Released in November 2019, the Shottaz Vibes Up EP is a 4 track Afro Dancehall project with one main agenda, ‘Raise the vibes’. Whether you at a party, in your car, working out, in isolation during this Covid 19 situation or when you are feeling low and just need something to lift your energy a little bit, I guarantee the Shottaz have at least one song on this EP that will suit perfectly.
The project has received rave reviews by fans and critics with the second track Chimbambaira, which features fellow Zimbabwean dancehall sensation Nutty O, proving to be the one of the more popular tracks. It also features production by Zimbabwe born UK based Jusa Riddims, Paul Hauss from Germany, another Zimbabwean producer Kutso and Beats By Big H.
Vibes Up tracklist
- Keep on dancing (Kutso Productions)
- Chimbambaira ft. Nutty O (Jusa Riddims)
- Ale and whiskey (Beats By Big H)
- Lose control (Paul Hauss)
The lead single “Keep on dancing” has a music video that is out now. The video for Chimbambaira will also be premiered 19/06/2020. Both available on YouTube, alternatively you can view them and more on our music videos page.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m back for the umpteenth time. You would be forgiven for wondering if this is yet another fleeting run of posts before I go silent for another spell, but heck it feels great to be writing again. It’s been an interesting year with many highs and numerous lows, but all in all it’s been crazy good. In case you haven’t been keeping tabs, this year we’ve released a few tunes, hosted a couple of cool events, and are gearing up for what will be our biggest release to date. To kick off our 2nd half release schedule, I’m super stoked to share a sneak release with you all.
From rapper to toaster, growth is a must
Anyone that knows me well, knows that I started my music career as a rapper. From my very first recording, and through the Yung Shottaz era, I mostly rapped and would only utilise my dancehall toast from time to time. As time progressed, and as I continued to spar with the one like Hlats, I rapped less to focus on aligning my sound with the bro and uplifting my hook capabilities. This has resulted in a lot of people being surprised when they hear me rapping. Quite often, I often get hit with “you’re not so bad at rapping you know, have thought of taking it seriously?”. My response to this is a wry laugh, knowing that rapping is my default position. I like to compare myself to that Zimbabwean born kid that moves to a foreign country at a young age, picks up a foreign accent, and when he/she visits back home people marvel that the person can still speak the local language fluently. All this to say, I feel at home when rapping on a beat.
Hold up, I’m done yet we’re just getting started
This brings me to our sneak release, “I’m Done”. This is the first time I recorded a rap verse in years. (Sidenote: I was recently featured on Skinni’s hip hop tune “Murderers”, but we had already finished working on “I’m Done” by then). The weird thing about this tune is that Hlats came through with the demo, it’s weird because he’s the hardcore dancehall specialist in our crew so him jumping on a hip hop beat is just different. I remember hearing the demo and getting immediately drawn in by the concept. We recorded the song at a time in my life when I was going through a lot of personal turmoil. I had just got out of my most serious relationship, and I was in the process of mending some long standing differences with my family so you can imagine how emotionally stretched I was. At time, I was battling serious depression and extremely low levels of self esteem, all of which is very evident when you listen to my verse. I have stated to many people that creating music is a therapeutic process for me, and some of my best work has been created at tumultuous times in my life. My verse was practically a freestyle as I poured my heart into the tune.
“I’m Done” is available on all streaming platforms. Listen to the song on your favourite music service. Watch this space for more sneak releases in the near future.
Back for round two & twice as nice. SB.Shottaz return to the Dub Den to continue their quest into the sub-realms of Jamaican Bass. Two MC’s, Max & Hlats of The Shottaz, alongside Sandy Bay’s own, Ed G, in the mix.
Greetings to all! If you’re reading this post, I trust you made it safely through the festive period and are geared up for a colossal 2019 like me. I can’t start this post without acknowledging the monster year that was 2018. For the Shottaz, last year was significant because we made some significant strides and laid a solid foundation for this year and beyond. On a personal level, I was able to seamlessly navigate a change in environment, moving from Auckland to Melbourne, and managed to make a few minor improvements in my life. That said, I’m never one to make a big deal about the festive season. Growing up in a devout Pentecostal christian family, Christmas was always a big deal in our household. However, my parents made it a point not to buy into the commercial side of the holiday, i.e. we never did gifts etc. My parents wanted to keep their focus on Christ, who’s birthday is being celebrated on the day. I took this into my adult life, and though I utilize the opportunity to catch up with friends and family, Christmas gradually became just another day to me. New Year’s Eve on the other hand is my kind of holiday, simply because I like a good party and NYE generally has the best events. What I never did get into, though, is the idea of setting resolutions for each incoming year. That was until a few years ago when I realized a point I had been missing all along.
A timely reminder to reevaluate things in life
The main reason I shunned the practice of setting resolutions was that I saw them as a waste of time. We all know the drill, December 31st arrives, you set a bunch of resolutions you intend to implement in the coming year, and start with a hiss and a roar. Less than a month into the year all those grand changes will have already fallen to the wayside, I’ve seen it time and again. I was of the thinking that you don’t need a special day set by society to implement changes in your life. I would argue with mates that when a person is ready to make changes in their life things will run their course naturally, why wait for the end of a year to make improvements in your life? Whilst this is very true, I was missing a certain point. New year isn’t necessarily a time when people HAVE to set resolutions, rather a good opportunity to evaluate where things are at in one’s life. Think of it as a reminder in your calendar to perform a certain task, in this case that task is self evaluation.
Bite sized changes – The art of not doing too much
When I finally decided to start participating in the practice of setting resolutions, I made an age old error. In the first year I set myself close to 10 extremely lofty goals that never got off the ground. It was immediately clear to me that I had bitten off much more than I could chew and I paid the price. I found it very demoralising to see every single resolution I set for myself that year end in epic failure. Lucky for me, I did not let that deter me from setting resolutions the following year. When I set my resolutions for that year, I decided to take on much less and made sure my expectations were not as grandiose. Unsurprisingly, that year was much better when it came to following through on the things I had given myself to work on. I realised that there was still much room for improvement, and have continued to simplify my resolutions each year until I found my sweet spot. I found that breaking down my resolutions into small achievable goals was the best approach for me, and have suggested the same to people i have had this conversation with since then.
Looking forward to 2019, and beyond
Given the huge year we have just seen off, I am anticipating a much bigger year in 2019. From a Shottaz perspective, we have quite a few big things on the horizon from big tunes to massive shows. It’s really encouraging that we achieved most of the big goals we set for ourselves last year. I’m excited when looking forward to the next phase of our journey. We have a number of amazing collaborations lined up, and we keep exploring different sounds that you can look forward to hearing this year. With regards to our live performances, we have started upgrading our live set by adding a few elements that we haven’t utilised as of yet. I can confidently say things are really looking up for us on the music side of things. Before I sign off, I just want to acknowledge everyone that has taken the time to engage with my posts on a weekly basis. I have witnessed a slow and steady growth in readership and that’s beyond humbling. I wish you all the very best in 2019, I hope you achieve all your goals.
As the year that is 2018 comes to a close, I personally have a lot to reflect on. From starting a new chapter in a different environment, to continuing on a musical path that was set 2 years prior, it has been an action packed year to say the least. Like any other year, it had its highs, lows, ups, downs, and everything in between. I can safely say that I have learned a lot, over the last 12 months, that I will be implementing in both my personal and professional life moving forward. Most importantly, though, I am grateful to have another solid 12 months in the bag and I’m extremely hopeful when looking forward to the next 365 day block that is twenty nineteen. In this post, I will look back at the year gone by and identify some key moments that helped shape the journey. I will also highlight some key learnings that can be taken away and applied in many other scenarios. Before I press on, I would like to acknowledge the few people that actually engage with this blog, I can’t express how much I appreciate you taking the time to read my musings. And to the very few that have gone the extra mile by giving me feedback and providing assistance when needed, you are the absolute best. I can literally go on, but I must proceed with the task on hand.
