Bass guitarist, Musical Director, Composer, Arranger and record label owner are the multitude of hats Nkabinde wears from day to day. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Music, Nkabinde is passionate about music education, having worked as full time music teacher.
When he’s not touring the world, sharing his gift of music, the Soweto born composer makes it his mission to participate in music industry conferences and workshops. This is where he’s able to share the invaluable lessons he’s learned over the years about the music industry, more specifically the importance of music education.
We recently caught up with the talented musician during his busy schedule, to talk about his music career so far and all things related to the music business and the importance of music education in this ever evolving industry.
Q: Tell us a bit about your musical background.
A: Born and raised in Soweto, I grew up surrounded by music as both my immediate family and extended family were very musically inclined. The church also played a very crucial role in helping me develop an ear for improvised music. Picking up music was very organic for me.
I began to feel a strong pull towards spending more time with music when I was in matric. But it was a difficult time especially growing up in a society that didn’t believe that music was a viable career option. It was my passion for music, coupled with my youthful arrogance that made me want to explore this “pull”.
The only way I could canvas support for the pursuit of my passion was to take the path of tertiary music studies. So I went on to study towards a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies Degree at the University of KwaZulu Natal. The rest, as they say, is history.
The years of studying full-time exposed me to so many networks, local & international, that continue to enrich my musical career today.
Q: You have been in the industry for quite a while now, how has the journey been so far?
A: The journey so far has been a sobering one. Lots of ups and lots of downs, like life itself. There is nothing that would have given me more balance than living a life of being celebrated on big world stages and then coming home to deal with the day to day struggles of life. Being grounded is what helped me stay sane and consistent through both extremes.
I have also learned that the journey is not about music or the notes we play. There has to be a deeper purpose. Throughout our careers, we continue to fine-tune and even re-define that purpose.
Q: Do you think there’s still a need for artists to release full length albums in this day and age where sales of physical copies are declining?
A: Definitely yes. There is still room for and interest in physical sales, especially in Africa. It is important for us to pay attention to who is telling us that physical sales are on their way out. These are people who want to see physical sales disappear because that used to be their biggest cash-cow but not anymore due to:
-The growth of independent artists.
-Cheaper and more accessible technology (Studios, Printing and Pressing).
-Social Media opportunities
– Media embracing the Artist (“Underdog”) more and more.
This doesn’t suggest that the digital route should be overlooked. We actually have to keep our feet in both worlds as artists, in order to cater for a broader audience. There are still many music lovers who relish the experience of having a physical copy and listening to the story that a full length album has to offer. A story that involves sound, picture, texture, words and written stories they can read.
Now that CD stores are shutting down, our physical sales as independent artists are actually increasing. People can buy directly from an artist and get an autographed copy that can be delivered at their doorstep. We also deal with smaller CD stores as well as stores that may not necessarily be music stores as distribution outlets. That’s what it means to be creatively independent.
Q: How important is it for an artist to be able to play a musical instrument?
A: The best way to answer that question would be, if your general knowledge and experiences are broader, you stand a good chance of achieving depth in anything you do. So if you are, for example, a school teacher who is also tuned into youth culture, I am of the belief that you will teach young learners more effectively. If you are a singer and you can play piano, you will have an advantage of understanding harmony and pitch better. If you are a drummer who also plays guitar, your contribution to the music will be more than just that of rhythm.
The lesson here is to never stop learning and broadening your general knowledge of what happens in your area of interest.
Q: The music industry is evolving every day, how do you keep your brand and music relevant?
A: Staying connected to the youth and the energy they bring is very important. I try to ensure that my music speaks to a purpose and comes from a place of connectedness with the very people who will consume it. I also keep pushing myself towards embracing new technology.
Q: Why is it important for one to be equipped with music industry business knowledge?
A: Logically, it doesn’t make sense to claim that you are passionate about something, yet you do not know much about it. How do you expect to maximise a space you do not understand? We live in a period where most information is within reach, so there is no excuse.
Q: What made you decide to get involved in the space of music education?
A: I believe that it is engrained in us to give. Unless we give, something in us dies. It’s always amazing how much we receive when we choose to give.
When I think of how much I have learnt from established musicians when I was starting out, I can’t help but wonder how younger musicians of today learn. Yes they have access to the internet today, but having information on one hand and practical experience on the other are two different things.
We need to help young people strike a balance between exploring new methods/spaces and under-scoring that with practical experience.
It pains me to see musicians tirelessly working so hard but actually shooting in the dark because they have no knowledge of the most basic things when it comes to how the music industry works. We need to change that. The younger generation has newer challenges that we may not have experienced. So it makes sense that we empower them with all the tools they need in order for them to have the confidence to tackle today’s challenges.
Working with young people also injects me with new energy and it keeps me in the loop with newer trends and directions.
Q: A lot of artists today are finding collaboration with talents of a different genre more appealing, is this something you are looking at doing in the near future?
A: I would not say most artists are doing this. Many avoid it and stick to their comfort zones. The trend internationally is that of finding partnerships or collaborations with “unlikely” partners. Fortunately music can interact with any and everything. Yes this is something I have been exploring. To date I have collaborated with dancers, beatboxers, orchestras, solo performers, organisations and more. The possibilities are endless.
Q: What are your thoughts around putting together your own events instead of waiting for a booking?
A: Producing or organising our own events as artists IS THE FUTURE.
We have now been exposed to what it takes to organise and market an event. We now know what the expenses and profits can be. We also know how much we have historically been paid in relation to the profits made by the organisers. So we are exploring that space, starting with small gigs and building from there. Cassper Nyovest filling up the Dome might be an extreme example to quote, but his success has made an impact on how many artists think about themselves. It also gave a wakeup call to big traditional sponsors as to how the sponsorship game could be changing.
Q: What are the most important lessons learned in your early days in the mainstream music industry?
A: Lessons learnt are so many and they include:
-In the music industry things and people aren’t always what they seem. Hype is used to sell the product but be careful not to believe in your own hype.
-The best way to network, is not to look for people who can do something for you and your business. You will grow meaningful networks when you go out looking for people in whose lives and businesses you can contribute.
-If I want to remain relevant as a musician, hunger for general knowledge and information can be much more important than the daily practicing of musical scales.
Q: Lastly, what is the importance of being a SAMRO member?
A: SAMRO plays a very crucial role as an important link in the music industry’s value chain. SAMRO is our connection for collection of performance royalties both nationally and internationally.
It does not make sense that you would put your music out there but not be part of a system that is designed to collect your money from the usage of that music. Being a member of SAMRO has also taught me a lot with regards to how the broader South African music industry is structured and how it can work for me.