How SA Musicians can make the most of the lockdown

A letter to music professionals at the beginning of the COVID 19 Lockdowns on 9 April 2020

‘Keep playing, keep innovating, and keep one another in your hearts. Music brings us together even when we are apart.’ 

Herbie Hancock 2020 


To our Friends, Colleagues, Artists, Venue Owners and Promoters and all those active in the Music Business community. This letter is a proposed checklist for all of you who want to do your best to use self-isolation to maximise our time to ensure we can come back into the world stronger than ever before.

We are at a loss for words as to what we needed to tell you or say during these difficult times for the world, and for the creative industry, our industry in particular. We have been frantically busy online but thought it best to initiate some communication with you as we seem to be flooded with social media, news and messages. So we thought it best to tailor some of these through our lens. More specifically, we have been assisting some of our service providers with support letters to apply to the funding sources available.

Who could have predicted that the world would change in a couple of weeks? As the globe is embroiled in the fight against COVID-19 we all suddenly have to look at the world differently. Our only certainty is that the world has changed, our worlds have changed and we have to change the way we engage with it, and with our colleagues and audiences.The South African lock-down is a necessary but heavy sacrifice for many professionals in the music sector.

As people passionate about the Arts we cannot and will not just give up and roll over, as it is most often the artists, the musicians and the creators that allow us to find sanity in times of darkness. Especially now, what would a world be without music, books, poetry and the content we consume beyond food in our refrigerators, for those that have food. So we at Concerts SA and SAMRO Foundation have prepared this letter for all of you who are in our circle who want and deserve to succeed in the post lock-down period and are wondering what to do now, just like us. We hope this serves as a practical rough guide of sorts.

1. Apply apply apply! Who knows, you may just get it?

The world knows that it wasn’t anyone’s fault that this virus took over. The government and a number of institutions have offered a helping hand to you as a small business owner and a musician. While these applications may seem tedious, you should do everything you can to ensure that you minimise financial losses during this period.

The Department of Sports, Arts & Culture (DSAC) will accept proposals that respond to digital solutions, for the creatives to continue working during this period.The deadline for submissions is the 6th April 2020.

2. Connect with your audiences!

While it probably is part of your every day business to communicate with your followers on twitter, facebook, instagram, and others platforms, this is the time to really connect with them and build your fan base. Use your social media to update your audience on your activities.This will not only help you be active, but will also ensure their support at live events, online or offline when you hold them in the future. You can do this to put your music out there and you can find ways of monetising your streaming, get followers on your youtube channel and connect with others, sell merchandise, etc.

This has been evident in the impact that Lwanda Gogwana had when he started offering online music lessons using his phone and some simple streaming tricks and Shane Cooper with his online collaboration and merchandise sales.

3. Do your administration

Most of us hate paperwork, but it needs to get done. Much of this is now online. Tidy up your studio, clear your desk, do your filing, analyse your financial position, do your taxes, and double check your registrations with SAMRO, CAPASSO, SAMPRA, etc. Follow your different royalty streams, have a look at your contracts, take charge of your creative and business life and if you do it right now, you will be more prepared and not have to worry about it when you hit the road after the lock-down.

Perhaps also build up your portfolio and register your profile on Music in Africa. They currently have 26 490 profiles and loads of interesting articles on the African music industry.

Who knows maybe fixing your admin may become a good habit and may even generate added income. You may even start planning your next tours, here at home and abroad. There’s a useful google map on the Concerts SA website for doing this.

4. Streaming

Ok. Everyone is talking about streaming. But how valuable is it for you and your band? Let’s say the cost of a performance of your quartet is roughly R20 000. When your returns on every stream is approximately 7 cents it will take you 

285 714 views to make the money back. In the case of streaming it only really works alongside other initiatives that can help you generate revenue.

In a country with high costs of data and low bandwidth will you be able to reach your desired audiences? Where are your audiences? Perhaps if they are abroad you have a latent market. Who are your audiences? And what will keep them interested? The right hook could capture a big fish or pool of fishy fans.

Many creators out there are including more than just their final product. They include interviews, opportunities and insights into how they go about creating their work. You need to decide what will work best for you. Just search ‘how to make money from streaming’ and you will find a wealth of information.

5. Try Crowdfunding – extend your family (fanbase) to your advantage

It’s great to generate any form of income. Follow the Steve Newman story and how his plight became an opportunity for crowdfunding. 

Maybe you can offer your audience something in return. Numerous artists around the world have set up crowd-funding campaigns to support their efforts through platforms like Patreon, Thundafund and Back-a-Buddy. This can also be done in a simple online appeal to your audiences, by getting them to help you out directly by ‘buying tickets’ or shares for acknowledgement in the production.

6. Revise your business model

Even after the lock-down the size of gatherings in the time of COVID-19 may still prevent you from filling stadiums or even medium sized venues and people may still be weary of going out. Look at how you can use smaller venues to create smaller more intimate events for your work.

7. Set up a merchandising plan

T-Shirts, badges, posters, cups and bags are just some of the ways in which you can get your brand out there.

Some people still buy CD’s and others collect vinyl. Are these viable options for you?

8. Divided we fall, united we stand – Active Artists and Arts Activism

Collaborate with your fellow artists online not only performance but try online songwriting collaborations. Reach out to fellow artists at home and abroad. From sharing each other’s work on your social media platforms, to recording online discussions and interviews, you now have the opportunity to raise your profile and theirs in a synergistic way.

There are a number of online communities that are also worth joining including #Im4theArts, Arts for Socio-Political Activism, etc., where you can speak to a wide range of arts professionals. With them and other platforms you can influence and build your arts community.

A small warning though – don’t be a troll. Always keep your posts professional and relevant!

Lastly, you may want to join a union, check out the Trade Union of Musicians of South Africa.

9. Do the surveys to contribute to industry research

Our industry is lacking in research and data but you can make a contribution with your own knowledge and your own challenges. Hopefully others, the state and those who wish to do something about the creative industries can benefit from your experiences and your challenges. This is not the first time the world, our sector or you will be affected by a global pandemic or an economic meltdown which affects others and hits your own pocket. Help others in a sense to either help you, or to gain the knowledge to help others.

Surveys like the  Cultural and Creative Sector Responses to Covid-19 of the South African Cultural Observatory help guide decisions made at Government and your input can help ensure that the sector is properly informed. This is the most important survey to inform the government at this stage as SACO is a state funded institution.

Also look at Music in Africa’s survey Understanding the financial impact of COVID-19 on the African Music Market and Jess White’s Creative Industry Coronavirus Impact Survey which was an initial survey to gauge the impact of COVID cancellation on the live music sector.

You can also conduct your own surveys with online resources like surveymonkey.  

10. Practice, polish and create

Take some time to just get better at what you already do well. Try those tough chord progressions you were wanting to mess with, look at the virtuosos and see if you can play their solos, record yourself and improve yourself. Notate that music that’s been buzzing in your head, write down those melodies nestled in the recesses of your mind and express yourself in the way only you know how to, which makes you unique. The world needs that now, and so does your audience.


And lastly, to relax, do some deep listening to your favorite artists!

Stay safe, physically and mentally healthy and best wishes from us at Concerts SA and the SAMRO Foundation.