Fast Start – Setting the Pace
This year (2018) started off with a hiss and a roar for the Shottaz. We quite literally hit the ground running, getting active on the Melbourne scene from the moment I arrived. I have to credit Hlats, who moved this side a year prior to me making the leap, for planting the necessary seeds to ensure we had a great starting point. Our first Melbourne gig as the Shottaz was only a week after I arrived, and it was a big one. Another element that contributed to the great opening stanza of 2018 was the release of our debut single. Working with a superbly talented production crew for the music video, we were able to start creating a solid foundation in our adopted home. At this point I feel I should point out that we had a completely different plan for the first quarter of this year, though we missed the mark rather spectacularly. In deviating from the plan, we ended up in a better position because we were forced to take a step back and properly analyse a lot of things before acting. This resulted in us planting much stronger roots, though only time will attest to their true strength, which should prove to be beneficial to us further down the road.
Making Gains – Growth Can Be Strenuous
As we navigate our new environment, we have been confronted with a few uncomfortable truths. One of these so called truths is the fact that when you change your scene like we did, it is important to remember that you are starting from square one. I came to Melbourne with a chip on my shoulder having experienced a great 2017 in Auckland. Add that to the fact that we as the Shottaz have been doing what we do for over a decade now, I thought we would easily navigate through the scene this side. What I was quickly reminded is that people don’t care about your past achievements when getting acquainted to what you do. In a new environment, you have to win every ear, which is quite a challenging proposition. This realisation forced me to reevaluate my approach when spreading the Shottaz gospel, making me more effective when selling our brand. On the bright side, the connections that were made in 2018 alone have doubled our network, which leaves us in a great position. We’ve been able to meet a few “champions”, who have been consistently working to put us on great platforms. This has allowed us to access certain avenues that would normally be closed to us. Apart from the aforementioned reality check and network growth, this year has been great for us on the musical front. We have been able to polish our sound and find another creative gear in the process. I can guarantee that the music will be flowing hard and fast in twenty nineteen as a result, exciting times ahead.
Without an ounce of doubt, I can proclaim this year gone as a raging success. From a musical perspective, we have made some great strides towards our ultimate goals. We managed to release 3 official singles, and 4 music videos. We’ve connected with more amazing professionals the world over, increasing our confidence as we proceed down our path. Can’t forget playing on some amazing stages and platforms that belie our newcomer status on the Melbourne scene. Most importantly though, we have thoroughly enjoyed the process. In the learnings box, we now know that at times we need to exercise a higher level of restraint than we are accustomed to. We have also been reminded about the importance of tapping into our network when possible, I discussed this to an extent in my last post. Above all, we have seen the importance on having a solid plan and sticking to it as much as possible. I have to say, there was much more to the year that has been twenty eighteen, but I have to leave it here.
Even though there will be one more post before the new year, I would like to wish you all a blessed holiday season. Stay safe out there, and please make sure you have a blast.
Growing up, my mother used to always use the well known phrase “No man is an island” and from early on I grasped the essence of this statement. In life, we sometimes fall into a trap of trying to take on too much without seeking assistance. Unfortunately for me, I am not an exception when it comes to this drawback. I call it a drawback because anytime you find yourself trying to bite of more than you can chew, especially when there are people that can assist, pride is most certainly at play. Last week I wrote about the necessity of wearing multiple hats as an independent artist, and I feel I must stress that we only do that due to a lack of options. However, if there are people that can help do some heavy lifting, or can give you access to people that are able to help, it is imperative that you make use of these connections. I often get intrigued when someone comes to me complaining about being burnt out as a result of having too much on their plate, and yet the stress can easily be alleviated if they tap into their personal network. In the music world, the term networking is tossed around with reckless abandon, and at times people assume they have made a solid connection by virtue of just meeting someone that can help them in one way or the other. However there is more to the concept of networking, allow me to explore this notion.
Feed the Beast – Nurturing the Relationship
Like any relationship, I have found it very important to invest a significant amount of time in strengthening connections I have made in the music industry. It requires genuine effort to consolidate links to ensure they can be utilised further down the road. I feel I must put emphasis on the word GENUINE, because it shouldn’t be about you using the other party to gain yourself an advantage. Instead, it is an exercise of give and take which sees you investing in the other party in equal measure. What this does is create a true bond with a person, which may even go beyond a professional capacity. Over the years I have met amazing individuals who I connected with on a musical level, and a personal relationship has developed as we’ve grown together. Developing these strong bonds with said connections has created other opportunities, a result of trust that will have been built over time. New opportunities also come out of the other party genuinely wanting to see you succeed.
Connecting the dots
Having a solid network of individuals that you can tap into is one thing, but making the network function effectively is another proposition altogether. Having a clear picture of the various members in your network, and their respective capabilities, will allow you to get the best outcomes. One thing I often do when I meet new people is make a mental note of what they have in their arsenal that could be utilised in my own pursuits, be it in music or otherwise. I will usually have a clear idea of where a person fits in the greater scheme of things after the first 2 or 3 encounters. The next thing I make note of is how I can be of service to that person. This goes beyond what I myself can do for that individual, at times I have met people that could benefit from linking with other people within my network. This circles back to the idea of give and take that I highlighted early on. I can’t stress enough how important it is to add value where you can because it’s part of what makes any relationship meaningful. Once a strong network is in place, it becomes an exercise of calling on the right people at the right time.
No Man Stands Alone – An Important Truth
Like my beloved mother used to always say, no man is an island because indeed we need others to provide assistance regardless of the endeavour. As an independent musician, I have needed others to open doors that I didn’t know even existed. One thing for sure is that I wouldn’t be sitting here sharing yarns about my experience as an independent artist, if I hadn’t built myself a functional network. A piece of advice I always give younger artists is to put themselves out there. You don’t build a network by being the awkward guy hiding in a corner when in unfamiliar settings, and you most definitely don’t build vibes with people by leaving certain events early. A few times I have discouraged younger acts from leaving a gig soon after they get off stage, because there is value in working a crowd after being on stage, especially when you’re still new on the scene. I often remind them that you never know who’s in that crowd, and that alone should be enough to keep them around for a reasonable amount of time. This notion is true in different scenarios, not just the music business, so regardless who you are I encourage you to seriously review your networks and identify ways to improve your connections with people in those networks. Your success depends on it.
It’s been a crazy few weeks for me hence the radio silence on this blog. It’s been pretty challenging for me to stay on top of things, because we’ve been on the grind, working on some exciting content. I had an in-depth conversation with one of my peers recently, and he highlighted something that never really occurred to me until that point. We were having a conversation about having to wear multiple hats when you’re an independent artist. It’s crazy how we take for granted the fact that we cover a ridiculous amount of ground, usually single handedly. Often, you find yourself having to do various unrelated tasks during the course of a day. My day can involve emailing various stakeholders, writing/recording music, drafting and developing content ideas etc. Many times I find myself doing tasks that I’m not very strong at, like shooting/editing video footage and drafting proposals, which would normally be handled by professionals in a label setting. I would love to be able to hire professionals to handle things like video editing, but unfortunately their services don’t come cheap. I have tried approaching students to utilise their skills etc but I’m yet to find someone willing to develop our content without any significant compensation. That said the main takeaway from the conversation with my friend was that sometimes it is important to look at the glaring positives in such situations.
Developing different skills
What I have realised is that I have been forced to learn a few things that I otherwise would never be exposed to. I always try to avoid being a jack of all trades, because that takes away from the things that I’m truly passionate for. That said, being in a position where I have been practically forced into picking up new skills has actually been beneficial. With regards to video editing, I have found it easier to communicate what I need from production teams when we have worked on our music videos, this is because I have a working knowledge of the process. It has made the process of filming the videos so much easier. I have learnt a lot of the lingo used in the filmmaking world and that helps when communicating with the directors/production teams. The same can be said when looking at the process of writing proposals. Even though I thoroughly hated writing proposal documents when we started this journey, I have developed a healthy appreciation for the process. This is actually a transferable skill which can be applied in many different situations and it is something great to have in the arsenal.
Don’t stop learning
Something that I have done recently is push really hard to expand my knowledge base on all fronts. From a music perspective, I have found myself in various studios with vastly different engineers controlling the sessions. What this has afforded me is the opportunity to observe their workflows and see what works well and can be incorporated in our own process. It has also allowed me to ask questions regarding concepts that I’m not fully comfortable with. I have seen some remarkable improvements in some of the tunes we have worked on recently. When we shot our last music video, Body/Full Up, I was a pest to the production team asking a million questions without flinching. I remember the director of photography (DOP) saying at one point that he was going to start giving me false answers because he was now fearing for his job. Let me get it on record that I am very happy being a musician and have very little passion for filmmaking, so the DOP can breathe easy. That said, I learnt a lot during that video shoot which I have implemented in my process when editing some of the new visual content which is in production.
