Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…pt2

Berlin Part 2, Day -4:

This post is mostly part two of getting up to speed with what I have been doing musically to get ready for my second trip to Berlin. But quickly before that, I played a really great show at Openroom Productions last night. It was the first public show of my new setup (following my actual first show at a friend’s birthday party last week – and I will go into the setup in my next post) and while I was very nervous and tense and living in perpetual fear I think it all went very well. Darryl Torr had invited me to come play and his team had set up the place amazingly. They also filmed the show which I will hopefully be able to post here sometime soon. A bunch of my friends came through to watch, which was really awesome, and I got some great compliments and feedback. Phew!!! I imagine it will take twenty or thirty shows to fully relax into it but that’s what the next six months are be about.

Live at Openroom Productions – my inner turmoil hopefully not shining through. Thanks Colin for the pic!

But so, onto part two of Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before, in which I gain a couple insights and develop a couple opinions concerning the similarities and differences between being a little known singer-songwriter in South Africa and a completely unknown one in Berlin.

They go something like this…

1) As a musician coming out the slightly left-of-centre rock or folk world, the differences between trying to create a career for yourself in a country like South Africa (where mainstream rock music itself is a pretty niche concern) and a country like Germany (which is a cultural and economic centre of The West) is massive. You ask how could it happen that Rodrigues did not discover how popular he was in South Africa? Because that is how far away we are from everyone else in the rock music world. I don’t say this as a criticism or some cynical statement about the local music industry, it’s just a simple mixture of geography and cultural preferences – South Africa is a very big place and most people are into house music or jazz or gospel – but in general it means that….

2) Your expectations of what you can achieve in the local market need to be very realistic. A hit single on radio in South Africa, or even three or four, do not a salary make. So as hard as you work on your craft and as much as you hope for massive success or that someone will find you and make you famous in the world, at some point (if you really want to give it a shot) you will need to take yourself off to a place where your expectations can be matched by the possibilities that are on offer. That means saving enough spending cash for a lengthy stay and buying yourself an airplane ticket to some cultural centre (Berlin, London, New York, Seattle, Austin, Sydney, Toronto, Tokyo, wherever you choose). I know this sounds daunting and crazy but, as a pleasant surprise, when you get there you will discover that….

3) The people you meet there – the ones at the types of gigs you will be playing – the musicians, the punters, the club owners, are much like they are at home. Some of them are interesting, some are not, some are assholes, some are not, some are cooler or better than you at singing or playing guitar or writing songs, and some are not. Some of them will become your friends and some will not. Because it is not the people or the talent that is the difference, it is….

4a) The infrastructure and the environment that are so vastly different to what you have experienced at home. Two examples express this point best: First, in the quest for a handful of gigs I have compiled a list of 450 venues in Berlin. Some are arenas and some are dance clubs and some are strip joints but a lot of them are bars and small live music venues and I found all of them by either Googling ‘live music Berlin’ or asking people for suggestions. That’s 450 in one city. I have a couple smaller lists for small towns with five or six possible venues. And that is important to note because…

4b) It takes two hours to fly from Joburg to Cape Town and there is very little gigging opportunity in between. By travelling for the same time and distance from Berlin, in any direction, you can reach anywhere in Europe. And while on the one hand…

5) There are the are more musicians trying to make it (at all different levels – from people singing out of tune at an opening mic night, to hopefuls like me, to professional buskers, to small indie acts touring the continent months after months, to established acts with small but dedicated followings, to arena fillers like The Black Keys or Lana Del Rey and stadium fillers like Bruce Springsteen) there are also….

6) More venues, labels, managers, bookers, PR people, records stores, etc, etc, etc. And most importantly, there are….

7) More people going to watch live rock and folk music. There are open mic nights where an audience of twenty or thirty people will regularly show up to see performers they have never heard of. There are small bars, with stages and good in-house equipment, all over the place where small acts will play to a bunch of fans and interested regulars, and on and on all the way up to the top. But having said all this this, if you do decide to make the leap, the most valuable thing thing to take with you is the understanding that…

8) There is still no substitute for hard work over a good long time. Hard work and the ability to be honest with yourself about what, in the context of your priorities, is working for your career and what is not. Not even sublime talent will get you anywhere near as far (unless someone else is doing all that work and thinking for you). Only with the effort comes the lucky breaks. And even if you eventually decide to put the brakes on your search for the breaks at least you will have really given it your all and had an incredible adventure, for neither of which there can be no real shame or disappointment.

