview with Kaya FM.
The South African charts I’m talking about in the interview are here:
Over the last year, they have become really interesting to look at because the time period is the same (Friday – Friday) but the user bases and price points for these services differ. In a society as dynamic and heterogeneous as South Africa, there’s more to music data than just identifying the hits. These different services highlight what is popular for different communities and consumers, and it’s exactly the kind of feedback that aspiring domestic musicians need.
That’s why we joined BASA – because until now, artists haven’t had free access to this data. Music is the most popular of the Arts, yet there are no official or independent music charts. I did a little more speaking at a BASA event and they published a bit of news about Labs.FM. All in all, I’ve got some things to say, and I’ll be doing more of that over the course of the year.
There’s something arresting about Feist’s haunting voice. Her new album Pleasure (with lead single of the same name) was released earlier this year. It’s edgy and raw featuring her signature sweet vocals. Also, it’s like 2007 all over again.
The Reminder was released in 2007. It’s hard to believe that was 10 years ago and we were just getting to know Facebook. I was sitting in an open plan marketing office, listening to the record when I received a notification that my half-brother would like to be Friends. I’d spent my entire late childhood and teenage years daydreaming about him and my half-sister. I’d met him once, a handsome young man studying something important at University, but she’d remained a faceless stranger. I knew that she worked in advertising because my mom once gave me a torn out magazine article. It described her as an independent female Mover and Shaker at a sought after agency, which fanned the flames for storylines over years of only-child daydreaming. And then just like that, there was a friend request from someone I didn’t really know but shared a surname and some DNA with. I didn’t breathe for a minute. Accept.
We made plans to meet up and before I knew it I was on my way to a Wimpy in a small farming town. That month I was listening to Feist a lot. Universal had just released my flavour-of-the-month record, and the fact that I was working on it made it that much better. It’s funny how memories get associated with music. The Reminder was supposed to be that great award-winning Indie record I forgot about and rediscovered one day. But just hearing her voice takes me back.
That day was overwhelming. I spent hours speaking with my brother. We danced around the issue of my dad and tried to find things we had in common. It was good. We both tried. And then around lunchtime, my half-sister showed up. I was ecstatic, so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And in hindsight, such a fucking n00b. I wore all of the cozy family fantasies on my sleeve, and even though she kicked back skepticism at every opportunity, I soldiered on, trying to build that relationship. I drove the 2 hours back that day a little sedated and misty-eyed. Like a big secret had just been let out.
Over the next few months, I got to know my brother and his lovely wife. I introduced them to my husband and met my nephew. The blossoming romance was beautiful, we had heart-to-hearts about things that mattered in our lives and shared everything from painful experiences to the shape of our fingernails. I put together a pack of CDs for them because sharing music is a privilege that brings people closer together. It’s so personal, and getting a new music recommendation right is the kind of curatorship victory I thrive on. Of course, I added Feist into my sister’s hamper. Because Indie is badass and you know, Fearless Female, etc.
My sister, on the other hand, remained aloof. My Friend Request was met with silence. Her Twitter profile was full of talk about forgiveness and change and empowerment. We Facebook Messaged a bit and there was a phone call or two. I can’t remember how, but she told me that she didn’t like the Feist album. She thought it was too girly, and not upbeat enough. I thought that was weird. It was such a cool record and practically everyone liked it. And just like that, The Reminder became an allegory for my relationship with my estranged siblings.
About a year later at their family farm, my half-sister insulted my husband. To be fair she didn’t insult him directly, but rather our relationship, saying that we’re together because I had father issues (there’s an age gap). I drove home disappointed and hurt, and the road was long. She’d made all sorts of assumptions about my life, from which she’d been absent, but I had done the same. My mind switched between self-doubt (why doesn’t she like me), and self-hate (why do I care). I visited my brother but stopped asking about her. We saw each other at my brother’s birthday party a few years later. It was awkward, but she was friendly. We talked a little after that, and then one day she told me that she didn’t want to know me.