Making it work
Picking up different skills out of necessity is one thing, but implementing them correctly is another beast altogether. I can’t tell you the amount of practice material I have worked on in the process of honing these new skills. The reason I take great care when breaking new ground is because the whole point of picking up the skills is to further an agenda. In my case I want to push the Shottaz brand as far as possible, but different people will have their own unique reasons. The last thing I ever want to do is spend countless hours creating content that misses the mark because it is poorly executed.
Last week I posted about what it takes to be considered as being elite at whatever you do. My case study was a bunch of NZ/Aus artists that are currently operating at a very high level. One of these artists is a really good friend of mine who just started a high profile trans-tasman tour and I was blessed enough to tag along on his many engagements here in Melbourne. What I observed was, though it’s a difficult journey to get to the peak of one’s game, it takes twice as much effort to stay on top for an extended period of time. At some point during the last week, I found myself doing the tasks that a tour manager would be responsible for. I took it upon myself to ensure that my bro made it to his engagements in a timely manner. You may recall, I touched on the fact that staying on schedule is extremely difficult the busier the day gets, and I conceded that being late is unavoidable in such situations. I was wrong about that. What I realised is that once a certain level of success is reached, there is need for additional human resources to ensure things stay on point. I can proudly say that the few days I road managed the bro, he met all his engagements in a timely manner, and it was down to me being firm with regards to keeping time. Apart from learning a few lessons about being optimally resourced, I also observed a few things that are essential when grinding at a high level.
Let’s make a plan – and stick to it
I have written a couple of posts about being prepared in various aspects of music life. One thing that stood out for me over the last week is how meticulous you have to be when setting out the steps required to achieve your vision. As the Shottaz, we have a very detailed strategy that matches our broad vision, and to realise this vision we broke down the strategy into smart goals with bite sized steps. It was quite gratifying to see that my fellow muso and his team have the same structure in place, albeit they are much further into their journey. Having a solid plan meant that the bro’s day was broken down into specific tasks, or engagements, that he needed to tick off as he went about his business. Having a solid plan is extremely important, but I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to stick to that plan. Once it becomes a habit to make a working plan which you refer to on a daily basis, it becomes mandatory to follow the plan as closely as possible.
Mind your company – Surround yourself with winners
Spending time with like minded individuals got me so motivated that I found myself making some crazy strides in less than a week. I have been developing a few content ideas over the last couple of months. In the last week, though, I have made some ridiculously big strides which have been fuelled by the inspiration I received from the aforementioned individuals. It’s an added benefit being able to tap into the people around you for different skills and capabilities that you may not have. I have been in situations where I have surrounded myself with people that have priorities different to mine, and I have often found it twice as hard to stay on task. Because the company you keep has an influence on how you use your time, if they don’t see the value in your grind chances are high that they won’t fuel your passion. I can’t stress enough the importance of surrounding yourself with people that inspire and motivate you. I highly recommend that everyone constantly reviews their circle to ensure you have the right people around you.
Best foot forward
On Wednesday, I found myself in the middle of the biggest cypher I have participated in, EVER. We were at a hip hop show and my mate was headlining the session. After his set, he opened up the mic to any MCs in the room and got the DJ to run instrumentals. What he probably didn’t anticipate was the fact that pretty much every man and his dog in that room was a rapper. We had a cypher circle of about 8 or 9 MCs, maybe more and the fire just kept blazing until it was time for the venue to shut down. After the session we kicked it with some of the rappers that graced the mic, and I had a great conversation with one of them that resonated. After acknowledging the young MC’s abilities we got to chatting about where he’s at in his career. He expressed some frustrations about the level of competitiveness in the hip hop scene, and also the fact that it’s twice as difficult to gain any traction without industry connections. The one thing I picked up in the young homie’s rant was the amount of passion he has for the music, and his freestyles were dope too. We agreed that the industry can be frustrating but the least we can do is put our best foot forward in any endeavour we make. It may be a daunting path, but putting one’s absolute best effort will ensure we leave the right impression everywhere we go.
For my loyal readers, all two of you, check out our latest releases below:
If you have been following this blog over the last few weeks you’ll have read about our busy schedule recently. I have really enjoyed pushing the music to new listeners, and it’s been a blast gigging every week. Most importantly, I have learned a lot of crucial lessons which place me and my compadre in good stead looking into the future. This weekend was meant to be the last gig weekend this year and I was looking forward to having a bit of time on my hands to work on some exciting new content. A friend of mine used to love quoting the phrase “God laughs when we make plans”, and this week I realised the truth in that sentiment. I have had one of the most eye opening weeks on the musical front, and it is solely down to surrounding myself with like minded individuals. While the week has been exciting, it has also been very taxing on the mind and body. I can safely say that I have a greater appreciation of what is required, in terms of commitment, to be able to reach the goals that we have set for ourselves as the Shottaz. I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the experiences I encountered over the last few days.
Hectic Schedule – Staying In Control
A good friend of mine who’s a top tier hip-hop artist in the NZ/Aus region is currently on tour, and his touring party was in Melbourne prepping for their kick-off show which is happening tonight. I linked up with the bro pretty much from the moment he landed this side and have been shadowing him as he goes about his business. Having never been on a high profile tour quite like this one, I never really appreciated how demanding a touring artist’s schedule can be. Each day has become an endless blur of media engagements, rehearsals, and recording sessions. Probably the most frustrating thing for me is the fact that we always seemed to be running late for everything. People who know me well will attest to the fact that I hate being late, it makes me extremely anxious. My team know that whenever we’re on the clock, I will push everyone to be on time and usually get frustrated when others don’t keep time. It’s a pet peeve of sorts. What quickly became apparent was the fact that it’s practically impossible to stay on time when following such a packed schedule. Another thing that immediately stood out is that the bro maintained a cool head throughout his engagements. When we were running behind schedule, he kept communicating with his management to ensure they stayed on top of everything. As unnatural as it is for me to stay composed in pressure situations, I realise that it is absolutely critical to keep calm in such situations.
Relentless Drive – Keep The Pedal To The Metal
Hanging out with elite artists has been great for me from a learning perspective. Just conversing with these individuals lit a fire in me that will be impossible to quench. One common trait between all these artists was difficult to ignore. There’s a certain drive that comes with operating at the limit of one’s potential, and it was immediately clear that each artist on my mate’s tour has that drive. The amount of time each individual has put into their craft over the years is ridiculous, and to this day you can see that there is still lots in each artist’s tank. Dare I say it, these cats still have a level or 2 they can elevate to, which is saying a lot given their current standing in the game. Being in such a space gave me a shot in the arm and I now have more confidence that the Shottaz are on the right path in developing our craft. I know for a fact that my bro Hlats has the same amount of drive as I do, and I can confidently say that we have the same drive as the artists I spent time with this week. As we keep making our moves, I now have a clear picture of where we can end up if we stay true to our grind.
The Pursuit Of Excellence
Whilst I was shadowing my bro this week, I was picking his brain on specific aspects of his career. I must say, my friend has had a great run over the last few years, and that is mostly down to his attitude. He has mastered his artistry and his artist ego is fully reflected in the music he is making. He has this self belief that no one can take away from him, which sets him apart from most artists that I rub shoulders with regularly. Don’t get me wrong, all the artists that I spend time with are super dope, but this dude’s “in-booth arrogance” is on another level. What I’m referring to when I speak of in-booth arrogance, is this belief that whenever he gets into a recording booth he is the best at what he does. This is evident in the music that comes out of each session I have seen him participate in since I’ve known him. This week, I tagged along to one of his studio sessions and the outcome was nothing but quality. The man banged out 4 big demos in less than 5 hours, which is huge. In my opinion, of the 4 demos at least 2 of them are going to be hit songs. We spoke at length about this confidence he has when making music and he put it down to his hunger for excellence. He only wants to be viewed as the best by people who observe him and I must say that the brother is fast approaching that level if he hasn’t achieved it already. My takeaway from this? Once you commit to doing something the only standard to accept from oneself should be excellence and nothing less.
