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Betrayal in the Garden

Betrayal in the Garden

by Diane Coetzer / 26.10.2009

Call me naïve, but I tend to believe the best in people, no matter how much the evidence may point to something different. I blame it on my mother who always puts a (sometimes maddeningly) positive spin on things. It’s because of this that I’m often at the front of the queue when it comes to defending the music business from those who have it pegged as populated by people who care not a smidgen about the music they are selling but only have an eye on the ka-ching of money or the salary they get at the end of a month. “It’s not true,” I say, rattling off the people I know who work in the biz and are still fired up about what they do.

But, over the past few years, I’ve realised that this is an increasingly indefensible response. The sad truth is it’s the same faces I see climbing the hill in the hot Oppikoppi sun or hustling for a spot at the Bohemian bar at a Jim Neversink gig or taking up issues that can benefit the industry as a whole. And I can probably count them on just two hands. Nowhere was the absence of passion for the cornerstone of the music biz somehow more starkly revealed than at last week’s media day for Joburg-based singer-songwriter Laurie Levine.

Hosted by Sheer Sound pressman Brett Schewitz (who is, it must be noted, so music-mad he actually hosts a yearly concert in his garden known as Jawfest), Levine’s six or so song set easily underscored how well she fits into the indie label’s roster that includes Farryl Purkiss and Nibs van der Spuy.

Accompanied by Brendan Ou Tim on bass and Glockenspiel and Lize Wild on accordion and keyboards, it was easy to see Levine’s transition from a talented songwriter and slightly-uneasy performer to an artist whose live shows are now deeply pleasurable to watch, even if tucked under a tree outside a bland Randburg office building.

Laurie Levine

Sheer is releasing Levine’s second album ‘Living Room’ through an exclusive license with its Seed division – giving the lovingly recorded set of songs on the album the chance to reach more than the devoted fanbase who’ve always known Levine is the real deal.

But, looking around the outside area at Sheer, it was hard not to wonder just how far one-man’s passion for a project can take an album if those who surround him can’t rouse themselves to leave their desk for 20 minutes to experience, intimately, the lifeblood of their daily work.

Truly, no more effort was required of people in distribution or royalties to hear the charged beauty of songs like ‘Scrambling’ or ‘Kites’ than walking a few steps. Hell, there were even snacks on offer. As a friend said, missing a short live set put on by their company in their offices should be a firing offence.

Sheer happened to be the setting but the company is not the only culprit – and, in fact, can be credited for assisting the growth of artists, including Van der Spuy and Purkiss, both of whom now have solid, ongoing overseas careers alongside their domestic ones. Hopefully Sheer will be able to do the same for Levine because her modern folk songs easily put her alongside the likes of The Be Good Tanyas or an early Beth Orton and could snag a fair size of the New Folk worldwide audience.
The terrible truth for an optimist like me is that South Africa’s labels, music publishers, societies, and (probably most criminally) radio stations are stocked with just too many people who might as well be working at the Post Office or a bank. But hang on – even then, they would probably be taken to task for not bothering to come to the presentation of a new product that’s key to their business.

I’m not suggesting an every night out on the A&R beat commitment. God knows I skip gigs on the back of exhausting days, kiddie commitments and the call of season five of Entourage. But how hard is it to step outside on a blue-skied spring Joburg day and listen, just listen, to the music?

* If you’re in KZN and are keen to see Levine in combination with Wild (and, at times, sexy and always compelling coupling)
Oct 27 2009 8:00 PM
Kwa-Zulu Natal tour: Red Door, Pietermaritzburg Pietermaritzburg

19   7
  1. death to interior decorators says:

    No really, this is a pathetic excuse of an article. The under-attendance of some singer-songwriter-neo-folkie’s album launch is hardly worthy of coverage. What could this industry-insider whinge session ever hope to achieve – a sudden resurgence in gig attendance and indiustry support? Next time give us a good reason to express an interest in local music by delivering something more substantial like an interview with the performer.

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  2. Andy says:

    dtid – You’re such a hater! This is not a review or an interview. It’s an opinion piece. And a damn good opinion at that. Did you realise that the album launch was at the record company – and people who work at the record company did not even leave their desks to attend… That’s a pretty damning indictment of the prevalent attitudes of people who work in the music industry.

    But I guess you’re too busy trying to think of clever things to say about Hugh Masekela and Mahala’s editorial direction to actually read our articles.

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  3. death to interior decorators says:

    You are right about one thing Andy, I am a hater – a hater of the mediocrity and the smugly naive bickering that people in the SA music industry think makes their world more interesting and significant. Think of the Sheer staff members as a microcosm of the listeing public and consider the indictment that their lack of interest is in the quality of the music that they are expected to promote for a living. Does the world need a female Farryl Purkiss? I doubt it very much.

