In this column, we share the stories of the professionals who work tirelessly to bring the artists we appreciate to our radios, TVs, and gadgets. For this piece, one of South Africa’s renowned artist managers, Tabisa Yeni, engaged us in an insightful and fascinating chat about her work thus far and the backend of artist management.
An artist manager is someone who oversees an artist’s day-to-day financial activities, works to get bookings and gigs, and coordinates the operations of the artist and the rest of the team members to develop the artist’s career. A competent and hardworking manager is the driving force behind every leading artist.
ABOUT TABISA YENI
Tabisa is a poet, artist manager, budding pastor, and brand ambassador with a University of Cambridge major in Marketing and a qualification in Travel and Tourism. She is a female Bastile (a blend of umXhosa and Zulu) who was born and bred in Durban and is now based in Cape Town or wherever her work takes her.
Her mother, brother, and sister were all talented singers, and she grew up in a musical family. She admits to not knowing how to sing, but “she can hear a musical note coming a mile away.” She enjoys producing, composing songs, and relishes seeing a song come together. She is fascinated by diverse languages and sounds.
While in school, she began writing poetry as a form of emotional escape and soon progressed to professional performances that brought in income. She has performed at both the Women in IT Awards and the All-Women Affair Awards, and her work has also been requested and submitted to prestigious organizations such as the Badilisha Poetry X-change and the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award.
What started as another vacation in Cape Town for Tabisa in 2018 ended up drawing her into what would become a full-fledged profession. She was asked to handle a road manager role by a friend, Moonchild Sanelly, on one of her project tours, and after successfully handling and ensuring things turned out well, she delved into road management and, later, artiste management.
In that same year, she was chosen as one of two artist managers to represent South Africa as a delegate at both the Primavera Festival in Barcelona, Spain, and the Modem Festival in Cannes, France.
Five years in, Tabisa has extended her network and become one of South Africa’s artist managers, discovering, creating, and modifying talents. She manages artists under the Episode Media Group brand and is currently in love with some South African exceptional artists, about whom she talked passionately about their sound and originality. Gigi Lamayne, Fele Mpini, Karyendasoul, Nana Atta, Lizwi, Young Stunna, and Mfana ka Gogo are some of the artists.
THE BEAUTY OF AUTHENTICITY
Tabisa works with a certain group of artists that have achieved their prime in South Africa and are looking to expand and enter the international market. She acknowledges that the African market is now in high demand for arts and culture as well as entertainment.
“Africa is in demand, its Africa’s time. It has been Africa’s time since 2018”.
Tabisa is clearly not a fan of African young men who traps about “money”, “hoes” and “cars”. She had a simple question for them: “Do you have money, cars, and hoes, or any of the other things you sing about?”
She explains that this stems from a desire to help African artists integrate into their own cultural sound rather than following the new age of rap, which will not help them stand out. “We need more dialogue,” she continues, “and that is why we have Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Kanye West.” She believes that their music reflects authentic conversations based on what they know and have experienced. Wizkid is another artist she says is true to the sound of where they originate from, which has led to a huge demand from people in Europe wanting to collaborate with him.
MODIFYING ARTISTES INTO SUPERSTARS
Tabisa notes that helping artists emerge into the international market entails teaching them how to keep in touch with their African roots and sound while avoiding replicating the American sound. When she decides to work with an artist, the first step she takes is to do a deep dive into their current brand, asks them a series of questions about who they are, the message they intend to pass across with their brand, what inspires their music, what they want to achieve, and then gets to work.
Work that includes training the artist on how to become an international sensation by refining their looks, musical content, lyrics, and so on in an effort to make it original and distinctive. Then, position them in a way that foreign artists and brands interested in collaborating with them will discover them.
She also helps these artists with developing and strengthening their brands beyond music by trying to assist them in establishing multiple streams of income while being relevant in their respective fields. She is a strong believer in the power of collaboration and building working ties with individuals from several professions.
