If you’re looking for band members, Meyer and Coetzee suggest joining Serenade or trawling Gumtree.
Being a musician is not always about what you know but who you know. Having connections that can get you a gig or a decent recording studio will always give you the upper hand. “People don’t realise how easy it is to meet the right kind of person,” said Coetzee. The best way is to have a hobby such as photography to get you in the door or just helping out as a stagehand at festivals. Coetzee says the next step is “To be open and walk up to people and say ‘Hey! This is me, this is what I do, can I send you a demo?’”
Another worthwhile option, according to Coetzee, is Tuks FM. “I went to work for Tuks FM in first year with the idea to get our song on the radio. That’s where the most opportunities are. You meet a lot of people in the music industry. I worked in the playlisting department and eventually I became friends with them.” Don’t just make friends with those in the music field though. “Any creative field can help you on your way. Make friends in graphic design or information design – you’re going to need a music video or cool photo somewhere. Even if you have a fashion design friend, it helps,” explained Meyer.
Getting your first gig can be really difficult. It’s risky for a venue to feature a new band as they very often don’t draw a big enough crowd to cover costs. There are some things to try before you give up though. “For shows, so many times we’ve walked up to bars and said ‘We’ll pay you! Let us play, please?’ You’ve got to really haul yourself out to places like, give them beers, tell them you’ll bring 50 friends to their venue and make sure: go to your friends and round up a rent-a-crowd,” said Coetzee.
Having a well-recorded demo is also a necessity as this will give venues a clear idea about whether your sound will be popular with their patrons. Meyer also suggests trying venues that are known for taking on small bands first, such as Café Barcelona.
If you still can’t get a gig, organise your own show in someone’s back garden. “One of our first shows as December Streets was in his [Tristan’s] garden. We just invited people over, set our amps up, gave out free stuff and tequila shots,” said Meyer, adding that they welcome small bands asking to open for their future shows.
If music isn’t your thing, perhaps words are. Kurt Schröder, co-founder of the former poetry movement Spoken Sessions and the recently launched Poetry 012 group, was without a stage to perform on just under two years ago.
To him, having your voice heard is as easy as standing up in a public area and performing. “Yesterday I performed a piece at a coffee shop for no reason. That’s why I love poetry because it doesn’t just stay here. I don’t just have to link people to a blog. It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s 100 of you? This is cool,’” said Schröder.
Although there are a limited number of poetry platforms, there are a few groups that welcome new poets. No Camp Chairs is a poetry group that hosts an event once a month to offer new poets a platform to showcase their work. The Penseed Poets, a popular group on campus, also hosts regular events. UP Arts hosts an annual poetry slam. Further afield is World and Sound, a Johannesburg-based movement setting the benchmark for poetry and performance.
Part of being successful as a poet is knowing what to write about. Although poetry is often a natural thing, Schröder feels that audiences at the moment are “looking for people who have an opinion. I think there is a trend among a lot of spoken-word poets and young poets to be really depressing and I say that with all due respect, knowing that I have some of the most depressing poems out there. There’s nothing wrong with being sad but let’s celebrate. I think audiences are looking for something lighter, something more perhaps jovial, perhaps satirical but also there is still definitely a strong demand for those people who are just there because they want their intellect to be challenged and they want to hear something incredibly profound but in a beautiful way.”
Using digital media is fast becoming a strong tool for sharing your work with others. UJ FM hosts a poetry hour every Sunday morning that invites artists to perform live.
You can also have your performances filmed professionally. These can reach audiences that aren’t able to physically see your recital, especially corporates
“It’s an exciting dynamic: to have spoken word but to see the artist themselves, not just to have a piece of paper that you read,” said Schröder. “The essence of my poetry is in its performance and if there are people very far away from a performance space where I’m performing that want to experience my poem, it has to be in audio and visual. I think that’s the way forward,” he added.
Getting your own digital CV of your art is now a possibility. Sound engineer Simon Strehler recently opened up South Africa’s first spoken word record label. Schröder feels that this is just in time as there is “room for a digital playground for poetry”, adding that, “The spoken word scene in South Africa is becoming a lot less underground and sort of stepping out and being like ‘Hey, we’re going to be part of the party.’”
Schröder says that many opportunities have been given to him through the network of people he’s met while being a part of the poetry scene. In order to form your own connections you need to “be at poetry events because that’s where people escape from their day jobs, where they are big CEOs or own a sound company. Some of the best poets I’ve met, that’s all been in those legit hanging out times at Sessions. It’s just part of the culture to be in a room, with so many different creeds and cultures that are all like, ‘Hey, we all love poetry, how do we help each other to do better at it?’” said Schröder.
Even though poetry is still a growing art form in Pretoria, there is an audience that is willing to support it. “I think that’s the nature of the community, that people who are in spoken word are there for words and they’re there for the people that perform them, not to favour one over another. It’s not about people’s egos and it’s not about pomp and flattery,” said Schröder.
Photos: Reinhard Nell and Ett Venter