This month for our Label Spotlight, we connected with Charles Kuhn, Founder and CEO of Next Music in South Africa. For the past seven years, Next has been building its business as a music and entertainment company that helps develop local artists and distributes leading international labels in South Africa. Artists under its roster include Lark, ISO, TUKS, Colletts and more. (Check out our post on the latest South African highlights here!)
What is your favorite thing about running a record label?
I really enjoy managing the diversity of day to day activities within an independent environment. Ultimately, it’s all about the music and I feel privileged to have a career in an industry where my passion for the product has never relented. Being able to hear an artist or a performance which moves me, and to then be able to market and develop this talent into a creative and commercial success is a wonderful business challenge. Stimulating and rewarding, although financially much more complex these days.
What is your favorite way to discover new music (online, offline, live)?
Social media is where it’s at for me these days. It starts with picking up a buzz through Facebook or Twitter and digging up more information through the Internet. Of course, long-standing and new personal industry relationships keep me informed and updated. Never underestimate the value of people ahead of technology! I absolutely love my iPad and I am always connected. Nothing beats a great live performance and I try to catch important gigs and showcases.
Tell us about an album that you put out that taught you the most about running a record label.
The album that probably taught me the most about running a record label was Prisoner by the late South African Reggae superstar Lucky Dube.
We set new local industry standards with the marketing campaign, which featured well-orchestrated media including a TV teaser campaign playing on the album title with copy variations of “Prisoner to be released.” This was an innuendo around Nelson Mandela’s speculated release as Mandela was still imprisoned at the time. When the final elements of the marketing campaign broke, the market was really primed for the album release and we shipped double platinum (100,000 units in South Africa). Prisoner went on to sell over 500,000 units in South Africa and Lucky Dube’s international career got under way with touring and releases in many markets. The songs on the album were all hits, which was the ultimate acid test. We made memorable promo video clips. The A&R and recording process was challenging and managing the sales and distribution was exciting as there were a number of rights management issues at the time and lots of business affairs development.
What are your must listens for 2012?
Our new Next releases from Lark Gong is Struck and ISO Piece by Piece.
What piece of advice would you give other label owners?
Believe in yourself and follow your instincts. Build a strong core management team and create a great work environment. Empower staff and acknowledge achievements. Choose your business partners wisely and build on long-term relationships. Embrace technology. Respect your artists and be passionate about the music.
Where do you see the industry headed?
I feel that we will soon bottom out the J curve of the financial downturn and there are incredible new digital marketing and distribution platforms to enable labels to reach new markets for their artists and releases. If we can successfully negotiate fair compensation deals and excite consumers through digital stores and services, increased legal consumption of music must follow. Streaming services are gaining huge traction and the continued expansion of iTunes into more territories, particularly in Africa, is crucial to the development of these markets. Nothing replaces a great live performance and labels should find ways to get involved in performance revenue streams. In South Africa, long-overdue distribution of performance (Needletime) licensing income will soon become a crucial part of record label and artist income streams.