Over the past month or so, I have used this blog as an outlet to express my views on creating music and it has been quite an interesting ride. On one hand, I have been forced to look at my musical journey from an objective perspective, which has been confronting at times. On the flip side, I have had a blast writing these posts on a weekly basis and have seriously considered increasing my output. Those of you that have followed this blog since its resurgence will know that I was initially posting twice a week, but that has since reduced to a solitary post each week. The reason behind reducing the frequency was initially because time was not my best friend. Things have slowed down recently, though, and I have found myself with more time on my hands as the few projects we were working on have hit autopilot. I told myself that once I have a little more time on my hands I would increase the number of weekly posts, and yet here I am floundering to get this week’s post sorted in time. The problem? Well I have encountered every writer’s nightmare, a lack of ideas. Writer’s Block!
The Greatest Curse – Musically Speaking
Today as I sat in front of my blank computer screen, pondering what I will write about this week, I found myself getting restless. Normally, I have numerous topics to discuss before I even sit down to start writing. By the time I do get into the writing process, I have several fully developed topics to get into, allowing me to focus on articulating these thoughts as best as I can. Today was different though. I sat down and stared at my laptop for what felt like an eternity, and nothing came. As I was getting ready to give up, and possibly miss out on this week’s post it occurred to me that I have dealt with this issue before. As a musician, I have seen this demon enough times that i am compelled to call it an old friend. Well, given that I am not fond of this phenomenon, maybe I should call it an old foe instead. From the early days in my music career, I dealt with writer’s block to varying degrees. There are times I was unable to come up with any inspiration, sometimes I would come up with a great melody but fail to put the right lyrics in place, and in other instances I would have dope lyrics but no melody or energy to complement them. What remains constant in all the aforementioned scenarios was the inability to create music that would make it out of my writing space. After all these years, I haven’t found a way around writer’s block. It’s one of those things that I have just learned to accept. Nowadays, when I encounter writer’s block when making music, it becomes an exercise of patience, because I find myself getting increasingly frustrated if I try force the issue. I give thanks that nowadays the bouts of writer’s block, when creating music, are few and far between (touch wood).
Deadlines Looming – Getting A Move On
When making music, I have come to the conclusion that writer’s block is usually just an annoyance if anything. As the Shottaz, we have been lucky enough to be independent for our whole career, which means we get to move at our own pace. Having never been signed to any deals whatsoever, we have always had the luxury of time in our corner. We’ve never had to chase any deadlines, which has allowed us to go through barren writing patches without any serious repercussions. With regards to this blog though, I found myself responding to writer’s block in a different fashion. One of my major goals with this blog is to achieve a level of consistency, in terms of timing and quality of my posts. Given that consistency is a big factor in what I’m trying to achieve, I don’t have the luxury of time to get over things like writer’s block. Because I aim to post every Friday morning, I have a clear deadline of when I need to have each post completed. Whilst I have been able to turn in each post on time, this morning I found myself panicking as my deadline was fast approaching with me not having an idea of what I was even going to write about. Needless to say, the pressure got extremely intense before I struck gold with this topic. I now know that I will have to find ways around writer’s block in a blogging context given the need to meet specific deadlines. What I hope to get out of it all, are strategies of getting around writer’s block that can be transferred to the music sphere.
Time Management – An Invaluable Tool
One thing that did strike me when I was struggling to come up with today’s post is the fact that I set myself up to fail. Because I normally find it easy to come up with a topic, and subsequently flesh it out, I have been quite complacent with regards to working on my blog. I will go through the week without doing any structured planning for the week’s post, and just wing it on the day. During this slow moment in the music grind, I have found myself indulging in activities that don’t contribute to any of my exploits. This inability to use my time wisely has led me to the very situation I found myself in today. I therefore concede that I need to block out time each day to work on various aspects of my music, including this blog. My hope is that I will eventually become more efficient when developing this content, which will improve the blog in terms of quality and consistency.
Recently I had the pleasure of catching up with a bunch of kiwis at a mate’s birthday party. It’s crazy how simple things like using certain slang words and phrases without having to explain yourself can be quite gratifying. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable evening. What made it more interesting was the fact that a number of people in attendance were somehow involved in the music industry. I got to chat with some pretty established musicians, which allowed me to gain some insights that will be implemented in our future endeavours. I left this party with elevated confidence levels and that is saying a lot given the couple of weeks that lie ahead. One conversation in particular really resonated with me and I decided to use it as the basis of this post. At some point during the party I found myself on the mic entertaining the few people in attendance. After this impromptu performance I had a chat with one of the industry peeps in the building and he complimented my breath control on the mic. We went on to have a conversation about the art of vocal performance which was quite intriguing. What stayed with me from the entire exchange, though, was the topic of breath control and how that is a big part of performing live and yet I never have to think about it, at least not anymore.
Practice makes perfect – The rinse and repeat method
I keep circling back to this post, which I wrote earlier in the year about the importance of rehearsing. It’s important to note that this concept is the first step to the equation, i.e. to be good at anything you need to prepare adequately. With regards to something as subtle as breath control, it goes deeper than having regular rehearsals. For those of you not familiar with the concept, what I’m talking about is having the ability to enunciate lyrics clearly without muffling words as a result of taking a breath. I must say, when we have our highly energetic sets, I find myself running out of breath at times but this is a result of me being grossly unfit. The ability to control one’s breath comes from an intimate knowledge of the lyrics and countless repetitions, which is achieved by going beyond rehearsals. When getting ready to perform new songs live, I obsess over my lyrics and will recite my verses repeatedly for days on end. This sets markers in my mind as to which gaps in each verse are suitable for me to come up for air. By the time we get to rehearsals, I am usually very comfortable delivering my verses and hooks that we get to focus on more important things like chemistry and song/set arrangements.
Experience is Key – Tapping into the memory bank
Even though I wholeheartedly believe in relentless practice when gearing up for live performances, there are some intangibles that come with time. Having performed on various stages throughout my career, I have learnt a few tricks that come in handy when on stage. I once had a heated debate with a fellow musician about live performances. He was of the belief that an artist need not rush into doing live performances, rather they rehearse relentlessly until they are solid at performing before they start booking gigs. I couldn’t disagree more. I feel there’s only one way to get really good at performing live, and that’s by performing live constantly. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve bombed on stage, check this post about a recent occasion I stunk up the joint. Each performance I have done from the beginning of time is saved in my memory bank, and I reference these past performances whenever I hit the stage. There are simple tricks that I picked up over the years that allow me to breathe easier when on stage. A good example is skipping unnecessary words like conjunctions, or lyrics that don’t necessary contribute to the narrative, can give a performer time to catch a breath. This is easier when you are in a crew, or if you perform with a hype man, as your co-performer can fill in the blanks if necessary. That said, most tricks can only be applied once the performer is fully dialled into their lyrics.
Making it memorable – A bit of flair never hurts
Breath control is a very subtle aspect to live performances, but once it is mastered it can open a world of possibilities. There are a whole range of bits and pieces that can then be incorporated into the show to make it more interesting. I didn’t intend to make this post part of a series, but I think I will cover other elements of live performing in future posts so watch this space.
Last weekend kicked off a busy little period for the Shottaz. We have a few gigs lined up every weekend for the next month, and we have a big double release just around the corner. What this means is that we have been working hard for the last 2 months to ensure we are well prepared for all this activity. We have had our now customary weekly rehearsals, countless meetings, and a lot of communication with key stakeholders. When things get crazy busy in a specific moment in time, it’s also guaranteed that things can get increasingly overwhelming, especially when you have a small team to manage things. The weekend gone is definitely not an exception. We had back to back gigs that were fairly big for us at this stage in our career. The first gig was an opening slot, supporting 3 influential Zimbabwean artists. It was a decent event which saw us performing in front of an interesting crowd, more on that later. Our next set was at one of the longest standing reggae/dancehall events in Melbourne, if not Australia. Both gigs went relatively well, but there are some lessons to be learned from each event which have no doubt been saved in the memory banks for future performances.
