With over 40 years in the business, Benjy Mudie is a consultant and music industry stalwart with plenty of nuggets of wisdom to share, particularly when it comes to effective branding for artists. Recently, at FAME Week Africa, he spoke about branding, business and profits, providing insider advice for investing for success and prosperity. Here are some of the key insights that came from his inspirational address.
Although he was born in Scotland, Benjy says he has always had an overwhelming passion for South African music. He moved to Gauteng’s East Rand when he was a child and grew up with intentions of becoming a Catholic priest. That is, until he listened to his first pop record and his career ambitions did a complete 180!
“From there, I wanted to become a singer. I loved performing because it made me feel special and was proud when I started singing semi-professionally.”
Benjy joined a band called ‘Void’ but was fired shortly thereafter due to his ‘excessive showmanship’.
“Apparently, I made Rammstein look like a bubble-gum band!” he giggles.
Following this disappointment, Benjy took the opportunity to learn how to play bass, worked in a bar, and eventually joined a record company where his career really took off. Benjy has since held titles such as “Marketing Director” and “A&R Director” at respected companies like WEA Records/TUSK Music and Universal Music South Africa, playing a significant role in signing some of the country’s best-known bands and artists. He also orchestrated their skyrocket to fame through strategic branding and constant re-invention.
South African music duo, v, is just one example of Benjy’s branding success. Benjy talks about how the group came to be in the late 1980s when things in South Africa were looking pretty dire.
“The music business was experiencing problems, pop music had become somewhat boring, and the political situation was extremely intense. Regardless of the state of affairs, I got a call from a producer who had discovered two brothers from Soweto with a unique sound. I listened to some of their songs and was blown away. It was like listening to Wham!”
Benjy says he jumped at the chance to sign the pop duo, who were then known as the ‘Rantseli Brothers’, and started to work on moulding their image and brand.
“I knew we needed to change their name and we landed on ‘MarcAlex’. From there, we had to create a logo that would present them in a way that would capture both the black and white markets, which were still incredibly divided at the time. We put in the work and within a matter of months, they’d gone from guys with impressive ‘fros in tight jeans and t-shirts to MarcAlex,” Benjy muses.
MarcAlex released a song called ‘Quick Quick’ that every single South African, regardless of race, was crazy about.
“The album went platinum and ‘Quick Quick’ was at number one for 10 weeks. People still recognise it to this day – a strong testament to its value. With a true hit, you can hear it 33 years later and still bop along!”
MarcAlex went on to release both a second and a third album, with Benjy and their branding team constantly focused on re-invention to keep ahead of the curve.
“It’s always the case with pop music. Trends change, and as a brand manager, you have to always be one step ahead. Madonna is the perfect example of this. She stayed relevant throughout the 80s, 90s, and 00s, simply because her and her team weren’t afraid to transform with the times,” explains Benjy.
Another example of Benjy’s branding prowess is Jan Adriaan Hoogendyk, professionally known as ‘Elvis Blue’. Elvis Blue won season 6 of Idols South Africa and Benjy was tasked with boosting the fledgling artist’s music career thereafter.
“With Elvis Blue, we didn’t need to change much to transform him from a non-image to an image. He was so down-to-earth and so ‘rootsy’. He was for the people. More than anything, it was about picking the right song to match with his natural image.”
Benjy chose ‘Lighthouse’, which went double platinum and spurred Elvis Blue on to create a second album and tour across the country.
“He was a brand, and continues to be a brand, just by being himself.”
Benjy’s bottom line…
Ultimately, Benjy believes successful branding is hinged on having a passion for the music that the artist or band you’re promoting creates. You have to believe in them to make the brand itself believable and relatable.
“Furthermore, the song is ‘God’. If the song isn’t right, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend. It’s not going to work. Also, focus on keeping concept and creation simple, paying more attention to your core message and the people you want to reach. Do your research, look at what your competitors are doing, and do something different.”
Benjy also advises to build a team and to listen to what they have to say. However, he insists that brand managers do not hesitate to step up to take the lead and make the decisions, never forgetting to give credit where credit is due.
“As Bruce Springsteen wrote, ‘you can’t start a fire without a spark’. Brand managers need to be that spark that starts that fire!” he concludes.
Listen to the full discussion at FAME Week Africa here