By Ashleigh Davids
If you aren’t already aware, Exilic Music formally introduced a range of music admin solutions to its catalogue in 2016. We believe that for every successful body of musical work, there is (or should be) a complimentary administrative and business strategy in place to ensure longevity and to very plainly, ensure that you aren’t just wasting your time and money booking studio time and recording songs year in, year out. Today we take a break from the music and profile an artist, producer and businessman who recently contributed to Music Exchange, an annual conference centered around the business of music.
Marvin Levendal is an Events Activation Specialist to the South African music and entertainment industry and the director of Mobcow Entertainment, and indie record label based in Cape Town. I initially met Marvin when I was a young 17 and very interested in hip hop music. Almost ten years later, let’s see what’s changed.
I met you when you were hosting rap battles with your hip hop outfit, Suburban Menace. What is your fondest memory from your early days as an artist?
Definitely our album launch. I know many people don’t know the stats about that night, so here it goes. On a Wednesday night in Kuils River we had a line running from the venue right into Voortrekker road. We cleared close to 400 covers at the door. Door takings including CD sales amounted to approximately R40 000. Takings at the bar was in excess of R60 000 and the cherry on top was that the energy level at the launch was so electrifying, the actually electricity shut down! Mind you this was in 2009.
Looking back, what would you have done differently? You were hosting events and creating and promoting your own music as well as the music of a couple of other artists. Any mistakes made?
The separation of business & friendship. These two usually go great together when the business is going well, but as soon as the business starts showing signs of cracks, the friendships become toxic. Always make sure you put things on paper with regards to your business activities, no matter how arbitrary it may seem. Save save save! Cash flow is king in any venture, it allows you the opportunity to pivot or switch gears so you not left behind.
Fast forward to 2016, am I correct to say that Mobcow has undergone a rebrand? What happened?
The evolution of the brand happened. As cliché’ as it is “adapt or die “. It was also important for the brand to grow into new spaces and not become stagnant in spaces it was successful in. I feel that many Cape Town based music/entertainment brands hold on to their former glory hoping to re-ignite it. I’ve always seen Mobcow as the brand that will kick down doors, break down barriers & overcome obstacles thus allowing the next generation to have better opportunities in new markets. Also if you can’t beat them, join them i.e. if we want to be seen as serious contenders in the entertainment space we need to follow some of the underlying principles of successful entertainment companies.
As an individual it looks like you’re extremely focused on the business, culture and innovation of music and art in South Africa. In layman terms, even though Mobcow is still a record label, it functions a little differently now. Am I correct in assuming that priorities have shifted? And that you are potentially working towards a place in the corporate world, if you do not believe that you have positioned yourself in it already?
You are correct, this was a conscious decision on my part as explained in the preceding question. Mobcow is primarily a record label and in the last 2 years the focus for the label business was to build stronger networks in the SA music scene, upgrading our studio and securing more experienced producers & engineers to assist in improving the overall quality of music being released by the label. In the interim we have released a couple of songs just to keep the music out there, but there will be a stronger push going into 2017, where the label focus will come back into the foreground. This hiatus has however allowed me the opportunity to network in the corporate space, securing a deal with the Transnet Foundation. Talks with various other corporates are currently ongoing and should bear fruits that will be beneficial to the entire Western Cape music scene.
We’ve been doing a series on South African music producers for a while, just because you’re wearing a business suit now doesn’t mean you’re disconnected from the music itself. How has your artistry matured with time?
As an artist it’s important to stay abreast of what’s happening in the industry as well as keeping your blade sharp. As a solo artist I will be releasing music under the “ Dans Moore “ brand, and have over the last 2 years recorded a plethora of new music which Mobcow is now readying for release. My outlook as an artist has not changed much over years, and is based on great music production, impactful lyrical content and quality presentation.
Any music we can anticipate before year end? Perhaps in early 2017?
Definitely watch the space from November onwards as I hear this will be when the official Mobcow music ball drops again, with a couple of extra bells and whistles.
Mobcow has been doing a few event activations of late, I’m particularly interested in the educational programs you’ve been running. Can you highlight how art has been instrumental in crafting these learning experiences? Perhaps mention some of your recent projects?
Mobcow has been fortunate to have been contracted by the Transnet Foundation as the sole service provider for their Teenage Health Boy Child Program in the Western Cape. We refer to it as the Mobcow Hip Hop Health Program where we utilize our experience & expertise in the Hip Hop space to formulate exercises, interaction, dialogue and presentation around leading a healthy lifestyle. This includes but is not limited to topics around, teenage sexuality, puberty, adolescence, medical male circumcision, physical fitness & nutrition, leadership & peer pressure. Because of our entertainment background we are also using this program to introduce our young boys to outlets to express their creativity, leadership and entrepreneurial skills. With the aim being the development of an arts based program focusing on artist development from a 360 degree perspective.
You didn’t start Mobcow alone. You were and are still surrounded by friends and community who journey with you professionally and personally. How has your circle changed with time and how do they influence you today?
Circle has definitely got smaller professionally, a good lesson I can take from this is that people should be business associates based on merit and not emotions. As an entrepreneur you realize more and more how your personal & businesses ambitions has to be closely aligned. As Proverbs 13:20 goes “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed “The influence by my current group of associates & friends are truly based on us all progressing professionally & personally. Coupled with this I have a few corporate mentors that gives me great advice around systematically growing Mobcow into a formidable brand in Cape Town and beyond.
Would you encourage people to enter into business with their friends? If not, why not? If so, why?
In the words of John D. Rockefeller “ it’s the ROC, diamonds in the air “ J kidding, he said “ A friendship built on business can be glorious, while a business built on friendship can be murder “ in essence meaning that just because you great friends doesn’t mean you can operate a business together. However I do feel that if clear terms & obligations are on black and white and all partners agree, it saves you a world of disappointment, contempt and suffering down the line.
If you had to think out loud for a second, where would you like to see the brand in five years?
At the forefront of entertainment innovation in South Africa.
In closing, what is the best and worst advice you have received concerning the music business?
The worst would be that you need to constantly put out music to stay relevant. I believe relevance is directly related to progression and music stays relevant if there was personal or business growth.
On the other end, the music business follows the same tenants that any other business follows. So make sure your basic business acumen is up to speed, implement those basics and the creative aspects will be much easier to maintain and improve.
How can our readers reach Mobcow?
Via our social media channels, our new website is currently in design phase so lookout for launch details soon.
Coming soon – www.mobcow.co.za
I’m sure Marvin has shared several nuggets you might take away from this short Q & A piece, but as a writer who has transitioned to business and still plans to release music on occasion, I’m definitely encouraged to remember that reinventing yourself or simply moving on to the next natural thing, is never a shame or risk-not-worth-taking. We wish Mobcow all the best for the future.