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  4. Sindy-Lou says:

    I think the point of the article Mr dtid, is that if you’re working in the music industry, it shouldn’t just be another JOB. Creative industries require passionate people, not corporate pain-in-the-ass employees who are so busy photocopying their behinds in the stock room and framing them up in their offices asking people to kiss it.

    Sheer saw talent in Laurie Levine and signed her up; to not attend the album launch was idiotic. If you don’t love the brand you’re attempting to sell, how do you expect others to?

    It’s a great opinion piece highlighting boring capitalist culture sucking the world dry of inspiration.

    Now go throw your toys out of your cot somewhere else.

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  5. Silent Bob says:

    The SA music Industry lacks so expertise it’s frightining! Just go to the SABC music library, on a Tuesday morning and see all of the major record cmpanies’ promo assistants. The promo assistants are th people, who answer to The Label Managers, who, in conjunction with their bosses decide what to feed The SA Music Industry. These people are the only real connection that their bosses have with SA music-buying public, and they’re excited when the new fucking Nickelback comes out!

    Make sure you throw your toys out of the cot very fucking far away from me!

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  6. Diaan says:

    I have to throw my weight behind death to interior decorators. This article is a badly written, poorly researched, rambling disaster. It’s hardly clear what the author is trying to get across. Whichever editor let this through must be insane.

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  7. djf says:

    Oy vey, someone just re-opened that Pandora’s Box that is the SA Music Industry. Folks, I hear your cries and I feel your pain, but please consider this: if an artist’s work resonates with the public then does it really matter at the end of the day whether a few label employees attended their launch gig? DTID may be a cantankerous hater, but he/she may have a point here?

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  8. Andy says:

    nah, it’s just the lack of respect and even interest shown by people behind the product… it’s their business. And as the ‘insane’ editor who published the piece Diaan – please identify the badly written and poorly researched elements, so I know what to look out for in future.

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  9. Sindy-Lou says:

    “badly written, poorly researched, rambling disaster” – sounds to me like someone’s on a bad trip. If you don’t get the gist of the article Diaan, you’re probably reading it upside down?

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  10. Andy says:

    Nooit it sounds like Diaan may have been one of the people sitting at their desks, twiddling their fingers, typing NB emails and making important phone calls while Laurie Levine was singing her guts out in their garden… S’true, ne Diaan. Just own up. You got busted by this article

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  11. Silent Bob says:

    Poorly researched??? It look about perfect to me, and I was one of the major rec. co. lackeys, who was at The SABC every Tuesday having tea with Nomsa and Janine!

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  12. Diaan says:

    Wow, what a lot of emotional responses to a complaint about the quality of an article. If you folks are happy reading content written at barely above high-school level then go for it. Nobody else will take this publication seriously unless the quality of writing improves.

    Andy, I’m not going to give you a thorough analysis of the text. Enough to say that to me it’s poor, definitely not to the point, and not a pleasure to read. I’d must admit that I’m used to content of a higher calibre from Mahala.

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  13. Silent Bob says:

    Aah, c’mon!!! Give us that thorough analysis – we all want to hear why it’s so poorly wrtten

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  14. Andy says:

    It’s just that I think this article is of a high calibre. It makes sense. It has a great polemic about the state of the South African music industry. It flows. It’s topical. It is both well-informed and interesting. That’s why we published it.

    Apart from just slamming it and then not explaining why you find this writing sub-standard, you’re not adding to, or engaging in the debate. You’re just calling names. “barely above high-school level”. It’s like Mbalula’s response to Kader Asmal. He makes a great point about the militarization of the police and Mbalula calls him “insane”. It’s just name calling. Let the weight of your ideas win out.

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  15. acoustic anarchy says:

    um, but despite what coetzer says (and the quality of writing should not be the main issue here), Laurie Levine is oversupported as it is.
    In Joburg every time there’s a big event that calls for acoustic musicians, without fail, it’s the holy trinity of Laurie Levine, Farryl Purkiss, Josie Field. And why? because these three are signed by labels that promote their stuff ad nauseum even though there’s a whole bunch more interesting singer-songwriters out there who really know the meaning of being neglected by the industry – Kim Catholic / Shotgun Tori, Arlyn, Sauce Tone, Bongisiwe Mabandla, Deep Fried Man, Gary Thomas, Miles Sievwright and the list goes on and on. Have you ever heard of them? Exactly. Levine is in your face constantly. And no, I’m not denying that she’s talented. But you can’t latch onto one artist and pretend you’re actually supporting the scene when you’re supporting the only acoustic artists who have the extreme luxury of record label support. meanwhile it’s the unsigned artists who, while equally if not better recieved by music fans, just aren’t supported enough by the industry to even have Coetzer write some sort of tragic story about how the A&R guys don’t get up at lunch time to come listen.