Tabisa enjoys working with artists that create high-quality music and with those who she considers to show potential.
“It has to do with how they express themselves.”
She mentions that she embodies the craft that she seeks with an analytical, creative, and sound mind, which she attributes to growing up with a well-cultured mother who brought them as children to art galleries, theatres, and storytelling at night, all of which ignited her imaginations.
BUSINESS IN MUSIC; ARTIST HACKS
“Artistes needs to learn to be more business-oriented, to take business courses, hire entertainment lawyers, have a team of people who carry out different roles”.
Tabisa considers that most singers are comparable to soccer players in that they are inexperienced whenever it relates to financial aspects such as reviewing a full contract, payment structures, and making deals with major labels (record labels).
She likes indies (independent artists) because they earn 100% of the money they make and then employ the services of publishing companies, A&Rs, and managers, leading to a team However, she asserts that most artists are reluctant to operate without a major label deal because they fear they will not be able to produce a hit record without that.
She offered tips for anyone who believes so.
“In this day and age, being ignorant is a choice. There is internet and social media”.
Tabisa suggests that if you conduct extensive research, you should be capable of accomplishing all these things yourself or hire someone to do them for you without signing contracts that would constrain your creativity for years. She proposes being an indie and occasionally negotiating deals with majors for some stuff like album releases. Explore international opportunities or even contact her for more consultations and guidance.
On the issue of raising a team without finances, she suggests that if an artist does not have any funds, you can start by working with managers in your area. There can be an agreement that if they get bookings and deals, they get paid a certain percentage.
Tabisa emphasizes that artists should make effective use of social media, focus on their branding, expand their audience, and perfect and market their crafts.
“A solid brand will attract people that will most likely want to work with you. Once you have a solid brand and quality brand, you can attract Tabisa or a manager that believes in you.”
ADVISING UPCOMING ARTISTE MANAGERS
Tabisa observes that the music industry is a very tough environment. The mental and physical gymnastics required to survive and maybe thrive as an artist, and especially as a female manager, may necessitate some therapy.
One must be careful not to become too aggressive, she continues. Hard work, reliability, and trustworthiness must be your watchwords. Your entire team needs to be able to trust you to turn up at the show-out at important moments.
“You need to be an anchor, so you can’t be a groupie”
Tabisa points out that vetting artists involves choosing to work with artists that you really believe in. That way, even in the beginning, when there is not much of a budget available, it will be easier to spend some of your personal money on executing projects, all without expecting an immediate return on your investment.
Furthermore, she continued, one may incur costs from collaboration. A much-needed attempt to collaborate with other artists and expose your artist to other cultures, regions, and fanbases is a worthy goal that may cost you, but the manager may have to bear the burden and see the big picture of investing in the long-term goals of the team.
Learning from other managers, especially those who have more experience, reaching out and learning from their wealth of knowledge is necessary.
She continues that she does a lot of research off the internet, attends relevant conferences, consumes related articles, studies contracts, and has conversations with entertainment lawyers. These are a couple of things a manager could do to further educate themselves and learn how things work.
She rounds up by saying that as brutal as the industry can be, artists should attempt to remain organized, incorporate if they can, and operate with the utmost professionalism and not attempt to make the process as difficult for others as it was for them and most importantly, every agreement should be drafted and contracted, no matter how friendly the involved parties are.
Contracts are the stamp of any business transaction, and any agreement is null and void and can be easily circumvented or outrightly flouted without them.
“Japan, South Korea and China intrigues me as a creative.”
Tabisa goes on to say that she really believes in the power of collaboration. She is currently interested in the Asian markets. Japan, South Korea, and China.
She intends to get her artists to collaborate with those markets because she believes they have a lot of potential. She earmarks them for success soon and intends to go as far as writing K-pop music!
In the context of all of this, you should agree with us that Tabisa Yeni is a genius and a go-getter!