I am always intrigued with what it takes to achieve success in a highly competitive industry such as the music industry. I am over the moon for the opportunity to interview South Africa’s powerhouse musician, Can Skylark.
What skills/personal attributes are most important to being successful in the music industry?
To be successful in the music industry, you have to have perseverance. Talent will obviously work in your favor, but you have to know what it is that you want out of a career in the industry. It’s not all glitz and glam like everyone likes to believe. It’s serious hard work. It’s a tough industry to break into and will definitely leave you with more “no’s” than “yes’s” in the beginning. You have to have the mettle to prove yourself and the will to make yourself vulnerable. It’s my job to entertain an audience so I make sure that I give it my all. Also, you have to be authentic, because people have a way of seeing through superficiality. Other than that, I’d say stay true to yourself, and enjoy every minute of it.
What hurdles did you have to endure to achieve the success you are now having?
In South Africa, A&R agents are hard to come by over here. I think one of the hurdles and decisions I chose was to go independent. As tough as it is without the distribution deals and the high-priced marketing campaigns, being an independent artist allows me to focus on creating original music and having the freedom of expressing myself without being boxed in. It’s been a great journey for me so far, as it allowed my music to speak for itself and it’s paid off, as my sophomore album is a nominated one for a South African Music Award.
What do you like most/least?
I love that I can do what I enjoy most. The stage is my playground and I love the fact that I can entertain people and make them feel good. It’s a true experience and not many people can say that they’re able to touch lives of people through music. It’s such an intimate affair because you never know how a person feels when listening to your music, your lyrics and arrangements, or watching your show. I’m glad that my gift can inspire people and make them happy in a way that resonates with them and lift their mood. I don’t think there’s anything that I least like, because it’s all part of a learning experience for me. Okay maybe one thing – I do have to maintain my weight, exercise and watch what I eat, but it’s all a part of what I do. Sometimes I do have some chocolate though! Hahaha!
What is a typical day/week like for you?
There’s never such a thing as a typical day for me! I’m always busy! I take my dog Zuko, to day care, have something to eat, exercise, vocal training, show meetings, costume fittings, and then rehearsals. In between all of that you’ll find me in studio writing, recording and just working on my music. I get to bed pretty late at night, but it’s great because I know my day has been packed, so it’s always worth it.
What are typical mistakes people make when trying to pursue this career?
I think people have a misconception that your talent will get you everywhere. Truth be told, talent is merely just one part of it. There’s a whole other side to this career that people don’t see. It’s far less glamorous than being on stage when doing a show. It’s the business side of things. Meeting with producers, the late nights, coming up with new music, recording, training your voice, doing interviews, planning shows, managing the business, the finance, being the face of a brand. It’s a lot of hard work, and you always have to be ready for action. I think people should be aware of the business side of the music industry – doing your research, understanding your rights as an artist , know who you’re working with, trusting who you’re working with and knowing what you’re getting out for what you put in.
It’s common for musicians to be out of work for long periods of time. How can you supplement this time without work? How can you transition out of this period as quickly as possible?
Fortunately for me, I use quiet periods to write and plan my next move and create new music. I’m always busy with independent shows and it’s great because it fuels my passion for what I do, and allows me to push boundaries. On the side, I’d advise aspiring artists to dwell into other fields as well, which complement their music – be it modeling or a spokesperson for a brand, doing appearances over and above your music. I’m fortunate enough to perform at corporate gigs and festivals too. I’m also an advocate for causes close to my heart, so I’m often doing special appearances and taking the role as a custodian for good.
How do you get people to take you seriously as a musician?
You just have to keep on keeping on. Do what you do best and strive for those goals. I mentioned earlier that you have to remain true to yourself and be authentic and serious about what you do. People will undoubtedly notice your hard work and will give you due recognition for the work you put in, but you must put in the work. Yes, sometimes you have to go with the curve to remain relevant, but it will always come back to you as an artist for what it is that you do best. I love making music that connects with people and that means a lot to me too, so I always push original music. We have to create new music that suits the market and that allows people to resonate with; that’s the beauty of being a musician.
How you book shows?
I’m fortunate enough to have an amazing team who work with me to produce my original shows. I’m even more fortunate that every show I’ve produced has been sold out! I love that my team and I have a different vision of what a show entails, where we pull all the stops and create truly immersive experiences. It’s the whole nine yards with costume changes, staging and lighting, audio visuals, choreography and of course, amazing music. I guess people love being taken on a journey every time they come and see a Can Skylark show. It’s something my team and I have dubbed the “Can Skylark Experience”, because that’s truly what it is – it’s a multi-sensory experience and everyone enjoys being a part of it. It’s quite exhilarating.
Do men and women generally get the same opportunities and equal pay?
In terms of opportunity, I think it all depends on what the market/client wants. Shows vary based on the scale and intensity of the act, but it’s pretty much fair across the board between men and women. In South Africa, we have audiences who love tribute shows, others who love original music, and others who appreciate a bit of both. It also depends on your genre of music that you specialise in. If you’re a cross genre entertainer, it can work very well for you too. Just always pull yourself toward yourself and make sure that people remember you for who you are though – not a copy of Beyonce’ or Chris Brown, but an original.
If you had to do it all over again, would you still choose this career? Would you do anything differently?
I wouldn’t change anything. I love what I do and feel that I was made for this career. It’s my playground where I get to be myself and entertain. It takes a lot of introspection, reflection and confidence to be able to put yourself out there, but you learn very quickly to roll with the punches and give it everything you’ve got. Amidst the no’s when no radio station wants to playlist you, you quickly learn to grow a thick skin and push on – something’s got to give and people do recognise you for your resilience, passion and talent. I’m humbled and grateful for all the lessons learnt so far, and I’m enjoying every moment of it.
What personal advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue this career?
Do thorough homework. Know what you want, know that it takes a lot of hard work and persistence, and know what you want to give of yourself. You have to make yourself vulnerable, it’s unavoidable. People will love you and others won’t and that’s perfectly fine; just do you and remain authentic. Do your research on the radio stations you want to be playlisted on, know their listenership and music formats, know the DJs, producers, executives, etc. You can never fail by being in the know. Do due diligence on the industry and take the time out to learn the business side of what it entails. Most importantly, give it your all and be true to yourself. It’s the reason you’ve been blessed with the talent; so go out there and show them what you’re made of!
Thank you so much Can, for this very informative interview about your life in the music industry. I am sure my readers will get hugely inspired by your dedication and willingness to be the best at your craft. I am hoping you will continue to excel and be the very best!
To learn more about Can Skylark, please visit her website.