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19 Aug 2014 11:13
Abe Seema, making music pay
In the old days making music was both simpler and more difficult than it is right now.
internet and advancing technology allow remote cross-border musical
collaboration on a global scale like never before, and a recording studio in
any bedroom, music production’s very democratisation has made it difficult for
people to get their music heard in the crowd.
In the last
30 years music distribution has moved from vinyl and cassette to CDs, MP3s and
now online streaming. The pace of change has been swift and relentless.
also had a fundamental impact on the business of selling musical instruments.
It’s just about as easy to order a guitar from across the world as it is to
pick one up from a musical retail store such as TOMs in Braamfontein, a
decades-old business that has weathered competition, recessions and the
sweeping commercial reforms of the internet.
Seema, has seen it all.
From the shop’s early beginnings in downtown
Johannesburg’s Bree Street when flamboyant 1980s big-hair bands dominated the
charts to its current domicile in Braamfontein, an area itself in the throes of
transformation, TOMs has ben a major player in the musical instrument retail
space. There are also branches in Sandton, Durban and Bloemfontein.
Adapting to change
entered the music business as a result of an act of kindness – his own. He saw someone
struggling to pick up a heavy amplifier and offered to help. That person
offered him a job in a new Joburg music store and he’s never looked back. Seema
is now as much part of the South African musical bedrock as the brightest of
its musical stars – for three decades he’s been, you might say, instrumental in
philosophical about change.
internet has exposed consumers to a greater variety of musical goods and that’s
a good thing. But if you need something quickly, immediately, just walk in here
and you’ll walk out with it. There’s no wait. You can also compare things
directly,” he says.
are hugely tactile. You want to hear how they sound, but you also want to feel
how they play. How heavy is that guitar, how high is its action – does it feel
right and does it look good on you?”
the changing musical landscape has required the shop to employ people with
skills sets that simply didn’t exist three decades ago.
for example, used to be these huge keyboards that would occupy a great deal of
space on stage and in studios. Then they became rack-mounted in stackable
modules. Nowadays the most powerful synthesisers are just software – they live
in a computer box. Salespeople had to adapt their skills accordingly from
becoming hardware experts to software fundis,” says Seema.
instruments that have always been regarded as acoustic, such as drum kits, have
been given electronic overhauls. Electronic drum kits allow drummers to take
the same amount of hardware into the studio or on the road, but they can dial
in any number of electronic sound combinations, which gives them thousands of
drum kit permutations.
“And, says Seema,
“there’s a volume control so you can turn them down.”
most difficult time for the music instrument retail business was the 2008
recession, but the company rode out the storm.
“We did it
by being adaptable and that’s what we’re doing now, taking things like social
media in our stride and capitalizing on the opportunities that technology has
watches two youngsters walk into the shop Seema chuckles. “Three decades ago they
would have been able to afford a packet of guitar strings, maybe. Now with a
month’s savings they could buy the recording equipment that’s basically a
studio in a pocket and run it off their smartphones. You have to embrace
change, otherwise you’ll get left behind,” says the music retail veteran.
This article is part of a series sponsored by MTN Business. While the theme for the series has been agreed to by MTN Business, the articles have been independently sourced by the M&G’s supplement’s editorial team and MTN Business has not seen this article prior to publication. The other articles in the series can be found here.
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