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.
This is an old story, one that begins before the other music industry stories I still have to tell. It’s the one about how I missed Faithless the first time around.
In the early 00’s I was working as a waitress at a small-town grill. The tips were good but the people, not so much. My boyfriend got us tickets to see Faithless live in concert. I was looking forward to it because he was into dance music, and Faithless was the only band he liked whose songs I actually knew (and liked). Also, it was a time when South African promoters only brought out one international band a year, so best you be there.
The week of the concert, I checked the shift roster and there it was, my name on the evening I’d asked to have off. And so, after not being able to get anyone to fill my shift, I pitched up to work because I’m that person. Sad Boyfriend went to the concert alone.
That night Sad but incredibly resourceful Boyfriend got me an autograph of every member of Faithless. It’s memorabilia that I still have, long after the small-town grill closed and we broke up. My Calvinistic parents didn’t teach me that it’s okay to throw in the towel sometimes. I’ll certainly teach my son about Loss Aversion and Sunken-Cost bias, and also to just quit stupid part-time jobs if they get in the way of life.
Next month multi-instrumentalist, DJ and producer Sister Bliss will be in South Africa doing a Faithless set, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. This is the talented woman who led the expedition into a Man’s World behind the decks, while at the same time wrote all of Faithless’ hits (there are so many). God Is A DJ, and I’ve been waiting to see her for years.
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.”
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) 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.