Starting from the bottom – Paying the dues
I’ve had conversations with fellow musicians about our established/successful peers in the industry. One concept we often throw around is that our fellow peers have paid their dues and are now reaping the rewards of their hard work. I’ve found myself throwing that concept around without really paying attention to what it really means. That said, when you really look at it, most people that find success in our industry will have to walk a similar path before achieving any level of success. Part of this lonely, thankless journey is playing opening slots to sober, apprehensive crowds. Believe it or not, having played many sets like this in the Yung Shottaz days, I had completely forgotten what it was like. Playing opening slots requires specific preparation, both in the lead up and on the day of the gig.
Leading up to the gig, it is essential to acquaint the audience with your music, assuming that they are not already familiar with your sound. Let’s face it, the fact that you’re on the bill as an opening act, not a headliner, means most people in that audience will not be familiar with your music. With that in mind, it’s a must to relentlessly plug your music to people that may attend the gig. This is something we took for granted leading up to our gig. We didn’t share any of our videos on the gig’s Facebook event page, we didn’t even approach any of the Zimbabwean radio shows in Melbourne for exposure. All we did was share the event to people in OUR network, and I must say chances were never high that many people in our network were going to attend this gig.
On the day of the gig, it’s important to engage the audience before you even go on stage. Talking to the people that are in the crowd before you hit the stage, especially if it’s a small crowd, will help them tune into your set when you do perform. When on stage, it’s also very important to read the audience and deliver your music based on the vibes created by the crowd. For us, we had an attentive crowd but they were static. We kept our energy up throughout our set, but the crowd did not buy into our set as much as we had hoped. This meant we weren’t able to connect with the crowd, making our set more of a showcase. Lucky for us, we had prepared for a tough crowd and were able to keep our performance tight for the entire set. If I’m being 100% honest, I felt bad after the set as I had been anticipating a different outcome, but after getting feedback from a few people I was able to relax a bit. The main bit of feedback I got was that our music sounded good, but people didn’t know the music which made it difficult for them to engage.
Trust the process – Never Deviate
Having had a mixed evening on Friday night, I had a chip on my shoulder coming in for the gig on Saturday. I was super focused all day. We had birthday drinks for one of my friends on the same night as the gig and I went through to show love to the bro. The drinks were flowing, but I stuck to my guns and only had a customary shot of whiskey with the bro as midnight approached. That said, we were advised that we didn’t NEED to attend soundcheck as it wasn’t necessary from the promoter’s perspective. I tried my best to make sure that we attended soundcheck but a few things came up as we were at the birthday drinks, and eventually the crew convinced me to skip soundcheck, BIG MISTAKE. We got to the venue early and as soon as I heard one of the DJs chatting to the crowd using one of the mics my heart missed a beat, and not in a good way. The EQ on this mic wasn’t great, and given that we were able to pick it up when a DJ was just talking, it didn’t bode well for us. We hit the stage late in the piece and managed to disperse a good third of the crowd before we got through our first song. I was advised that part of it was due to the audience being staunch reggae fans, our set was hardcore dancehall, but I can assure you that part of it was due to the fact that we didn’t sound great on the Soundsystem. That said, the set itself was quite wicked, the crowd that stayed behind seemed to warm into our set and the energy from them was great. The lesson from our Saturday gig was to stay true to our process, i.e. we agreed to NEVER miss a soundcheck regardless of the gig, we missed this soundcheck and whilst the outcome wasn’t bad in any way, I feel like our set could have been better had we made it to soundcheck.
Memories saved – Making them count
Given our experiences on the weekend, I feel like we refreshed some memories we had saved up in our Yung Shottaz days. A big mistake we made was not utilising the memories from back then in these situations, as we would’ve had different outcomes. That said, we have a few more gigs lined up over the next month and I am super excited to get stuck into those gigs. Funny enough, the next 2 gigs are quite similar to the ones we just had, The first one is at a long standing Dancehall event, and you can bet that we will not be missing our soundcheck. The next gig is an opening slot for an international kiwi artist, and you know that we are blasting that Facebook event page and will be showing up early on the night to engage more people in the crowd. I’m almost certain that we will be learning a few more lessons at these gigs, and that is a good sign of continued growth.
It’s been a busy couple of months in the Shottaz camp and I can’t stress enough how thrilling it has been seeing some of our music hit the streets. We have been working diligently for the last 2 years to set ourselves up for what you’ll be seeing us deliver in the near and distant future. I personally didn’t expect it to be this exciting to release our content, given that some of it has been sitting in the vault for the longest time. Just to fill in the blanks, since releasing our last album “Stimulus” in 2013, we went on a hiatus which was driven by several factors. I was based in Wellington (NZ) and the bro Hlats was in Auckland. Though we actually worked on the whole Stimulus album whilst living in different cities, we found it difficult to stay consistent with the grind. It took us just under 2 years to complete that project alone which is saying a lot. Part of the delay can be attributed to me working on another project during that time, but I digress. When I moved back to Auckland in 2016, it didn’t take long before we were back in the studio working on new material. The first month in the studio was mad. We had many sessions that started in the evening, around 5:30pm, and went well into the night. On a few occasions I remember getting into bed at 4am, on a school night no less. The weird thing about these late night sessions is that I never felt stretched at any point, I think it is because I was being driven by passion and nothing less.
Building a solid foundation
When we first hit the studio in 2016, we recorded a couple of tunes that we felt were big tunes. We had to fight the urge to prematurely release these songs as they were leagues ahead of anything we had produced up to this point. The excitement within the crew was palpable as we felt we had leveled up on the musical side of things. One thing we got right is that we were able to keep level heads and we agreed to stay focused on creating more music. We decided to block off 2016 and not release any content whatsoever. I feel this was a really good move because we were able to create a solid backlog of tunes during that year. As the year progressed, one thing became more and more apparent. Our in-studio chemistry was getting stronger and a result of this was constantly improving songs. I remember a particular session where me and Hlats arrived in the studio with no pre-written music as we were planning on finishing some existing songs we had been working on. We smashed through our backlog in less than an hour and then started going through new beats. By the end of the night we had powered through 3 new demos, which were completely mixed and ready to master, it was quite a vibe. That said, in 2016 alone we built a good chunk of the foundation on which we are standing on today. Another thing we were able to do was slowly reintroduce ourselves to the masses, but that’s another story in itself.
Getting the ball rolling
I can’t stress enough how important 2016 was for us, and I definitely can’t put enough value on the fact that we built a solid backlog of tracks in that period. I can say that the work we put in 2016 kept us moving in 2017 because we found ourselves living in separate locations, again. Hlats moved to Melbourne and I stayed in Auckland, so we found our ability to create new music had greatly diminished. In fact, we weren’t able to record any new Shottaz tunes because Hlats had no connections in Melbourne so he wasn’t able to suss out studio time with any regularity. Having a substantial amount of great tunes laying in wait was essential as we started building our profile again. Though we didn’t release much music in 2017, apart from Focus mixtape (available here), we were able to start working the underground scenes in both Auckland and Melbourne. We were able to engage key stakeholders and get buy in from them by sharing songs we had on hand and selling them our long term vision. If 2016 is the year we laid down our foundation, I can safely say 2017 is when we ensured it was concrete enough to start building our structure.
Now we play – Keeping things moving
At the start of this year (2018), I made the move to Melbourne for a number of reasons and you can guess that top of my list was to get back to work on the Shottaz front. When I touched base with Hlats after moving over, it was immediately clear that we were on the exact same page. Given that all our studio gear was still with me in New Zealand, the first point of action was to get our small studio back up and running. When we started recording again, it was clear that we hadn’t missed a single step. If anything we had taken our grind up another level. We got into the booth and recorded big tune after big tune, and after each session we’d be high fiving each other knowing we’d just recorded our best song to date. I kid you not, each session has been a definitive step up from the last one, and what was even more scary is that we are staying consistent with this trend. Recently, Hlats was complaining about how annoying it is that he doesn’t get to fully get hype about any of our new tunes, because the minute he’s vibing to a tune thinking it’s our best work yet, we immediately out do that song in the very next session. Now we’re in a position to start rolling out our backlogged tunes, starting with the double single release (Body / Full Up) we have just around the corner. Trust me, this is only the beginning of a very wild ride.
