As a “sensitive artistic type” I always get a bit nervous in music industry settings, taking to heart the conflicts expressed in Pink Floyds “Welcome to the machine”. However, when I get over myself, this sort of environment becomes a fascinating and challenging journey of learning and connecting, examining the edges of one’s own perspectives.

Well I overcame, discovered and connected earlier this week, at the 2010 Music Exchange, Cape Town, held at Cape Town’s Protea Hotel, and organised by Peter Lacey and Martin Myers.

Featuring some of the world’s most influential music business minds, the content was a great balance between tried and tested wisdom and the sharp end of progress, specifically regarding the online digital explosion.

Martin Myers and Sipho Hotstix Mabuse

From Major Mogul Charles Goldstuck, via Sipho Hotstix Mabuse’s enduring cultural eldership and SAMRO’s Nick Motsatse’s regal command of his domain, a solid foundation was laid. This lead through to Nokia’s own Led Zep frontman, Jake Larsen, Yoel Kenan’s “disruptive technologies” and Dave Duarte’s hi tech take on Facebook Ubuntu (“I store my knowledge in my friends”). Add to this the creative likes of Neo Muyanga, Macstanleys Andrew Macpherson, and music journalist Miles Keylock, the list of fascinating personages goes on and on.

In all, a broad picture started to emerge of what it takes to be involved in the Music industry in this time in South Africa. It was both global in its tone and local in its applicability.

The emotional high point was around the question of whether South African artists had much say in who gets to play on SA stages during June’s FIFA World Cup. The distinct feeling was that by and large, the all powerful footballing body was going to inject a largely non-South African artistic roster into the available musical prime time. I’m not sure any resolution ensued, but it provided a contrast to matters more, shall we say, fiduciary.

I visited Midem (The International Music Industry Fair held in Cannes) in 2005. “Back” then, one could be excused for being a year out of touch. MusicExchange 5 years on has shown me that this window has shrunk considerably. What seemed like an incontestable fact in December 2009 (that online payment portal PayPal was not available to South African Sellers) is now apparently no longer true – knowledge can very easily become redundant in a matter of months.

I was reminded yet again of Marshall McLuhan’s maxim

“Every extension of mankind, especially technological extensions, has the effect of amputating or modifying some other extension.” [Understanding Media]

While I am forced to engage it, I remain a techno-sceptic, holding the human vision of creative passion over the consumerist one. Music, to me, is much more a vocation than a business, and it’s a source of awkwardness, of “amputation” even, to be forced towards reducing your offering (such as that of The Sout Project) to its earning potential or coolness factor.

That said, I came away from The 2010 Music Exchange with a much heightened awareness of the context in which any creative content offered must operate. This awareness is a necessary counterbalance to what might otherwise be a creative path devoid of realworld application.