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  16. Brett Schewitz says:

    I don’t normally respond to these things but this one is more personal.

    Acoustic Anarchy, I’m glad you feel Laurie and Farryl are in your face constantly. That means I’m doing my job properly, or at least trying. Re other singer songwriters – since Farryl’s overseas success every singer-songwriter in the country contacts us with their demos. A lot of them amazing but also a lot of them not worthwhile. Reason why we’ve not signed every single singer-songwriter in the country is because we’d rather break the ones we’re working with already so that we can create a singer-songwriter demand and following in SA. It’s realtively big overseas but is still growing in SA. We’re doing all we can. It’s at this point that the cynics will say “then why don’t the staff come to the MEDIA launch”. Essentially 2 people are involved in the Seed label. Myself and my boss. He was away at the time which means 50% of those involved were there. it was a media launch anyway, not a company showcase so i’m not even going to continue with that. Re research – yes – the facts weren’t found out before the article was written as to why every person in the building was not at the media launch. I’m going to bet that the MD of Sony Music was not at City Bowl Mizers’ launch and neither were the accounts people.

    Acoustic Anarchy – the festival that I have in my garden is intended to showcase artists as well as allow established artists to have fun and jam in a different environment. FYI Deep Fried Man followed Josie Field, Rambling Bones and Paul E. Flynn as did Naming James, Walt, Neca and other singer songwriters that you may or may not have heard of.

    This is a small industry. If we spend out time squabbling and pointing fingers at people with “no passion” we’re going to see it implode. Instead of whining about an accounts person who never went to a media launch or an article written of “barely above high school level” (by the way Diane is one of the most esteemed journos in the country and has been for over 15 years) you should go and buy a CD or go to a live gig. Take all your friends too.

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  17. death to interior decorators says:

    Yeah yeah, in time the relevant facts come out. Would you hire an accountant because he connects emotionally with your product or because he was good at what he was trained to do? We should hope that ‘one of the most esteemed journos in the country’ would be aware of such realities and not make a noise about something so irrelevant.
    To Acoustic Anarchy – you are my hero. Thanks for pointing out the shortcomings in the industry that actually matter. The holy trinity that the anarchist refers to are clear indication that Sheer are more concerned about what is marketable instead of what is the most unique and enduring. That is their right as a company that needs to make a profit. The question should be if Diane Coetzer is aware of these other performers and if she thinks they deserve the promotion that the other three enjoy. We should expect ‘esteemed journos’ to express an interest in many more acts than the labels can afford to sign and to bring them to our attention for the greater good of South African music. If they are more concerned about tiny marketing details at one event without even giving us much idea what the performer’s music is about then I wonder whether the word ‘esteemed’ is deserved.

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  18. death to interior decorators says:

    Andy, congratulations on the Nike advertising deal. I wonder if the ‘clever’ things commented by ‘cantankerous haters’ like me have contributed towards your ability to secure such business. This is where you get to respond that I have a high opinion of myself.

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  19. Industry Observer says:

    Brett? Wasn’t the Mizers Launch in Durban? and Laurie’s at your office? Oh Brett didn’t you just sign Laurie? Diaan if the article is so badly written why are spending time responding? Death to interior decorator actually you shouldn’t hire an accountant that has not passion for music they treat your musicians like shit then you end up a company like EMI!

    It is sad that Brett still didn’t think there are some synergies in their building so it wasn’t worth inviting any of them. Oh isn’t IRIS your sales team? Don’t they have to sell the album.

    Acoustic Anarchy – Unsigned artists are their worst enemy! You want to get signed before you build a following? Shame on you!

    At the end you all think you should comment on a badly written article! That looks to me that it hit some emotions that you think you should attack the journo who wrote it!

    Cheers keep writing how you think this article is badly written while your spending your time saying its badly written! Wonder how a well written article about Launches at your offices hardly being attended by even your sales team look like! hmmmm!

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  20. Andy says:

    Not at all DTID… the Nike advertising means we get more resources so we can go out and do interviews, reviews and profiles with artists like Wrestlerish, Rambling Bones, Bongeziwe Mabandla etc. Certainly the debate under our articles is appreciated. In many ways you’re the lifeblood of the site. Keep having your opinions and airing them here.

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  21. djf says:

    Industry Observer, have you been following your prescription correctly??

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  22. Industry Observer says:

    Didn’t know i’m on prescription but again i find nothing wrong with the article so maybe i am!

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  23. Brett Schewitz says:

    No need to get personal, Industry Observer.

