It’s Friday night at Mercury Live. Desmond and the Tutus are about to go on stage, and I just happen to run in Ashley. We have only met once before, and earlier in the week, we scheduled a meeting for Saturday morning. I was glad to see him in his niche before our interview.
This was Ashley’s office. The music scene.
10 Years ago, 17-year-old Ashley Brown drove to the launch of the first album by Die Heuwels Fantasties in Durbanville. Illegally – underage and driving alone with only a learners licence. The Heuwels album was not the only thing that got debuted that night, it was also Ashley’s debut in the music industry.
“‘I had a camera and I enjoyed taking photos. We had a big family gathering and I was chatting to a distant cousin (Fred den Hartog, guitarist for Die Heuwels Fantasties) that I just met – he told me his band is launching a new album and that I should just come and shoot the show.”
Ashley knew driving to the show was a long (and risky) shot. He did not have a ticket or any way to contact Fred – just crossed fingers and the name of the guitarist. It was a risk he was willing to take though, and luckily he did, because that was the night his life in the music industry started.
“I drove through with my learners. I went there, not knowing what to expect, hoping that a guy I met once before remembered to put my name on the guest list. Turns out he did remember – I somehow got a backstage pass and had the party of a lifetime! That was the day I realised that I don’t need to wonder about it anymore – that this (the music industry) is where I want to be.”
Ashley has undergone a metamorphosis from a photographer to a blogger, booking agent and sound engineer, to a freelance event organiser, project manager and social media manager.
He studied Sound Engineering, but it was too easy – it came naturally for him and he needed something more challenging to keep him busy on the side. In his second year, he started organising events for friends in his free time. He organised nine events at The Side Show (now known as Madison Avenue).
With free reigns, he made many stupid mistakes. At one point, he had R50 000 in debt after a big loss at an event and his options were to either sell his car, declare bankruptcy at 19 years old or go all in for one last event in the hopes that he would make enough money to get him out of this sticky situation. He says that “that was probably the time in my life where I learnt the most, and if I didn’t make the stupid mistakes I made then, I wouldn’t have been able to do the job that I am doing now.” He went for the third option and luckily, he was able to pay off most of the debt. The infamous learning curve, you know.
In January 2012 he and a friend, Jaco, launched SA Music Scene, a blog aimed at providing a platform for musicians to promote themselves. Ashley was already attending numerous events as a photographer which is how he saw the gap in the industry: he realized that there needed to be a space for artists to put themselves out there.
With more than 100 000 monthly readers, SA Music Scene is still the biggest music blog in the country. SAMS is not a business though. It is simply a platform for the artists – a link between the performers and a link to their audiences, created to bridge the gap that he had seen. Any money given by sponsors is used to improve the blog, treat the writers with a free ticket to a music festival or cover the costs of a night out – as part of the job, you know. The South African music industry is still very young and this blog offers a space that promotes growth in the scene.
The people that work in the local music industry are like family – there might sometimes be disagreements, but there is a lot of respect for one another and because the industry in South Africa is so small, everybody looks out for one another. Although people often say that it is cliquey, that is not the case. Trust is key, and because there are many people who only want to get in for the fame, it might seem like there are cliques that nobody can come into. The reality is that anybody who is successful in any creative industry knows how much hard work and perseverance it takes earn trust and make a name for yourself. If those who are already successful see that you are there for the right reasons, they will support you and you will become part of that family.
Ashley is currently the talent buyer and co-organiser of Plett Rage, and he is still the owner of SA Music scene.
In the ten years of growing in and with the South African music industry Ashley has already had a phenomenal influence in the scene, and if this is what he is getting up to at only 27, he will certainly keep having a positive impact wherever life takes him. The advice he left me with is this:
“Stay humble. Everything you do does not have to be on the forefront – what you do behind the scenes will mean so much more in the long run. Remember to sometimes take a step back to see things in perspective.”