It’s astonishing how you can let one person hurt you so much, without them even knowing. My half-sister doesn’t want to know me because we share the same father, something I literally have no power to change. My father has been trying reach out to them for years, with mixed success. He is a difficult and complex man, but his relationship with them has nothing to do with me.
I still love Feist but can’t listen to The Reminder in one sitting. Her new album Pleasure is superb though. It seems to have gone relatively unnoticed as there aren’t enough reviews for a Metascore rating despite an April 2017 release date. If you’re in a quiet mood you should definitely listen to “A Man Is Not His Song”. This year I’ve been slaying a few dragons in my life. I’m also trying to listen to more Feist.
“Sealion” is track 6 on The Reminder and isa super-classy, catchy AF cover of Nina Simone’s “Sea Lion Woman.”
Adapted from a talk at the #futuretuned Radio Days Africa conference (5-7 July 2017).
The music industry has always been at the forefront of disruption in technology and, in some ways, it seems as if there isn’t a corner of it left untouched.
A year ago at Radio Days Africa, a guy from one of the labels told the audience that they didn’t need radio anymore. He justified this by saying that subscription services are now freely available and that people can listen to what they like, without having to listen to radio’s advertising or DJs. Having spent 10 years at a major label, I know for sure is that it’s the other way around — it’s radio that doesn’t need labels.
Over the last 15 years, music consumption has changed dramatically, and the power dynamic has shifted as a result. The music is better, but it’s less valuable because it’s available everywhere (and, often, for free).
Consumers now have direct access to all the new music they could ever want through subscriptions to Streaming Services. Spotify counts more than 30 million tracks, each available anywhere and at any time.
The real shift, however, is in how consumers are listening to music in this environment. Last year, playlists overtook albums in time spent listening; a number which only continues to grow.
It’s these playlists that will be radio’s competition if Radio doesn’t instead see Streaming Services as an opportunity. Radio needs to strategically use playlists as part of a larger brand positioning and marketing strategy. I could throw around the words ‘listener’, ‘user’, and ‘audience’ fairly liberally and, for me at least, they mean similar things. But most commercial stations are only incentivised to increase their listenership. That needs to change.
In addition to music consumption, music discovery has evolved. Music is no longer spread through silos by record companies pushing their priorities, or by stations having exclusive first plays. Radio is no longer determining which songs make it. Many stations know and have adapted to this, but that’s not enough. The real opportunity lies in the curation and discovery of NEW music — something that is already part of what any station does on a daily basis.
Streaming services are addressing the discovery challenge in their own ways. Spotify acquired The Echo Nest to assist with data-driven music discovery & personalisation. Their Discover Weekly playlist is a personalised playlist aimed squarely at promoting new artists and songs. Apple’s Beats 1, on the other hand, dives straight into radio territory by creating live, on-air-like shows. If you’ve ever listened to Beats 1 you’ll have noticed that it’s engaging, on-demand content which has more in common with traditional radio than podcasting.
But South African music radio? Well, it’s complicated. I believe that to grow you have to break new music. Even if you can’t play it on air.
Before Hlaudi dropped the 90% local content bomb, 5FM’s role as a national youth station was to break new tracks. The impact that this mandate had in differentiating 5FM’s and other SABC station’s respective playlists has been substantial (whether you think it’s good or bad).
What I think is being missed, however, is the opportunity that this created. Without a national station that could play new international music, many labels and radio pluggers looked towards the top regional commercial stations to start adding new tracks and, of course, this simply isn’t their mandate.
Which brings me to an issue I have with mainstream Top 40 in a world of music streaming — that they don’t offer anything different. Imagine, instead, if these stations made Apple Music and Deezer playlists of songs not on their playlists? Streaming Services are another vehicle where stations can have a brand presence, especially one that promotes music discovery. The benefit is being able to curate a much greater variety of music.
Sometimes I think the way radio treats music in a streaming world is irrelevant. In years past the life of a song may have been determined by radio, but these days a song may burn before a station even starts playing it, because it’s been on the Apple Music or iTunes chart for the last 2 months. There’s too much pressure on humans to make the right playlisting calls.
