Technology has been transforming the creative industries for some time now, but it’s safe to say that this transformation was significantly accelerated when the COVID-19 pandemic dawned in South Africa in March 2020. How will technology continue to play a role – both good and bad – in shaping the industry for the future, and how can creatives prepare to embrace and capitalise on these changes? A panel of experts took to the stage at FAME Week Africa 2021 in October to share a wealth of insights and predictions.
Keeping art alive
There’s no denying that the world of theatre, music and the arts, in general, was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Suddenly, countless artists and creatives found themselves scrambling to find ways to continue sharing their craft with the world and, of course, making a decent living doing so.
“We all had to be innovative, recalibrate, and change direction without losing the essence of the craft in question, which was the real challenge,” comments Fahiem Stellenboom, Marketing Manager at the Baxter Theatre Centre.
Ultimately, it was about finding a means for survival until such a time when a sense of ‘normalcy’ returned. For many creatives involved in the theatre, live streaming just wasn’t a long-term option as it took away from the visceral nature of the experience of sitting down in a cool theatre and enjoying the sensory experience of watching a live show unfold before your eyes.
“Now, as we slowly get onto the road to recovery, I believe it’s worthwhile working across two channels. Streaming is a big component, but it will never be quite the same as being there to soak up art in person and truly keep it alive,” Fahiem adds.
Learning about and leveraging technology
For Manaileng Maphike, founder and attorney at Yateletata Services and Vice-Chair of Partnership and Development at Women in Music (WIM) South Africa, technology has been a lifesaver for the industry since COVID struck but highlights how, as with most things, it comes with its share of both good and bad.
“The magic word is ‘content’. The artists who rose up despite the challenges of COVID are those who used the time that they had and the technology available to them to adapt and evolve. Many of these savvy artists created strong cult followings in the process. There’s no point in resisting. We must evolve where and how technology is forcing us to,” she says.
“Technology helps you to get out there and maximise your reach. It’s a worldly platform but it inevitably comes with its own cons, like piracy, and, unfortunately, the industry has little support from the government to combat this right now.”
The rise of independent artists
Antos Stella, CEO and Majority Shareholder at Content Connect Africa agrees with the other panellists’ sentiments regarding technology and talks about the importance of streaming during these difficult times, stating how she believes it’s here to stay.
However, another trend that she’s noticed and a prediction that she makes for the future of the industry is the rise of independent artists – many of whom are making use of technology to catapult themselves into the spotlight.
“The future of the music, film, and TV industry is through independents. Talented individuals are no longer relying on labels to do it for them – they’re making it happen for themselves! It’s great to see more and more artists and creatives forming and nurturing their own brands and businesses.”
Policy poses a problem
Unfortunately, as more independents make their presence known, problems with existing policies within the industry are coming to the fore.
“Big artists and companies own the lion’s share of the streaming industry. For many newcomers, it’s practically impossible to earn money this way, making something like R0,04 per viewer. The revenue policy needs to change,” Antos comments.
Fahiem agrees, highlighting how all creatives need to mobilise and ensure that policy across the board within the sector is reviewed and made a priority.
“It’s time that we get the knowledge out there regarding the true depth of the industry and how many different talents operate within it, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes. Until then, it’s up to all creatives to diversify and wear many hats to create career sustainability. Start writing, start directing, tell stories, create narratives, and become your own marketer. Grab the opportunity to develop as a full-bodied creative.”
Mental health matters
For Lyall Ramsden, CEO at Phly Media, the sustainability of the industry and each individual’s career within the arts is hinged on maintaining mental health.
“Take those moments to focus on yourself – often, this is where new and promising creative ideas stem from. Use the time that you have to focus on creating and uncovering your other passions. Open yourself up to those positive energies and remain stubborn in your resilience,” he says.
“Rather than trying to change something that you can’t control or trying to predict what’s impossible to predict, focus on personal development and collaboration with other creatives, where you’ll all invest your time now to reap the rewards later. And, trust me, the rewards will come!”
Watch the full discussion from FAME Week Africa 2021 here