The majority of us in the SA music industry will make you believe we’re experts in culture. But very few can explain the business of the industry, let alone persuade you to do it for money. The last word anyone should think of when hearing about upcoming moguls at we-are-awesome, is ‘hipster’ – mostly because they’ve introduced a 4-part Live Performance Series, in association with adidas Originals, featuring international acts you thought you’d never see.
These days, everyone’s bet is on live music as the saving grace in an industry where the primary product is free. But those who do stocktake as to the scale and scope of SA and the world’s permanent live circuit say: ‘It can appear at best chaotic and at worst criminal’ (Moshito Music Exhibition / Frith).
Andrew Berry, who co-founded we-are-awesome.com alongside Sean Sassen in 2007, believes in a garage approach to business that’s loose and free. “We initially started the site as a mirror to South African culture. And now we do events for people who want to hear better live music. Everybody does everything, titles aren’t specific to tasks.”
Andrew, and Mark Menezes, events director, bounce attention between answering questions and tending to messages on their matching smartphones. Today, they’re bleeping more than usual. This week sees the team moving into a 132m2 office in Cape Town, located in Woodstock’s lower main road.
Most of the time, they finish each other’s sentences – often brainstorming mid-way. “Anybody can come up with a good idea,” explains Mark. “But it needs to be a rounded package” elaborates Andrew, to which Mark adds: “The process always changes along the way. It’s a constant shift and puzzle.”
No doubt, even more so considering the last thorough report on the music industry, issued by the Department of Arts and Culture, was released November 1998, and focuses mostly on the sales of CD’s and cassettes. And is Infamous for stating: ‘In the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that the role of record companies will be displaced by the Internet.’
“An appetite for albums has changed,” says Mark. “And we want to bring bands that can produce a full show.” So how do they go about persuading a successful international act to come to a country with plummeting album sales and no hard facts? Both are reluctant to say, the answer is the key and their greatest asset.
“We have five steps that start at the same time, like a horse race” laughs Andrew, choosing his words carefully. “And we’ve short listed 40 bands we’re considering.” And how much of that selection is made up of their and adidas’ target market? “There’s a balance. The most important requirement is 75% of SA fans should already know the band.”
They continue to validate their answer stating “did you see our name plastered all over the place at our debut show? No. We’re a brand with integrity, hosting a certain type of event.” Both admit there are communities in SA they have to overlook, because of the complexities involved, but realise the value music has in creating social cohesion.
“We are open to it, and we do a lot of requests,” explains Mark, insisting that fans who are attempting to get a certain international act to come over, through Facebook groups or otherwise, should continue to do so. Andrew hits back, “we need the support of the public. In the long term we want to create a portfolio that makes it easier.”
Their current contract with adidas expires in 10 months, the time in which 3 more events will take place. If all goes well, everyone intends staying for the long haul. Until then, they’re keeping their cards close. The exclusive insiders-only-info they’re willing to share, are their past attempts to get desired acts, “The Strokes are way too expensive”; current success stories, “we’ve got a boardroom now!”; and the reward that always comes afterwards, having a drink with the bands.
The only burning question that remains, how much are profits after deducting costs? The sound and light rigs total 100 grand a pop, Mark admits to receiving discount, and respectfully refuses to disclose any more figures. When pushed on the topic of hotel rooms and requests for illegal substances, he expresses his gratitude for Sun International, who has made them a sweet deal, and explains they have a strict no drug policy.
Andrew concludes on a more important matter: “SA is a great place, but it’s segregated from the rest of the world. We hold ourselves back quite a lot, most of the time. Like bands who think they should make it big here before touring overseas. We really shouldn’t.”
Bands who are interested in performing, and fans who think they know who should, can email we-are-awesome. Please ensure your letter contains all the relevant information required. In the words of Andrew: “Not just a link to one song.”
email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org