Radio is an incredible format. Apart from the live music scene, it’s the only pervasive real-time music format that is social, embraces the New and invites every listener to be part of a tribe. It’s exactly the thing that Streaming Services don’t have — a personal and passionate relationship.
Streaming Services emphasize the personalized playlists such as Discover Weekly because the data gets as close to an intimate, unique recommendation as possible. Data is their strength and, even though users are shown to switch between playlists a lot, the engagement is high. For labels, growth in this format is incredible, but it requires curation because, with so much to listen to, how do people know what music to listen to?
Cue Curated Playlists. Just like radio plugging, the labels have playlists curation companies that you may have seen. Universal owns Digster, Sony owns Filtr, and Warner owns Topsify. Labels glean insight into streaming track performance, and use those insights to adjust worldwide marketing campaigns. There’s no reason why individual stations or media powerhouses like Kagiso Media or Primedia shouldn’t have their own mood and genre playlists to promote their brands, or research tracks before adding them to the station. Users, listeners or audiences don’t necessarily just want to hear from one label or an artist. They want to hear about everything that there is to offer from someone they trust, and radio listeners trust a station’s music judgment.
Locally, some stations build streaming playlists based on their music strategy or the chart — but if you’re simply publishing the station’s chart, why would someone tune in? Why not test some of the tracks that didn’t make it to the playlist, along with some edgier tracks that may appeal to a smaller niche within your overall market, but not enough to make them suitable for playlisting? The takeaway for radio is that you have to be a little unique on Streaming Services.
At Labs.fm, we’re firm believers that Radio can be better, and already do music recommendation reports as a service, such as which tracks are a good fit for a station to add or which tracks are in danger of burning. But, taken further, we’re able to look at audiences, recommend growing niche tracks, as well as build and manage those playlists. These are the kinds of activities that make sure a music strategy can compete with streaming playlisting, and also serve as extensions of a station’s brand.
It’s interesting to note that while Spotify publicly displays the playlist follower count, Apple music does not. BBC R1, with their over 400 000 followers can’t call those numbers ‘listeners’, but if surveyed, how would a Spotify user interpret the question “Have you listened to BBC Radio 1 over the last 7 days?” Perhaps, then, the greatest threat to radio is the way listeners are counted right now. Because if that Spotify user answers yes, or attended the BBC Big Weekend, I’d call them part of BBC 1’s “AUDIENCE.”
I make the case for Radio playlists because I believe these could not only provide valuable research data for radio but also be another Brand touchpoint. By aggregating many playlists, radio can be made a lot better, and stations can gain wider Audiences. I want radio programmers and compilers to use data and streaming playlists to be adventurous and take more risks. Stations have such a wealth of knowledge and listener trust. If other mediums such as playlists, podcasts and events aren’t prioritised, there’s no incentive for stations to do anything outside of traditional radio, and they’d be missing a massive opportunity.
You can listen to the full, original talk from Radio Days Africa on Iono.
I remember when I was still in high school my dad came home from work one evening and looked like death. Some of his colleagues had been retrenched that day. He didn’t know if he was next in line, and that thought was terrifying to our typical middle-class 1980’s nuclear family.
Fast forward to a few months ago, end February, when I was sitting at the small boardroom table across from my then-MD and the HR consultant. He could barely say the words or look me in the eye, and left most of the talking to the HR hit-man. It was a big shock, especially since my employer was so blatant about getting rid of me (the company wasn’t doing badly – three bros in management just didn’t like my girl power). Looking back on it now though, it was fine. Handling a crisis is one of my finer skill sets, albeit one I prefer to use less frequently.
So much of our occupation is wrapped up in our identity. It’s what we do with our time for 7 days every week if you have a 9-5. But somewhere between growing up (read: paying bills), contributing to Nkandla, and the here and now, the workplace has evolved. Suddenly “The 9-5” isn’t a thing anymore. My dad spent a large chunk of his life at one company, and that was wonderful and respected. When he retired he would get a gold watch and feel satisfied for a job well done.
