Andre Le Roux: “The Calamity of Covid and The Chaos That It Caused Resulted in New Models.”
One cannot examine the significance of current streaming patterns in South African music, without doing a deep dive into the repercussions that Covid had on an already tenuous market. Fortunately, IKS Cultural Consulting, with Andre Le Roux at the helm, have undertaken extensive research that has proven to be invaluable in unpacking the implications at this juncture and going forward, as the industry looks towards recovery in 2023.
However, time stands still for nobody as the next potential hurdle is already upon us as global music industries now grapple with what AI has brought to the so-called turntable.
Le Roux left SAMRO (Southern African Music Rights Organization), where he was the Managing Director of the SAMRO Foundation, to run a live music project in April 2020. The Concerts SA project, one of the largest live music projects in the country, and possibly on the continent, was administered by the SAMRO Foundation but had transitioned to being administered by IKS Cultural Consulting.
Finding himself stranded with many others as the waves and repercussions of the pandemic hit home, together with his colleagues and with the approval of SAMRO and their Norwegian funders, they allocated funding to do research.
Le Roux says “I decided to run a live music project when the world shut down. The music died. I was forced to pivot on a personal level. The president shut down the country but left the churches open. At a particular moment during the pandemic lockdowns, I would encourage artists to stream in churches, at a church gathering because churches were allowed 50 people and that’s ok for a gig. We were naughty.”
Before Covid, Concerts SA had encouraged venues and promoters to record and stream their gigs. Le Roux says, “Although we talk live streaming in South Africa, most of the time we mean delayed broadcast because the equipment to do a good quality live stream, is quite expensive. The bandwidth needed to do a live stream that people can watch in real-time is also quite high, and in this country, we’ve got something called the digital divide, with not enough people having access to computers and the internet. One also needs electricity. We’ve got challenges with that as well, with this little thing called load-shedding.”
One of the positives during Covid was that artists were forced to consider alternatives once they were unable to perform at venues. This led to many of them going through a journey of discovery, and ultimately conceiving new and innovative ways to get their music out there. “Artists were forced to consider: Do I record for delayed broadcast? Do I try to use my Facebook page for streaming? Do I try to use YouTube or Instagram and stream? What other channels are there? How do I go about recording? Do I have the technical equipment? Do I have to do delayed broadcast because then I can mix it and package it more carefully for my fans to buy tickets? I must emphasize it wasn’t much of a choice. It was about survival,” he declares.
Simultaneously, Concerts SA was also on a journey of discovery because the funding they had was for live concerts. Le Roux adds: “There was no live, but rather a lot of death. Besides us all having lost many friends along the way, many venues closed, and many won’t return. It still hits me when I walk past secondhand shops and I see the amount of music equipment for sale. People had to sell their equipment to survive, let alone sell their houses, beg, borrow, steal, and get money from family and friends. Artists who moved to a city like Johannesburg as greener pastures, moved back to their homes, in rural areas or back to wherever they came from, to survive.”
Given the dire predicament that musicians were in and knowing that artists needed the funds now more than ever, IKS approached the Norwegians to turn what was their Mobility Fund, now unable to operate due to the closed borders, into a Digital Mobility Fund. Combined with their research, in November 2020, IKS did their first Digital Mobility iteration. In this way, musicians could apply for two kinds of grants – by doing a concert both with and without streaming or what has come to be known as delayed broadcasting.”
Some artists were already trying to steam. Companies like Gearhouse South Africa who were closed down, yet sitting on equipment, had begun to record in improvised studios. The research that IKS did over this period enabled them to document a lot of what transpired in the industry.
Le Roux stresses, “The calamity of Covid and the chaos that it caused resulted in new models. That was interesting. In those new models, a photographer becomes someone who uses digital cameras. He streams and goes from place to place, and records, and those recordings get broadcast and suddenly it’s him and two other camera operators and they’ve got digital cameras and that suddenly becomes a three-camera shoot and then they edit it, and it becomes good quality. Streaming in South Africa and possibly in the rest of the world took off and increased during Covid.”
Despite all of this, Le Roux accentuates that although many artists became technologically savvy, few musicians were able to utilize streaming as an alternative means to make a living during this time. IKS’s research has shown that live concerts are the most important way to keep artists and music alive, because there is insufficient revenue from online ticket sales, and minimal royalty income from streaming.”
Having come through all of this and now looking to the future, South Africans who are now that much more technologically au fait will be faced with the realities of AI and what that means for the music industry, as the AI disruption takes place. In an arena that has Drake versus Drake AI, and Weeknd versus Weeknd AI potentially competing for center stage, one will soon be dealing posthumously with the likes of AI Hugh Masekela or AI Miriam Makeba.
For Le Roux, “It’s a question of who’s going to adapt the quickest, of whether issues like intellectual property and copyright adjust quickly enough. Things have and will change, so in the words of the playwright Pieter Dirk Uys, there is a need to ‘adapt or dye’. Some record companies will lose revenue, publishers may lose or increase their revenue, but some of them may die and fall by the wayside if they don’t embrace the new model. The legislation needs to be fit for purpose.”
In closing, Le Roux says: “After the fire on Table Mountain, which is what Covid was to the music industry where everything is burnt and you have some of the big trees remaining, there is not much – maybe a few green shoots. Not all the green shoots are going to survive. I think we’re starting to see some regrowth in Johannesburg for live performances, but we’ve also lost some trees like the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and loads of venues.
“For many, funding has been cut drastically, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how many of these green shoots will survive into little seedlings and be nurtured into sustainable venues where artists can revive, renew, and perform. As Concerts SA, we’re in the last iteration of funding from the Norwegians, which ends this year. We’re looking for other sponsors, but in the last 10 years I’d like to think that we have sustained artist’s livelihoods, and venues, grown promoters, and created a subsidy scheme that have allowed audiences to see music they otherwise wouldn’t have seen.”
For Le Roux, who has his finger on the musical pulse that beats in and around him, he sees artists and venues that continue to survive and thrive. In a country where we all danced to the South African Master KG’s “Jerusalema” during the pandemic, and where one of the fastest-growing genres in the world is the South African Amapiano, one can only hope for a future where new realities are born out of ravaged landscapes.
Le Roux envisages a future where people continue to seek out the authentic, by going to venues like Six Cocktail Bar in Melville and watching Marcus Wyatt and his band perform live jazz, which is both a unique and timeless experience.