Manu WorldStar breaks down navigating the music business
Navigating the music business has proven to be a mammoth task where many have come and gone without making an impact, whilst others get into it and relentlessly fight to stay in the game and make their mark. One artist who has continued to make impeccable strides in the game is Manu WorldStar. With every lesson learnt, the multi-talented platinum selling artist ensures that he uses those lessons to become bigger and better. Some of the painful but character-building lessons he has had to learn include learning how to navigate the business of the music industry so that he is able to sustain a music career on and off stage, build his credibility in the game and still make good money.
Stick to your lane or collaborate and grow?
The Nalingi hitmaker was recently criticized for contributing to diluting music genres as a result of his fusion style of music. However, Manu WorldStar boasts the ability to be placed with artists from any genre, and make a song audiences will love and anytime he fuses sounds, the quality of the music is rarely ever compromised. A perfect example of this would be Nakupenda ft Amapiano artists MFR Souls as well as Yiza Sambe ft Lungisa Xhambe, an RnB artist, both of which are incredible songs that the South African market can relate to.
Perhaps instead of wanting to monopolize genres, the industry and those who enjoy the by-products need to be open minded to the fusion of sounds considering how fast sounds travel in this day and age. Sticking to one genre can be limiting as sounds transcend over different markets, cultures and genres. Thus, is it better to stay in your line or reap the benefits of collaborating, exploring different sounds and growing as an artist? Music evolves with the people of that era, and what better way to do that than through collaborations. Furthermore, an artist that appeals to different markets, has better chances of growing and monetizing their brand and music- music business 101.
“I’ve always been one to mix genres. I started out in a choir when I was 11, singing. I’ve been rapping. I’ve been in the studio writing RnB records, writing country records and I’ve always been a collaborator. I’ve always loved different sounds. I’ve always called myself a fusion artist. That’s what happens when a genre is massive and Amapiano is massive.”
Dreams come true
Not too phased by social media standards and focused on achieving his goals Manu WorldStar looks to his brother for inspiration of dreams coming true. Having been raised by parents who are both church leaders and pastors, it is not surprising that they were against the idea of having their children pursue the creative industry for their careers, a field believed to have no money. Whilst this narrative is not farfetched as artists in the past were known to die poor, Manu WorldStar, his brother a renowned gospel singer in the States and sister who is a qualified chef, are set on living and fulfilling their dreams and making a success of their careers in the creative space. Another lesson for navigating the music business, know what you want to do and pursue it uncompromisingly so.
“My brother has always wanted to sing in the States. He’s always said it from when he was 16 and I was 12. He’d tell me that he wanted to sing at a church in the States, and he’s ambition is big and contagious. He just built his house in America. A young Congolese born South African citizen built a house in North Carolina- he’s doing his thing.
His career kicked off here when he was singing at Rhema Church and they were charting in South African gospel. One day he was singing at a conference and there were a couple of American guys who heard him and said they needed to take him back to the States to get training and learn. He was supposed to leave for a year which became 2, 3, 4 years to building his home there.
Dreams come true and he’s so close to me. I’m trying to do the same thing too but in a different space. The fact that he stuck to his guns and trusted God, said what he was going to do and he stuck to that? I admire that because I’m like that too- whatever I say, I want it to happen.
One thing about my brother and my younger sister is that we’re all doing what my parents thought we couldn’t do.”
Starting out Indie, signing to a label and then going Indie, again
Record labels are often criticized for “ripping artists off” however, their contribution to an artist’s growth is undeniable. The type of record label deal that one signs themselves up for lies on the premise that an artist does their research and knows what they are getting themselves into- which is often not the case in South Africa. New and upcoming artists just want to break out into the scene and make music and whilst the love for the craft is commendable, one has to be informed about the business side of the craft because passion alone does not put food on the table.
Manu WorldStar started out in a small team with Punchline Media and his true taste of success, came with signing to a deal with Vth Season and Sony Music- which is when 'Nalingi' came out. Under the label, he enjoyed support and access to the larger country which might have taken him longer to access if he was not signed, especially with a growing genre such as Afro pop, particularly in South Africa. Many were shocked by his decision to leave a label that has access to the entire world, however, music business lesson number 3 would be to know what you want to achieve and to make calculated, informed decisions that will get you there.
“I felt like it was time to be serious with myself and position as the artist that I feel like I deserve I need to be. My stint with Sony couldn’t go further because I felt like I wouldn’t grow out of that situation. It was a South African deal meaning that my music was only being marketed and sold in South Africa. I feel like my sound is too global for just a South African market.
I experienced a lot with Sony. First album was under them, first gold and platinum record. I’m nominated for best Afro pop album in the SAMAs this year. I felt like I need something else, something bigger that understands who I am and what I’m trying to do.