But by the time I entered the workplace things had changed. I made a good move to Universal Music and started in marketing at the very bottom. 10 years ago this was a solid company with a safe reputation and management ran a tight ship. That all changed when UMG bought EMI. Personally and professionally, you couldn’t have brought together two more different cultures. The integration (or not) of these two groups was the hardest professional task I’ve ever had to work through. No one can be productive in an environment with constant bullying, one-upmanship and back-stabbing (and of course, immunity if you’re part of The Boys Club). It turned me into a person I didn’t like being, and I experienced a personal crisis while trying to deal with work stress. This was at a time when many people described the company as toxic. Thankfully, Sufjan Stevens saved my life.
If I could give anyone advice about working in a poisonous environment it would be: “Don’t.” It’ll tear you apart on the inside, and life’s too short to be unhappy. I’m no longer the Marketing Manager at a leading record label and I wouldn’t want to be that anymore anyway. The worst is over and record labels are back making money again, now from streaming, but the power dynamic has never been more flat. When you’re working at a label it’s difficult to have perspective and see the industry as a whole, partly because of arrogance but also because of the pressure. The competition is fierce and there are hungry, innovative companies out there working in the music industry. I’m working with two of those young companies now.
My husband, parents, and friends have all been extremely supportive. Since getting the boot I’ve also been reminded that one’s reputation follows you. By working hard and working smart you will always be looking after yourself. And change is good. These days I spend more time with my family, and I work with people who want to work with me. The old stigma of retrenchment shouldn’t really exist anymore. It happened to me and it turned out to be no biggie. A growing percentage of people worldwide are contractors who work remotely and virtually everyone has a side gig. If you don’t have one yet then maybe it’s time for you to get one.
I’ve just written my marketing exam. It’s the second exam since I was a student squillion years ago. It’ll probably be at least another 5-7 years for the course I’m doing, and this is where I’ll record the sometimes horrible but hugely rewarding experience.
It’s been a little difficult getting back into the swing of studying, but there are a few things that make it more tolerable. These are summer, NRG and Biral.
Herbalife’s NRG is the student’s best friend, made of guarana powder with some other stuff that’s good for you. Drink it and focus for 3 hours solid. Best known as a coffee substitute, it works much better than you’d think a health product would, and it’s also really great for hangovers.
Due to stupid standards of excellence, I stress about the exam a lot, which is where Biral steps in. It allows one to calm the hell down and blurt everything you know out on paper in a coherent and logical fashion. Priceless clarity during an exam.
Summer of course needs no explanation, because everything is just better during an African summer. Braais outside, watermelon and Christmas, summer is always where the fun is at (after the exam). I’m not sure what subject I’ll do next, but summer probably won’t be part of the equasion.
Google Trends tells me that Postmodernism has been in the news again recently. Apparently, on the 24th of September, Postmodernism is officially over. This makes me very happy.
From the 24th of September 2011 to the 15th of January 2012, the Victoria and Albert Museum open “the first comprehensive retrospective” on the movement: “Postmodernism – Style and Subversion 1970-1990.” It’s about time too, Postmodernism has overstayed its welcome. In South Africa it was on its last legs when I finished art school almost 10 year ago. Evidently in the sea of confusion, those in the know assumed we were still in Postmodernism (woops). But regardless of whatever movement we’re in or have been moving towards, does anyone care about defining the beginning and end of Postmodernism?
I do, but only because I studied the bollocks and I want to see the ass end of it. This post is not a lesson on Postmodernism, go read the Wikipedia entry or this article. Postmodernism and its wide definition of art, where anything can be justified, became a self-fulfilling prophecy. If anything can be put forward as art simply by writing a paper with big words in it and making academic references, then nothing is art.
I used to care about art, but Postmodernism killed that for me. As a philosophical movement it was great, teaching us that commentary on society can occur anywhere (and so much more). As a movement associated with artworks I believe it had an unintended, negative influence on artists, the craft and the works produced.
The man in the street doesn’t care. He or she just wants something pretty to put on the wall. The casual art observer wants something that isn’t too offensive and is sure to be an investment. These days I get my fill of social commentary from the internet and Southpark, and I look forward to the next art movement that doesn’t contain the word ‘modernism.’