Since I started working 9-5 in the corporate world, one thing has resonated with me from the very beginning. In my role, I have always had multiple stakeholders that rely on me for information and they always want it immediately. At first I got bogged down trying to impress my masters by pushing myself to the limit to ensure that all their requests were fulfilled in a timely manner. As you can imagine, this approach was unsustainable and it wasn’t long before I was having to reevaluate things. I started noticing a trend after a while, people would come to me stating that they needed XYZ done or else hell would break loose, but when I delivered their requirements it always seemed as if the information wasn’t used with any urgency. This is when I learned the art of prioritisation and managing expectations. At first I would just prioritise by assessing each request received and applying an importance factor based on my understanding of the business and other determining factors. By prioritising my work, I relieved myself of a lot of stress and this in turn allowed me to improve the quality of my work. Unfortunately that didn’t eliminate the issue of my many stakeholders hassling me to no end even when it was clear that their requests were of a low priority. At this stage it became important for me to manage people’s expectations when they first raised requests for my assistance. Initially I would have to deal with a bit of push back, which would require me to remain firm in my position.
Eventually, I developed system that worked because I was able to prioritize and manage expectations in an efficient manner.
A musical perspective
As you can imagine, I have found that the art of prioritization and stakeholder management applies in the music space in many ways. Being a recording/performing artist, I interface with a variety of stakeholders that each have a unique, and mostly demanding, set of expectations. We have producers that expect a certain level of diligence once they have trusted you with their babies (beats/instrumentals). Then there’s promoters and venues that have their own expectations when it comes to gigs, they normally expect a certain level of professionalism especially in the lead up and on the day of an event. Having performed with DJs and live bands, each individual will bring their own demands and expectations of the main artist, that’s if you don’t have a music director. Being an independent artist for my entire career, I haven’t had the opportunity of working with a major label but I’m sure this also brings a certain weight of expectation along with it. All these stakeholders’ expectations pale in importance to those of the most critical stakeholder in a musicians career, the fans. Once a person dedicates their time into your brand, and invest financially and emotionally into your music, it only becomes fair that they demand the best from you. As you can see it is important to ensure that you do the most to keep all these stakeholders happy without burning yourself out in the process.
Keeping your priorities in check
A musician’s timetable is generally cyclical. When working on a project, most time is spent in studios or writing. Once a project is complete, or nearing completion, the release/promo cycle kicks in. In this phase more time is spent liaising with media outlets and various sources that help to disseminate the music. Then there’s the touring cycle, which is when the artist travels to different cities/countries performing their music to their adoring fans. As you would expect, each cycle brings about its own set of challenges and requirements and it is important for the artist, and their management to prioritise them accordingly. When working on projects, you may have multiple songs on the go with different producers, some songs having other artists featured. Without a plan of action, or list of priorities, things can get out hand and you may find yourself losing track of where the project is heading. The same is true for the release/promo cycle. It is important to have a checklist of all the outlets you intend to approach, and prioritise these in terms of important in relation to your brand. You guessed it, this remains true for a touring cycle. When preparing for a tour, and during the tour, it’s important to stay on top of everything from travel arrangements, to accomodation, right down to transport to and from venues. If you work as part of a team, as I do, it’s also important to share the responsibility around to avoid burnout for yourself or other team members. All things considered, having a plan in place and prioritising the different aspects of that plan accordingly will help eliminate a significant amount of stress regardless of the cycle you’re currently in. Sometimes these cycles intersect, so it’s also important to be able to prioritise in such situations without losing sight of the big picture.
When expectations loom large – Manage them
Regardless of the cycle a artist finds themselves in, they will undoubtedly find themselves under a huge mass of expectations. When working on a body of work with multiple producers and collaborating artists, it is always important to clearly communicate priorities to relevant parties. If a song you’re working on with “producer X” is not high on your priority list, it may be beneficial to say “Hey I have a couple of songs that are in progress at the moment, so I may not be able to work on your track until I finish the other ones…I’m really vibing to your beat though and I’m defo gonna get to it soon”. It’s always good to make sure they know that their song is important even though it may not be high up your priority list. Communication is also very important when promoting projects and setting up release runs. Media outlets, blogs, playlisters etc will often need ample notification before you need your music covered, and they will often request information from you. It is essential to be prompt in responding, and even when you don’t have the information handy, it’s important to let them know that you are in the process of sourcing this info.Remember to always give timelines when possible. The same is true when touring, communication is essential in ensuring that you the artist, the promoters, and the venues are all on the same page. When you suffer a setback, it’s important to let everyone involved know so that there are no unpleasant surprises. Finally, throughout the process the fans should always be in the know with regards to important information, and once information is in the public domain it’s critical to keep fans up to date with any changes that may arise. Doing this prevents so much heartache and disgruntled fans down the track.
Early this year I wrote a post about the importance of preparation, highlighting that rehearsing should be the cornerstone of any self respecting performer’s routine. I shared some scenarios that happened in the Yung Shottaz days which informed us of the need to make sure we are always ready for every show we book. Prior to each show, we go hard for the month leading up to the gig and ramp up our rehearsals in the final 2 week run up. This approach has served us well as we have been on point in our last few sets as the Shottaz. Unfortunately, I dropped the ball quite recently when featuring on one of my bro’s sets. The gig was a big one, and it was on a big enough platform that I needed to step up with my A-game. However, I took a huge leap backwards on this occasion which was extremely depressing.
Biting off more than one can chew
When the bro booked this gig he hit me up immediately to see if I could jump on stage with him for his set. I didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity as I always try to support the fam when possible. The added benefit of doing this gig from my perspective was that I would get the chance to showcase the Shottaz brand on a different platform. I have to point out that the bro hit me up about the set about a month ahead of the actual gig date, which is great as it would afford me ample to time to get into my peak zone come event night. Unfortunately, this month has been one of the most hectic months for me this year. We were putting in work on the recently released SB.Shottaz mixtape, which was taxing on all fronts. We were also deep into production of the video for our upcoming single ‘Body’ organizing locations, extras etc. There are a few other upcoming content streams that I was engrossed in to the point that my bro’s gig completely fell off my radar. Don’t get me wrong, none of the above is a good enough excuse to forget about an important engagement, especially if you are a professional. That said, I’m ashamed to admit that I completely forgot that I had committed to featuring on the bro’s set, which is an unforgivable sin.
D-Day – The build up
On the day of the gig, I woke up feeling upbeat looking forward to a big night out. The All Blacks were facing the Wallabies in the Bledisloe cup decider, and I was going to catch up with some mates to watch the ABs dominate. After the game, I had convinced the whole group to attend the gig so we could all show love to the bro. At this stage, the fact that I had committed to performing at this gig hadn’t registered to me at all. I met up with my peeps, we enjoyed the game, and eventually made our way to the gig. I must point out that by the time we hit the venue only 2 out of 6 people were still standing. The rest of the crew had fallen off due to over consumption of alcohol. I was no exception in terms of being drunk but I was determined to attend the gig so I pressed on. Upon arrival, I announced to the bro that I was drunk and only when he reacted by being utterly disappointed did I realize that I had dropped the ball somehow. I asked if he expected me to be on stage and you can guess the response I received…
A high definition, cinematic train-wreck
After finding out that I was indeed supposed to be taking the stage in a matter of moments, I panicked. To this day I believe that showing up drunk was not my biggest mistake of the night, how I handled the situation was the most regrettable part. The bro asked me candidly if I was okay to perform and I confidently confirmed, first mistake. The mate I went to the gig with then kindly offered to buy me drink which I readily accepted and proceeded to drink as if everything was normal, second mistake. Before going on stage, the bro performing came around to ask if we should cut the song we were meant to do together to ensure I wasn’t fully exposed and I ASSURED him that I could manage the full song, third mistake. The bro started off the set and proceeded to light the place on fire with his high energy set. He got the energy rising at a constant rate and after about 4 songs of perfection, it was my time to shine. What ensued was one of the most embarrassing displays in my entire music career. I can only think of one other performance that was nearly as bad, my first EVER gig. The best way I can describe my showing on the night is it was a train-wreck of epic proportions that Michael Bay would be proud of. As I write this, I can vividly see the faces in the front row as they went from screaming and hollering in anticipation of our song, to confusion as they began to realize what was happening, eventually turning to pure disgust when all was said and done. Kudos to the bro for taking all this in his stride and delivering the rest of his set without any further glitches, despite my terrible showing.
