Black Major was started by Sevi Spanoudi in 2012, ex-manager of Freshly ground. From its outset the company sought to provide a multiplicity ofservices within the music industry,including events, branding, customer service and media.
“I always enjoyed the process of working through ideas, sounds, concepts and visual aesthetic,” said Spanoudi. “Black Major communicates strength and scale. It is a growing business, but it is also hard work and a hard industry to have stability in and do well financially out of. I love what I am doing and I am so inspired.”
Spanoudi has partnered with Aaron Peters to roll out a record label in the New Year. Peters comes from a Cape Town music background. His grandfather had a mixed race jazz club called Scruples in Athlone in the 70s and 80s, where Chick Corea and other luminaries came to jam after their shows in the city. Peters went on to study jazz, but chose music management instead of playing, cutting his teeth with the experimental instrumental band, ‘Bateleur.’
With a foundation in management, the Black Major record label will be “small, specialised, focused and engage multiple partners to give every release the best chance of success,” described Spanoudi, adding, “we benefit from partnerships and expansion of our networks both locally and internationally.”
Black Major will also expand into publishing in September 2018. They are preparing a new publishing model to incorporate technology and the marketing of the composers, “in order to serve the best interests of musicians,” as Spanoudi put it. The diverse services that Black Major provides are putting them in a unique position in an industry that is changing on a local and global level. The traditional model of performances to support sale of albums has been reversed by the internet.
For some artists social media and the monetisation of the fan-base (on average 5% of fans buy) has become a sustainable platform. These are some of the online resources that have provided for a “Do-it-yourself” music industry. Nick Matzukis of the Academy of Sound Engineering explained, “For the first time in history the artist doesn’t have to go through a label to get recordings to a consumer. The composer doesn’t have to go through a publisher to get compositions exposed. And the artist doesn’t even need a manager anymore. Everything can be done with the internet, including self-management and financing through crowd funding. The artist can set up their own label, or sign to a label from a position of strength. They are coming with knowledge, experience, achievement and income. And with success under their belt, they have bargaining power.”
With increased independence in the industry, major record labels have had to shift their businesses to “360 degree” representation in order to survive. This includes management, recording and publishing, allowing the label to administer the profits on artist copyrights and touring as well as album sales.
Although Black Major will provide the full bouquet of services of a 360 degree representation, they will do so in a way that is selective, and therefore very different.
A full service
Spanoudi explained: “The 360 degree model is problematic. I would never look into engaging one artist into all those services. Major labels have done so and it is a narrow focused approach. Our approach is to provide the services, but only pick and choose what is relevant for each artist we are working with. Every release is different and every artist development plan is unique.”
Black Major represent Cape Town band, Beatenberg which signed with Island Records in 2016. “Signing them to a major was a good move,” said Spanoudi. “They are capable of having a hit on a UK and US radio station because the writing is really good and the music has international appeal.”
Their work with Durban born DJ Lag has taken on a completely different trajectory. His music was released via WhatsApp. The database of cellphone numbers exists over and above the social media fanbase and can be used over and over again. They will be using it to promotevoting for DJ Lag at the upcoming SA DJ Awards.
Spanoudi explained: “We wanted to be focused, international, underground and immediate. His audience is very underground and cool kids. They all have cellphones, they don’t buy CDs and won’t necessarily go online to buy music.” Black Major handle the bookings in Africa for Cape Town born, Berlin based Alice Phoebe Lou, who has developed a strong following in Europe for her sensitive acoustic blues sound.
Lou said, “Over the last few years I have met the most incredible people. We all support each other very much and that is something that is appealing about Berlin. It is a bit of an anomaly like New York. It is a very free and inviting city for all aspects and attitudes to life. The community based music scene is lifting each other rather than being competitive.”
Lou will be backin South Africa in May 2018to launch her new album and tour the country. Her tour will provide a platform for many young artists to join her in both performance and organisation. She explained, “This industry in South Africa is often dominated by older white men who are sometimes very out of touch with the young people and what they are doing. It becomes a business model rather than a passion project. By organising the tour on our own we can make lower income tickets available. Not everyone can afford to pay for culture and they shouldn’t have to not be included just because of that. Music, politics and social issues can work together.”
Black Major is building a community of artists that share a similar headspace. They have collected together a unique mixture of live and electronic acts, with an emphasis on “artists who are doing things in a different and authentic ways,” explained Spanoudi. Bongeziwe Mabandla, BCUC, Card on Spokes and Christian Tiger Schoolare some of the exciting acts on their roster.
For Spanoudi the brand needs to respond to the demandsof the industry and as a result they put a lot of energy and hard-workinto it. She said, “A lot of the work we have been getting over the last year has been on the back of Black Major the brand rather than the artists we represent. Embracing and creating change is a core value. The challenge is to maintain structure and stability internally while growing the business.” Black Major is expanding their artist representation further into Africa with plans to co-produce events, generate visual content and experience new music scenes. Having always had a close relationship with the Igoda Festival circuit, Black Major is currently exploring a partnership with Sakifo Productions, the driving force behind the circuit.
“The idea is to represent international artists for shows on the continent. We can start it soon for Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean, but to do it for the whole continent we need to do a lot of homework,” explained Spanoudi. Other Black Major services include film content for documentaries with a music angle. They have produced ‘Future Sound of Mzansi,’ short artist films and the forthcoming documentary, ‘Global Bass’ directed by Chris Kets.
Theirevent production is transforming Woodstock in Cape Town into the new capital for live music and filling the void left by the closure of many venues in the city. They are launching a series of gigs in the New Year called “Under A” which will take place in the basement of their building in Albert Street Woodstock. This will add to their existing ‘Sunday Edition’ monthly event at the Old Biscuit Mill.