I felt like I needed to announce it to my fans because they’d ask me why my music wasn’t pushed enough. I felt I needed to switch the strategy for the next level of my career.”
The release of Choko, Manu’s second biggest record
Sticking to Manu WorldStar’s idea about working with a label, the release of Choko came with the high anticipation that Choko would break him out to a larger market outside of South Africa. However, Choko was released whilst WorldStar was under Sony in a deal that punted his music in South Africa only. Perhaps, if he was on an international deal, we’d be telling a different story.
— W.RLD (@Manu_WorldStar) July 23, 2020
“It’s bitter sweet, I feel like Choko is a way more advanced song than Nalingi. In my mind, I played it right, I’d just come off the run with Nalingi and I didn’t want to come out with another love record, I didn’t want to be known as that guy. I wanted to say something.
We felt like Choko was the record that was going to take me far, that after releasing that, no one was going to deny me. We released it and it didn’t do as well as it did. It’s not a failing record but having tasted the success of a big record, I started questioning whether Choko was that good.
Also, I went kasi to kasi, hood to hood to make sure that when it dropped, everyone was singing it. What Choko did, is exactly what Nalingi when I was performing it. I’m still trying to understand what I missed. So, after a lot of thinking, I just decided to try something different.
Surround yourself with people greater than you- Working with Gemini
Those who have worked with Gemini Major all tell the same story, that he takes his time with his work which can be frustrating for an artists who just wants to record and release almost immediately. However, every song that the music pundit touches become sheer excellence and becomes worth the wait. His relationship with Gemini in the past 2 years has not only taught Manu WorldStar to be patient with Gemini but to learn from people who doing better than you by surrounding yourself with them. WorldStar says Gemini is not only ambitious, but he is also a real one who will tell when a song is “wack,” something WorldStar says he needs at the point in his career.
“There’s a song on my debut album, called I choose you, Gem took a whole year to send me those vocals. He’s just known as that guy [chuckles]. He’s an operator. Full force. He’s a genius and we’ve grown super close in these past 2 years. I’m at his house almost all the time, making music. We have a whole project that we’re working on that we’re going to release together.
He’s just future focused. His sound is next level. He’s also in a space where he’s trying to take over the world too. Why I like working with him is because he’s real. He’ll tell you when something is wack or dope and that’s what I need right now, he’s that guy. I respect him.”
The Short Story
The Short Story is yet another collaboration between Gemini Major and Manu WorldStar. It is a fusion of Amapiano and Afro pop, a mix some have called “Afro-piano.” To Manu WorldStar’s previous point, Gemini Major hasn’t always been an Amapiano producer. However, because he understands the game and that sounds travel through time and eras, he keeps reinventing himself, a trait that has arguably contributed to the longevity of his career. Unless if the quality of the music is compromised, artists should be allowed to invent genre if they can.
“The Short Story was a build up to the joint project. I wasn’t meant to drop it because we had 3 other records that are crazy and I was meant to drop them first. The same day we recorded, I called Benza and he called Collin and we agreed that we had to drop. In the same month, we got everything together, shot the video and dropped it so that people know something is coming.
Gem did more of the producing the song and we bounced off the composing amongst each other with Camo. When a song writer and beat maker come together and produce, it’s magic. Gem and I are a perfect combination.”
In another single titled Life I got featuring an up and coming producer Amapiano produce, Hlonipho, Manu WorldStar touches on the complexities of life as an artist, especially through Covid-19.
“The song is nice balance of both of our styles. He’s a straight piano producer. The first time I met him, he pulled up to my house and he played me the beat. I just “freestyled,” I didn’t write nothing and I thought that was wack. He touched it up a bit and I thought the record was insane. It’s basically about what we’re going through right now. Especially as an artist, we sacrificed a lot to be doing what we’re still doing now.”
Being an artist in SA during Covid-19
Covid-19 has been difficult on everyone in every industry but it appears that artists in South Africa seem to have suffered the most. With very little to no solution from the government for artists and their survival in a time where they could not perform to make a living, their ability to expand in a way that does not deviate them from their career path was tested. Whilst others moped around, others left the industry, others maintained some form of sanity by using studio time as an outlet, others simply used the time to learn more about the game to better equip them to cope with these tough times but to also adapt to where the game is heading.
“It’s forced me to learn new skills. I’m doing things I didn’t know I’d have to do. Covid was a big factor in my decision to end my term with the label. It forced me to become a man quicker and it also let me know that life doesn’t stop no matter what- nobody cares. In life, you just need to do what you need to do, else you’ll sink. I also learnt that the government doesn’t have our back.”