And that’s roughly what I started thinking while I was on my first Berlin mission and it informed a couple big decisions that I made before I left to come home. All that and more!! in part three…

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… pt.1

Before I head off to Berlin, I thought it would be cool to write a couple posts getting up to speed with what I have been doing for the past three months. In particular, this is with regards to some musical decisions I have made and why. While everything I put down here is based very much in my personal experience and is therefore admittedly, and unavoidably, one-sided, I do kind of hope that it will be of use to anyone back home who would like to test themselves artistically out in the big wide world. But such lofty aspirations aside, at the very least this should serve to put my next round of adventures, music and otherwise, into a bit of perspective.

So first up, a bit of background…

My original plan to go to Berlin came about as something of a present to myself. I had a little bit of cash in my bank account and decided to treat myself to a couple months in what sounded like the coolest city in the world. In August 2013 I booked my ticket to leave in April of 2014, with the eight month gap giving me the time to get together whatever practical items I might need – visas, courage, warm clothes, etc – and to save the rest of the money I needed. To start with, I didn’t have much intention of gigging, I just thought I would take my guitar with and play some open mic nights, but as time went on I realised that this sort of opportunity might not come around again in a hurry. So I started to do a bit of research (basically looking up live venues on Google or Facebook) and I sent out a few emails asking about the possibility of organising a show.  A ‘few’ emails ended up being around 200 from which I got twelve positive responses. (To my amusement, I later discovered that some of the venues I contacted were 4000/5000 capacity arenas).

After a week or two in Berlin, and with a few gigs under my belt, I already knew that I would be coming back. A lot. The scope of the European music industry – especially for the sort of slightly-left-of-centre hopeful like myself – is just vast compared to the opportunities back home.  I quickly realised that if I really want to give this music career thing a shot I am going to have to spend the best part of a couple years over there to see if anything takes.  By the time I left Berlin at the end of June, I had gained what I hoped were some valuable insights concerning the similarities and differences between being a little known singer-songwriter in South Africa and a completely unknown one in Berlin – and in the three months since coming home I have been hard at work trying to put some of these insights to good use in the hope that they will bear a little bit of fruit on my upcoming return.

And that is the end of part one of this post. The next two or three parts will be about what I discovered, the opinions that I formed, and what i decided to do about it all. Following that, the next next three months will be about how that all works out for me.

This is the general poster design I made for my first trip. For some specific gigs I changed the 'Berlin 2014' bit for the venue name and date.
This is the general poster design I made for my first trip.
(For specific gigs I changed the ‘Berlin 2014’ to the venue name, etc)

A quick intro.

Hi Everyone,

This is my new website. Woo hoo hoo! And here, by way of introduction, is, a quick introduction…

In a couple weeks time I will be heading back to Berlin for another three-month stint and I have been thinking about how I enjoyed writing about my last trip. It definitely makes a difference to you how you go about your daily thoughts and observations when you know you are going to write something later – even if I eventually stopped writing and posting during the last few weeks of my trip for the same reason.

Also, I was a little (and pleasantly) surprised to find that a few people outside of my mom and dad had been reading the posts I made on Facebook. In light of this, and having received some sound advice from my great pal (and online guru / third in line to the throne / master baker) Leanne Renken, I have made a blog site so that I can put all posts here along with general links to music, videos and other information. (On that note, to all of you who did mention to me over the past couple of months that you had read my posts or been following my adventures, and if even if you did not intend it that way, thank you for the encouragement!).

Also, even though I have not left yet, I will start writing anyway…because being in Joburg is just as awesome as being in Berlin. And to prove it, here is a video of a peacock I took this weekend in the street outside of my friends Nathan and Levinia’s building.

Coolio.

Gil