The situation on this fateful night isn’t new to me, but there are always lessons that can be taken away from such situations. In this case, I realized the importance of managing my calendar more efficiently. It is completely unacceptable to confirm a gig and then forget about your involvement in said gig, regardless of how big or small your contribution is. When the schedule starts to get a bit crazy, it’s often a good idea to take on management, or at least get some help to ensure you stay on top of things. The main thing I learnt is to stay clear of the microphone when you are too intoxicated. The minute people start asking you if you are okay to perform, it is usually a good indicator that you are not. I’m one of those people that can jump on the mic and MC regardless of the state I’m in, but performing written songs is quite different to free-styling and creating vibes on the spot. Lesson learnt.
I recently finished a series of posts about the necessary steps for achieving, and defining, success. These posts were informed by the last 2 years of my career in music, which have been quite illuminating. In this short period, we have made progress in leaps and bounds, ticking off boxes like it’s going out of style. A lot of these achievements have been behind the scenes, though some of these have started appearing in the foreground recently. It’s crazy to think that a lot of ground has been covered and yet on the surface it still feels like we’re an up and coming music group. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not incorrect for us to be perceived that way, regardless of the decade of work we’ve put in already. That said if I was to tell you that we’ve put in a significant amount of time into our craft in the last 2 years, you would be forgiven if you called us liars. I mean think about it, 2 years of tireless work and we’ve only got a mixtape, and one official single released?
Trust the Process – I’ve said this before but it never gets old
Back in the Yung Shottaz days we had this tendency of shooting from the hip. We released a lot of content on a whim and we rarely put much planning into our releases. This continued until we linked up with Tiopira and Simon of High Stakes Records. I always give thanks that the bros saw something in us and decided to work with us on a project, because that’s when a significant change of perspective took place for me. The process of putting together “The Premiere EP” with High Stakes taught me a lot about releasing musical projects. We started working with High Stakes circa August 2008 and by December of that same year they had committed to working with us on our second EP. At the moment we decided to do the EP together, we already had about 5 songs that eventually made the EP. If we had done the project ourselves, I can guarantee that we would have released it much earlier than its eventual November 2009 date. Instead of just blindly releasing the EP, the High Stakes crew tasked us with building hype around the project. As a result we released, and toured, a couple of mixtapes. We worked hard, with the help of the bros, to raise the Yung Shottaz’ profile within the NZ music landscape. Only when the bros felt that our profile was at a good level did they agree to set a release date for the project. Even though we had been sitting on some top quality music for almost a year, the bros knew not to rush the process and the outcome was a good one.
Whatever you do – Don’t cut any corners
Having been involved in a well planned and executed project, we have tried to follow the same approach in all our subsequent releases. We learned not to cut corners when executing any plans we had in place. This is the key behind the slow and measured approach we have been following, not cutting corners. Many a time we have been tempted to break our plans and just do things on a whim, but I’m glad that we have stuck to the process. A good example of this is a situation which occurred quite recently. We found a really dope instrumental online, which we promptly purchased and wrote a demo for. The demo came out sounding quite awesome to us and when we played it to our inner circle the verdict was the same. I can’t stress how much we love this tune, and we started discussing moving this tune not only to the top of our release plan, but we wanted to release the song as early as possible. Having a process helped us identify that we were looking to act on a whim and I must say that if we had forced this tune up the release schedule it most likely wouldn’t reach its potential. I can say this because we have seen a significant increase in engagement with each release we have done so far. Though I think this song would have done well if we released it around the time we cut the first demo, I’m confident that we have found the right slot for it and it will perform so much better when we do release it. I must say I can’t wait to see how this song goes.
A long journey nonetheless
Trusting the process and staying the course without cutting any corners results in projects requiring longer time frames. Without patience you will no doubt find yourself violating these 2 principles to the potential detriment of said projects. I have seen it happen first hand in my own experiences, and though it’s not guaranteed to be the same case in other people’s situations, chances are high that some value is foregone by rushing things. My suggestion to any independent musicians/creatives out there is to take your time. I’m not saying you should procrastinate, far from it. What I’m saying is you should carefully plan each project and diligently work through the plan ticking each box as you go along. The idea is to avoid cutting corners and before you know it things will be looking up.
I started a series of posts earlier this year about the ingredients of success, and before I could tie off the series life happened. Check out the previous posts about preparation, patience, and hard work to add more context to this article. I was having a conversation with a fellow musician the other day and we ended up discussing our musical goals and each other’s measure of success. This reminded me about the aforementioned series and I vowed that I would make time to tie it all off.
Being in a competitive environment like the music industry, it’s often hard to stay motivated when the chips are down. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been at the verge of packing it in because it felt like I was banging my head into a brick wall. For the most part, unless you’re the exception, the returns you get early on never match the amount of effort you invest. Because of this, a lot of people don’t correctly account for progress they make which causes them to quit prematurely. This is why you should have a realistic measure of success, and it is necessary to appropriately manage your expectations.
Aim for the moon, yes, but first you must learn to fly
As I was speaking to my musician friend it was quite encouraging to hear what his personal goals were. His 2 year plan consists of building a strong catalog of music, releasing a couple of big budget singles, and putting together a timeless body of work. These are lofty ambitions, but what makes them realistic is that the success of each of these goals is entirely down to his actions. If he chooses to apply himself and he works diligently throughout this time frame, the chances of him being successful are quite high. I asked him what success looks like in relation to these goals, he said ticking two out of the three boxes would be good enough for him. The point I’m trying to make is this; having lofty ambitions is great, I highly encourage that everyone sets high goals, but ensuring that the goals that define you are entirely in your control is essential. It is also very important to initially cut yourself some slack when it comes to defining a success criteria, because setting the standard too high too soon can be detrimental.
A lonely, yet fulfilling endeavor
Setting manageable expectations is great when you’re finding your feet, but as you grow it’s also important to keep raising the bar. Once you find your flow and you settle into a groove, I personally think it’s important to keep pushing your limits further to ensure growth. I guess the idea of envisioning success requires a certain balance. You need to be stretched enough to be uncomfortable, but not too much to the point of breaking. Another important aspect of setting goals, and defining success, is avoiding the trap of comparing yourself to others. I have been guilty of this on many occasions, and I can attest to the fact that it’s one big motivation killer. Though it’s good to stay aware of what others are doing, it is very dangerous to set your own goals based on other people’s achievements. You live your own truth, your values are unique to you, what drives you is undoubtedly different from the next person, and ultimately your motivation will be drawn from sources that are exclusive to you. We each travel our own path, so we must create our own definition of success that falls in line with who we are. Once you are able to set goals and define success based on your own values, you find your purpose. Oftentimes you’ll find yourself travelling alone on this path, and this can be really confronting, but it is often extremely rewarding. When you reach your goals, chances are that you’ll truly be happy because your achievements have value to you.
All together now
Once you have a comprehensive list of goals, that match your values, and you have a clear measure of success in place, the fun can truly start. You will find it easier to get yourself motivated to pursue your goals. The concept of hard work and dedication will become less alien, and it will become more bearable to stay patient in the moments when things seem to be moving at a slow pace. Mix these ingredients together and you’ll find yourself knocking on the doors of success much earlier than you may imagine. Whatever you do, don’t cut corners, more on that in an upcoming post.
Many years ago, when we still flew under the Yung Shottaz banner, we caught wind of a crew that was making serious noise on the Auckland dancehall scene. These guys were supposed to be the baddest selectas on the scene, riding with the toughest MC running the mic at the time. At first I didn’t think to check out any of their sessions, but as time passed their legend grew. I remember the first time we met a couple of selectas from this crew like it was yesterday. We had just finished a set opening for Deadly Hunta at Khuja Lounge, and a bloke randomly approached us to show love. If I’m not mistaken, his exact words were “That set was alright eh boys!”. At this point I’m thinking “Alright?! Just alright?! Who the heck are you anyway, and what gives you authority to judge our set?”. Lucky for me, I didn’t express these thoughts out loud as it turns out I was speaking to Ed G of the legendary Sandy Bay Social Club. At the end of the conversation he invited us to attend his 30th birthday party the following night and we dutifully agreed to attend. The following night we showed up to the party and proceeded to have a night I will never forget. It was the moment the SB.Shottaz collaboration got rolling, we just didn’t know if yet.
