The business of music: a Nyce way to make money
Two entrepreneurs have designed a new way for performers to be paid
The two men behind an innovative shift in the business of making and selling music in SA have gained recognition for many things in the local music sector, but a love for attention is not one of them.
Between them, Kingsley Khumalo of Nyce Entertainment and Lindsey Arends of AMG World Media do business with some of SA’s biggest established and rising recording artists. These include rappers JR, Cassper Nyovest, Emtee and Gigi Lamayne, crooners Sands (of "Tigi Tigi" fame) and Afrotraction.
But the dislike that Khumalo and Arends have of the limelight has allowed them to orchestrate a change in the music industry’s models without attracting the attention that is often the lifeblood of the artists they work with.
They saw an opportunity to change how the local music business functioned and thought they could impart valuable knowledge to artists
The duo, who have a 16-year working and personal relationship, developed a model to put control of music careers in the hands of the artists. Khumalo takes pride in paying artists the proceeds from their album sales, and paying them on time, in the same way some conventional record bosses might enjoy buying champagne or jewellery. He has an artists & repertoire (A&R) executive’s knowledge of all his artists’ sales, though he is neither a major record label executive nor an A&R one in the traditional sense.
His and Arends’s sales of records are clocked with recording industry body Risa. This includes sales through traditional record stores, through an informal network of shops geographically close to their target audiences and as a part of concert ticket prices.
This distribution model is beneficial in two ways. First, the more records an artist sells, the more desirable they become for other potential buyers and event organisers. Second, when artists have cash in hand, they have the option of producing a high standard of subsidiary products and packaging, such as music videos, that further strengthen their individual brands as artists.
Born in Dundee, KwaZulu Natal, Arends was raised in Eastwood, Pietermaritzburg — a neighbourhood notorious for crime, drugs and gangsters. His parents’ sternness kept him and his two siblings in check and their love of choral music helped mould the young Arends’s voice and ear.
"Music has always been in my family," he says. "My grandmother had a choir, and my mom and all her siblings were also part of a family choir. When I was in high school four friends and I had an a cappella group called B Proud. We sang at school events and community shows and entered every singing competition we could."
B Proud later became the trio Ashaan. The three singers became R&B boy-band pin-up heartthrobs, sharing stages with international acts and releasing two albums — She’s Got My Heart and Let da Games Begin. But, as Arends says: "We were broke by the fourth year and had nothing to show for [our efforts]."
That was when the Khumalo-Arends music business relationship solidified. Arends went into music production and Khumalo’s leadership and guidance helped him along. In the years that followed, Arends would co-produce two genre-defining kwaito albums: Mandoza’s chart-topping Ngalabesi (2006) and Pitch Black Afro’s Zonke Bonke (2009). But despite their chart success, both Pitch Black Afro and Mandoza suffered financial woes.
Khumalo and Arends saw a dire situation that needed urgent business solutions. They also saw an opportunity to change how the local music business functioned, and thought they could impart valuable knowledge to artists.
"The SA industry hadn’t changed much over a 30-year period," says Arends. "We saw a chance to reshape formulas that were conducive to the changes the industry was going through. With technology taking over and in a time of digital space and music piracy, we saw fit to tailor-make solutions that would allow for growth and independence."
When rapper Nyovest was at the very beginning of a career that today has its sights set on selling out Johannesburg Stadium, Khumalo and Arends presented their business model to him. The model, which Khumalo and Arends have replicated for other artists after Nyovest, including Emtee and Lamayne, works, and is shaking up an industry constantly facing the spectre of piracy.
What has helped Nyovest establish a record label with a strong merchandise arm and an artist roster that includes some of the most exciting upcoming acts in rap and R&B, alongside his own two double platinum albums, has been self-reliance and savvy decision making.
Khumalo has a passion for working with independent artists and giving them the most and best information available. He speaks with conviction, but not loudly, between drags on a cigarette that is smoked to the stub just as soon as he’s lit it. He surrounds the space around him with a sense of purposefulness.
Education must continue
But Arends and Khumalo can go only so far in their roles as managers and distributors. "We haven’t really hit our target in what we are doing," says Arends, "so our focus is still on growing individually, but also to continue educating, making artists aware of the difference between what we and the competition do. Only then is change really possible."
With music piracy eating into the music industry pie locally and internationally, innovative business models are needed to help artists continue to generate revenue and keep food on the tables of the people who rely on jobs that are generated downstream.
Nyce Entertainment and AMG World Media present the beginnings of what could become the generally accepted model for the local music business — but only if it is developed further and the two personalities behind it come out of hiding.