Tonight I got to watch myself perform my latest single #Rent on #RhythmCity on @etv ????????????????????. DROP YOUR AFRICA EMOJIS ????????????GOD IS GOOD. New Music Loading...????????????????. pic.twitter.com/8rW85gW2rD— W.RLD (@Manu_WorldStar) May 22, 2020
The publishing mind
Covid-19 has emphasized the fact that long gone are the days when artists only performed on stage. Artists today are song writers, composers, performers for other artists and so much more. Something that has kept Manu WordStar going during Covid-19, is actively pursuing song writing, which through publishing, he has learnt how that avenue can become a solid income stream for him when he is not on stage or releasing his own music. Definitely not an avenue of instant gratification, however, with time, one can sustain a living from writing for other artists, another music business lesson- be open minded about your craft and study the game. Know that you need to register with music entities such as SAMRO, CAPASSO and SAMPRA which assist artists and song writers with ensuring that they get remunerated accordingly for the work they do.
“I leant about publishing pretty early because I always knew I had a talent of writing, and I didn’t just want to write for myself, I wanted to write for other artists. When I started actually writing for other artists a couple of years ago, I didn’t know how to monetize it because my credentials were low. Nobody wanted to pay me for a session.
Then, one of my boys said to me that I should look into publishing and if I write a couple of songs, in a year, I would get paid for all those songs, it’s actually not for free. It looks like it’s for free at that moment but it’s not, it compounds. The more records you write, the more records you have out at the same time and everyone is pushing the records with their camps, the more you make out of it. You get different splits for your contribution.
My song with DJ PH and Rouge was played at AFCON as a campaign song. The song I gave to PH was supposed to be my second single. I got paid a lot of money via publishing and I started living off of this- that’s how I started learning about publishing. Every song writing camp I do, comes with an NDA. That’s also a weird thing in SA because people don’t know about song writing in the global industry. That’s the ecosystem of how the artist survives.”
Song writing camps
Song writing camps have become a popular phenomenon in South Africa. This is a collaborative process where different artists, producers, beat makers and writers gather in studio to make music as per a brief of music that flows through them at that point in time. The creativity that flows is what enables artists to make music such as Afro Piano or just pushes each creative mind to explore different ideas, sounds or creative processes that sometimes require one to be imagine themselves as someone else.
I love songwriting camps because of the number of brains and creativity in the room. Sometimes we get a brief from the label that requires us to make as much music as we can. Then, we play fantasy and match maker and that is pairing artists depending on their voice or beat etc.
Or we can get a beat from the label that says ‘an artist wants to go to Limpopo for a couple of days. This is the brief and this is what they want to talk about.’ Sometimes they’ll ask me if I’m cool to work with producers I don’t know, sometimes I can bring producers I trust.
That’s a skill on its own because you can’t write as Manu WorldStar. That’s the only time I look out of myself. I never write for an artist until I have sat down with you. I need to know you first so before anything, we need to hang out and I use that ammo to create something.
It’s always an amazing feeling when you write for an artist and when they hear it, they say ‘that actually feels like me’ and that’s an avenue that can grow your streaming catalogue. You can be dropping your own record as Manu WorldStar, the same month artist A is dropping an that’s written by Many, artist B is dropping an artist that has a chorus written by Manu, artists C … it all adds up.”
What’s your publishing split?
A huge part of making music is making money from it. This can often end up in disagreements about the percentage each person should get. Having a mutual individual to make out what split each person should get one way of managing the process. Alternatively, having a representative such as a manager or team member can also make this easier in taking note of their artist’s contribution to the record, and negotiating for an equivalent split.
“I usually have a rep that does it if the rep, a manager or someone from my team is in the room with me, their job is to literally observe what’s going on. Song writing is anything from writing a full song to making a melody. No matter how big or small your contribution is, you deserve your split. That’s what the song writing game is about- how much can you contribute to another artist’s project.
You make money like you just dropped a whole album and you haven’t dropped a single thing.”
Collaborating is usually filled with fun, Manu WorldStar encourages one to stay focused and know that music is business- don’t get caught up in the sauce. Work on building a name for yourself,
“And although you’re having fun in the studio, stay focused because that’s your money. If you feel like you deserve 30% and your efforts are worth 30%, then that’s yours. You need to negotiate. You also need to prove yourself.
You have no hit record, you haven’t written for anyone who has a hit record, how do you prove it? You just need to get into studio and make the music. You have to be at the right places. That’s being in the industry. You don’t need to be loud about who you are writing for. The industry knows. If the industry knows, the industry will call you. I’m going to a writing camp in Cape Town. You just have to know that this is a game. You need to open up yourself and use your artistry to its full capacity.”