(listen to SB.Shottaz – Enter The Dub Den Volume 1 below)
Rakinos sessions – Solidifying the link
At Ed G’s 30th, we managed to get on the mic during Piet and Deli’s set. That session will forever be etched in my memory due to the vibes that were generated in less than an hour. Not only did these selectas have solid riddims for us to vibe with, we quickly built a rapport and it felt like we had rehearsed together by time we finished the set. The chemistry was beyond what we had built with several DJs along the years, and that’s saying something. After Ed’s party we linked up with the Sandy Bay crew at many a session, and we were booked to play together for a couple of gigs. During this period we built a level of chemistry during sessions that was unrivalled on the scene. We also built solid friendships with most of the crew, which was a good bonus. About a year into the Sandy Bay/Yung Shottaz link up, they invited us to MC for them at a session they were hosting at Rakinos. That energetic session was the first of many parties at Rakinos, hosted by Sandy Bay with the Yung Shottaz running the mics. I remember one session in particular when we rocked up with other MCs we were collaborating with at the time, and proceeded to destroy the mic all night long. I can safely say that I truly cut my teeth as an MC during these Rakinos sessions. And these sessions are where we took the connection with Sandy Bay Social Club to the next level.
Rolling On Dubs and Friday Night Take Out – Next level steez
Unfortunately for us, we linked up with the Sandy Bay crew at a time when they were nearing the end of their solid run. This was simply because most crew members were at that point in their lives where big decisions were being made. The crew got fractured when a few members of the crew moved away from New Zealand. Other members were starting their families so it was more of a mission to run sessions like they used to. This situation was unfortunate for us because not only were we growing as performers, our profile was also getting stronger due to the sheer numbers the Sandy Bay crew would attract to their parties. This though wouldn’t be the end of our link. At the time, Sandy Bay selectas had several shows on Base FM which included Ed G’s Rolling On Dubs show and Piet & Deli’s Friday Night Take Out. Following the closure of Rakinos, and the subsequent slow down in Sandy Bay parties, we would frequent the two shows highlighted above. We would go over to Base FM just to hang out with the boys, and we’d always end up on the mics bussing freestyles. We recorded our first radio stings for the boys, and we also recorded a few dubplates and exclusives for them. The radio days were awesome, and we got to learn a lot about the scene just being around the Sandy Bay crew during their shows. The saying goes “All good things must come to an end”, and that was certainly the case for Rolling on Dubs when Ed G decided to make a move Melbourne. Whilst it sucked saying goodbye to the bro, it was good to see that he was taking the leap to progress his career in Film & Television so it was hard to get mad at the dude. Fast forward a few years and I found myself in the most amazing recording session alongside Ed G and the brother Hlats.
The Dub Den – Where dreams become reality
The minute I connected with Ed G after moving to Melbourne, I could tell that something special was brewing. I linked up with him at his apartment in Fitzroy, and we had a few beers reminiscing on the good old days. After a while we started discussing the music, our plans as the Shottaz, what he was up to in Melbourne etc, and it quickly became apparent that we were vibing on the same level. A few weeks after the initial catch up, Ed linked me up to see if we’d be interested in doing a joint mixtape. I was excited at the prospect of doing another Sandy Bay/Shottaz collaboration, and when I pitched Hlats he was all for it. We spent a couple of months planning the project, outlining logistics etc. We had a few strategy meetings at Section 8 (our favourite bar in Melbourne), a brainstorming session during one of the I love Dancehall parties, and eventually we started work on the project. Ed G did the initial mix and sent it over, we spent about a month absorbing the mix before we got together with Ed to start recording our vocals. After one session recording in Ed’s cosy home studio, aptly name “The Dub Den”, we had completed about 75% of the project. The major highlight for me though, was the pure energy in The Dub Den throughout the process of creating mixtape. Sometimes I wish I could just share this energy with everyone so they can feel what it was like. Unfortunately, that’s not possible but we can certainly share the fruits of those sessions. Enjoy volume one of the SB.Shottaz mixtape series below:
Sometime last year I was blessed with the opportunity to be interviewed on a platform called Foxii Network. I jumped at it without hesitation because I realised that I could share the Shottaz story with a unique audience. What was meant to be a concise discussion spawned into a 30 minute video of pure insight. If you haven’t seen the interview, you can check it out here, and they have other cool content too so be sure to check that out. After the interview was released, I got a few people hitting me up about things we covered in the video. The feedback was varied, but one common theme became apparent as the DMs kept rolling in. When discussing my musical background with Foxii, she unearthed the fact that I’ve always been in music groups. In my high school days, back in Zimbabwe, I rolled with a crew called X-Plode (not really sure about the spelling tbh). Then in New Zealand, we started the Yung Shottaz very early in my musical journey. As you know, we dropped the “Yung” and flexed the numbers but to this day I’m still part of a group. In 2012, I was involved in a project outside of the Shottaz setup, but even that was a collaborative piece, alongside my good friend Raiza Biza. You can imagine that based on this history, people were questioning my ability to make music on my own.
When the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, you run with it
Contrary to the narrative above, I have made solo music throughout my journey. Before creating the Yung Shottaz, I wrote songs on my own and recorded a few demos that sadly never saw the light of day. Without getting carried away, I’m confident that I would have been fine had I continued being a solo artist. I had the ability to write a decent hook, and back then I put a lot of energy in my verses, which always sounded complete. The same can be said about each member of the Yung Shottaz without a doubt.
Our singer, Da Bem, is to this day one of the most naturally gifted entertainers I’ve EVER met. The boy is musically talented, having an ear for a catchy melody. I can safely say that Bazz, as we affectionately know him, could have made it on his own if he wanted. The same can be said about my bro Ash, aka Swisz Dubbz, who has a unique rapping style and is a serious lyricist. Like Bazz, Ash has a very good musical ear and is unafraid to let you know if your work is hot or not. More often than not, Ash is able to pick if a song is going to be a hit. Then there’s Hlats! I’ve always said to the bro that it would’ve been a blessing to collaborate with him on one or two songs, let alone fashion a whole career alongside him. Without gassing the dude up, I rate him very high in terms of lyricism and vocal delivery. Not too many people can match him. When I first met Hlats, he was a solo musician with a lot going for him. He had songs for days, and his charisma on the mic can’t be matched by many MCs. Needless to say, each one of us could have done our own thing to varying levels of success, but together we elevated to a whole different level.
Trust fall – when you know your back’s covered, moving forward becomes a breeze
One of the main advantages of being part of a crew is the support element. Don’t get me wrong, I realise that our crew was quite unique. We were close friends before we started working together on the music, and dare I say we grew tighter as a result of forming the crew. This created an environment where we had a strong support system as we navigated through uncharted waters. Because our crew was a first of its kind in New Zealand, we dealt with a lot of challenges that most other musicians don’t have to contend with. A lot of people didn’t understand our music, and it felt like we had to fight twice as hard to get any breaks. What allowed us to keep going was that we always had each other’s back. This meant that when we faced adversity we didn’t crumble, instead we’d pep each other up and go again. When one of the crew faced a challenge, music related or not, the others would always be there to soften any impact. As you can see, the benefits of working in crew stretch far beyond music, they impact life in general. As a result of moving as a cohesive unit, we were able to achieve a lot of things as the Yung Shottaz that I’m super proud of to this day.
From four to two, still a dominant crew
In 2012, we not only changed our crew name to Shottaz, we also released an album called Stimulus. Not only was this the first project released under our new name, it was the first time the crew weren’t in the same place, mentally and physically, when crafting a project. To clarify this point, every single project we had released until that point was recorded with all four members involved in every session. Stimulus was different. We were all at very different places in our lives. Hlats was raising his young family, Ash was making his transition into a bonafide app developer, Bazz was battling some demons, and I was living in a different city altogether. As a result of this, the project was disjointed from a crew perspective. After recording a bunch of songs, one theme became glaringly obvious. Out of the 20 odd songs we crafted, only 2 members of the crew were seriously active, Hlats and myself. Through the process it made more and more sense to focus our energies between the two of us and when we finally released the project it was clear a decision needed to be made. As you now know, the Shottaz are a two man crew but I must admit that I dream of the day we are back to a full complement.