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  24. JKG says:

    After reading the informative and enjoyable piece of writing by Diane Coetzer and then reading what followed, i am actually left with a smile. This is a very (in my opinion) healthy situation and debate. People are speaking openly about what they feel and it pushes the brain to think on how we can better our local music scene/s (hopefully together). Well done acoustic anarchy (no sarcasm intended) because through this article and its comments, you have been given a platform to speak about the acts that you feel are needing highlighting. Aint Gary Thomas wicked? Watched him last night and Arlyn, Miles Sievwright and Deef Fried Man who I shared a stage with recently are my good new friends. I cannot say that I have heard or read of the rest that you mentioned but then I tend not to read too much newspaper and gig guide forums but rather keep my ears open. Of course I have heard of the “holy trinity” you speak of and have been fortunate to share a stage with all 3 of them. If I said my name, you would probably ask, “who the hell is that” but I have managed to build a career in this very fickle SA music scene, through continuous hard work, putting on a good show, always and having good supportive people behind me who endeavor to push me wherever and however I can. Props to you for pushing your favorites but like Josie says, “Dont hate the player but hate the game!” See you at the Tanz Cafe bar on the 4th of Nov. I’ll buy you a beer. Come and find me – i’ll be the guy playing first!

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  25. Deep Fried Man says:

    wowo-weewa, where do i began.
    first off all, I know Di Coetzer and she’s the sweetest tannie on earth, she is an extremely awesome toppie. I used to work with her. So be gentle with her, mr acoustic anarchy. Also, your supporting artists like the ones you mentioned, me included, is appreciated, but that doesn’t mean you have to slating innocent artists like Laurie Levine and Josie Field (will let you off on Farryl Purkiss tho). If they are all doing well it’s good for all singer-songwriters, me include. And I think what Brett’s trying to say is they just don’t have the resources to go sign every single artist out there.

    So you are a bit over-eager in your revolutionary rhetoric, acoustic anarchy dude. That said, Di, if you were to show up at one of my gigs like you have been saying you will for like a decade (and do an interview with me) I totally wouldn’t complain.

    And sorry the interior designer and acoustic militia dude gave you grief but Di, you got off lightly. This ain’t nearly as bad as the time Montle Big Space dude devoted almost his entire MtKidu exhibition launch to roasting me over hot coals. i’m still in therapy as a result. and now when i see him in public he flinches when i try hug him, like i’m gonna try strangle him with with a tallis or something (i think it’s more being ‘bludgeoned with a menorah’ he’s afraid of).

    Finally: since you certainly won’t find it in the shops you can buy my album online people: http://rhythmmusicstore.com/music/6021/Deep-Fried-Man/Deep-Fried-Man-Is-Not-Amused (unless the Mahala gods remove this link which would be fair enough I guess).

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  26. JKG says:

    Deep Fried Man makes me smile.

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  27. Joanne Olivier says:

    This is one of the very few articles Ive read that really interested me, and touche – Diane Coetzer is one of the most respected journalists in the biz, so some of your comments are just really – well ridiculous !

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  28. brand power says:

    Diane Coetzer should know better than to bite the hand that feeds her.

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  29. Roger Young says:

    Short Note to Brett

    The Mizers launch was in Durban, the Sony office is in JHB. Sony flew down 2 of its staff to be at the launch. It was not the official launch, Sony will have that later in the year, The Mizers paid for the launch themselves, it was purely to rock out with their most dedicatd fans. The record company had no financial or marketing stake in that launch, in fact it probably will hurt the launch later that it happened. But they came down for it and supported it because it was their artists wish to launch to fans at that time.

    The last launch (admittedly, a while ago) I was at at Sony HQ jhb all the staff were given the afternoon off, a sit down lunch with the band and then joined the band for a media launch. They were not forced to do so, they were given the afternoon off and an option to join the lunch or go home. I don’t know what the percentage was, but there was a lot of staff there.

    Now I don’t really rate the Mizers as a top band yet, but you have to admire their enthusiasm and you have to admire Sony’s dedication to the band. And Sony’s dedication to other bands in the past.

    I can’t give you any other examples except for the fact that I have been to one or two KERAZY kwaito launches at one or two other companies.

    I hear you when you say that the singer-songwriter thing hasn’t broken in this country yet, and that Seed is small. But here’s a question, why was the launch scheduled at a time when 50% of the company would not be able to show support?

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  30. brand power says:

    Oh I am so loving this little discussion. Everyone likes to feel special. None more than inexperienced and ambitious folk musicians who measure the worth of their record company by the size of the entourage that it musters for their promotions. Anyone in marketing will tell you about strength in numbers and the power of bums on seats, especially if you need to hype the product. Besides, its not as if major labels are capable of keeping all those employees meaningfully occupied to the point that it can’t regularly give them the afternoon off. It’s a not so well kept secret that record companies have generally provided sheltered employment for socialites with little to no cultural or numerical acumen. The problem is that these munchkins need to get paid at the end of every month and the money needs to come from somewhere. Those who sign to Sony may do well to read the fine print in their contracts.

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