The business of managing a band or an entertainment career of sorts has never been easy. Even solo artists and performers are becoming brands of their own – the combination of creativity with business knowledge has become a vital mix to any young person entering into this sector. Be it from an acting, music, dancing - whatever the entertainment stage maybe – an all round acumen is needed early on when building a career in this industry.
The FirstStep.me team spoke with Cape Town based musician Gary Thomas about the challenges and skills that are needed to becoming a full time performance artist.
Was it always an ambition to turn into a full time career? It was initially a pipe dream until I looked into studying – I found people who pursued the normal corporate or popular jobs after completing their studies weren't always happy - so I decided to study music at University instead which gave me the grounding towards I would be happy about doing.
There seems to be a missing mindset in the industry which is that musicians and entertainers are actually businesses on their own. You have a track record of being, living and managing your own brand – what have you learnt in terms of business by managing yourself? It is hard work, which it should be. All the hundreds of people who told me "the music industry doesn't have any money especially in South Africa" were actually wrong. If you really want to be a musician, you have to travel cities, countries, the whole planet and put in the effort to find gigs along with gaining coverage. You have to tour.
Every big town/city has a live music scene, even if it's 1 venue and a lot of people like music so there is a need and appetite for your product. However if don’t expand and you won’t survive - if you try to play in one place forever - it is the concept of tour or die.
Do you have to make every performance count in terms of a return of investment? I seldom do free shows unless it is for a charity or some kind of minor/ major cause. I don’t like the word “exposure”. People like to come to my shows because I've spent 20 years developing a style and set of techniques that they appreciate. So every show must be a profit, why not – value yourself.
Would you change anything that you have done in the past or has everything been one big learning curve? You learn from your mistakes and often the only way to find out how a situation will go down is to actually do it. I'm pretty hard on myself, so my thought focus is based on the ideology that - I could of, should have and always can work harder.
What are the best ways of generating an income/capital as a musician – are sales and paid for events the only routes? Everything. Touring, playing shows that are door deals or fixed fees, selling albums, composing for scores and soundtracks. Doing it all helps.
What has been some of the coolest moments of your career so far? Opening for Fink in JHB and CT on his SA tour, touring Europe in 2012 and playing in loads of venues across 7 countries!
What advice do you have for any up starting individual entering into this industry? Practice, work hard and apply yourself to the field that you are pursuing.
About: Gary Thomas Tweets here @garythomasmusic