No quick path to success in music

Fred Zindi Music
Back in 1988, Oliver Mtukudzi was on the brink of giving up his music career after the release of his vinyl record, “Sugar Pie”.

The sales were rather poor at the time. We could not blame the poor sales on piracy because it did not exist at the time. I remember encouraging Tuku to persevere and assured him that with his golden voice, things will come right one day.

I do not know whether he listened to me or not, but he carried on. What happened to him thereafter is well-documented and his success story is well-known to everyone.

Tuku, with assistance from the Black Spirits, went into the rehearsal room on a daily basis and sweated from morning till evening. He then went into the recording studio and started churning one album after another. Those who had criticised him for the poor recording of “Sugar Pie” began to have a change of heart when they listened to the refreshing albums which came after. The Tuku Music classics such as “Ndega Zvangu”, “Paivepo”, “Bvuma-Tolerance”, “Vhunze Moto”, “Tsivo”, “Tsimba Itsoka” and “Dairai” became talk on everyone’s mouth. Year after year, a new album was out.

One could tell Oliver had sleepless nights. Even his manager at the time, Debbie Metcalfe, testified to his energy when asked how Oliver did it. She said, “It is due to his good song-writing and composition skills, hard work, energy and his great need to be successful.”

Since the 1990s Tuku has travelled all over the world plying his musical trade. Countries visited include Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, UK, US, Canada, The Netherlands, Kenya and Tanzania, to mention only a few.

His success story has seen him being awarded with many accolades including ZIMA, NAMA and Kora. In 2013, he became UNICEF’s regional Goodwill Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa. In the same year he was inducted into Afro-Pop Hall of Fame in New York. In 2014, he was honoured with a doctorate in ethnomusicology and choreography by the Great Zimbabwe University. It will take a whole book to mention all his achievements.

He is behind the construction of Pakare Paye Arts Centre which houses the Sam Mtukudzi Conference Centre, a music performance venue, overnight accommodation, a restaurant, a state-of-the-art music recording studio and rehearsal rooms.

That is success.

Oliver Mtukudzi’s story should be a lesson to all aspiring young Zimbabwean musicians. Jah Prayzah, although relatively young, is slowly following this path as he is churning one album after another on a yearly basis. He has also travelled to most of the places Tuku has been including Australia showcasing his act.

If you think that you are going to have a successful music career because you have been into a recording studio and some of your songs have been played on Star FM or Radio Zimbabwe, that is a good start, but you still have a long way to go. Some musicians also think that when their songs are on Jive Zimbabwe’s on-line platform or on iTunes and have videos on YouTube, then you are hitting towards success, but you are deeply mistaken. You need to do much more.

Most important of all is to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try new musical techniques, push your mixing and technical knowledge and do not be afraid to put in the extra hour or two on top of your normal work schedule. Musicians often sacrifice a lot of other things in life and dedicate themselves to the cause of musical creativity and self-promotion. Sometimes it can be tough but will often manifest in bringing you the edge that sets you apart from others.

I was talking to a soldier from Mozambique recently who asked me to encourage Jah Prayzah to do a concert in Tete Province or Chimoio because the soldiers there are crazy about him. I thought that the soldier will mention the songs these people are crazy about.

Instead he informed me that the reason why the military in Mozambique loves him is simply because when Jah Prayzah is on stage, he is in military uniform.

That might sound crazy, but it adds to the extra creativity on Jah’s part and brings in the edge that sets him apart from other artistes. It is small things like that which are part of self-promotion and which add to a successful musical career. Indeed Jah Prayzah and his 3rd Generation Band look more attractive on stage in their military outfits.

Getting “known” when there are thousands of other artistes in Zimbabwe striving for the same goal takes a lot of work and incredible persistence.

There are no exceptions . . . no special cases.

When I was a manager of a reggae band in the UK years ago, our duty was to establish a fan base of just 500 loyal supporters of the group. With each new release, we would ask those who wanted to attend our live concerts to pay half price if they brought the new release with them. This worked magically as sometimes we would sell 1000 records in one day when the 500 fans decided to also buy for their partners. Through this gimmick we entered the charts and our band became relatively successful.

If you are to succeed you need to build an awareness of your music, not just in a few places, but everywhere.

Whether you succeed or not always comes down to the marketing, networking and finding and connecting with the people that will love your music.

It is also crucial to keep in mind that there is no quick path to success! Of course, a few exceptions have been noted. In the early 1980s, I was on a plane to Jamaica with Carl Douglas who had just made the UK charts with “Kung-Fu Fighting”. He said that he had made a million dollars from his hit and was going to build himself a home in Jamaica, then retire.

He did this and we have not heard of him since then. That was instant success, but it is rare.

If you are willing to take the time to post your act on Facebook or Instagram, send e-mails to bloggers, music reviewers, radio hosts, distributors, labels, promotional services and management services, you can build a solid, long-lasting career.

The problem is, your time is limited, and to track down these thousands of people that can help you would take months, probably years. This is where the work of a manager becomes essential.

This is required in order to get the exposure and attention you need to take your plans to the next level. It can be done, there is no doubt about that, so re-double your effects, knuckle down and get productive. Success or failure really can be a matter of who works hardest.

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  • Masimba Musodza

    I think the same applies to all of the creative industries.

  • chinos

    With Tuku i think its more about perseverence, success does not come over night. He was always a superstar from the ghetto whom i felt was playing for the wrong crowd. It was Tuku Music which changed his fortunes but its not like prior to that his productions where poor, they were excellent. For some of us, before Tuku Music, Tuku was up there with the likes of Mukanya, Dembo and Chimbetu. I always felt he was a music maestro waiting to be discovered. Of course, the vacuum created by the absence of the above mentioned trio assisted in shifting more focus to him.