South African artist Busiswa has had hits across the continent of Africa since emerging in 2011. At the NY:LON Connect conference this week, she was interviewed by Music Ally’s head of marketing services Marlen Huellbrock about what she has learned as an independent artist.

In those earlier days of her career, Busiswa was signed to a label, but she said that the partnership founded when her ambitions developed beyond her home country.

“I decided that I wanted to be a pan-African artist. I want to be in every part of the African continent. I no longer want to be just a South African artist, but an African artist. And a pan-African artist!” she said.

How? By collaborating with as many other artists from across the continent as she could. Whenever Busiswa visited another country, she would find out who the biggest current artists were there, and seek them out to create music together.

“I didn’t see it happening a lot. Each artist was just sticking to their own region,” she said. “To date I’ve probably collaborated with about 50 or so. At least!”

Busiswa said that her label did not see the value in this strategy. “I was making pretty big hits here in South Africa almost every sic months, and I think they were fine with that. But I had this vision for myself: I wanted to be an artist who was so integrated in the continent of Africa,” she said.

“I had to leave the label and then find a different way to put my music out there. I didn’t want to not own my masters, and I didn’t want to have very low creative control over what I put out.”

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Busiswa has been working with distributor The Orchard since then, with that in mind. “I have control of what it is that I want to do, the ways I want to put myself out there, the kind of music videos that I want to shoot, and the kind of artists that I want to collaborate with,” she said.

Busiswa emphasised the importance of these creative partnerships with other musicians. “Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration! I’ve literally reached these countries without having the budget to go there,” she said.

“There is nothing at the moment that is more impactful than a good intercontinental, inter-cultural, international collaboration!”

She also talked about the challenges. Airplay can still be hard to secure in different countries, which she accepted is not necessarily a negative trend if radio stations and streaming services are supporting local artists.

However, she sees more scope for distributors to help African artists to break out of their home countries, and even the continent itself.

“Something distributors really need to consider is if you can find ways to make it easier for artists to travel. Getting visas, accommodation, stdio space when you are in a different region,” she said.

“Especially for African artists, travelling to different regions is so difficult and so expensive… and a lot of artists don’t explore it because it’s just such a hard thing to do.”

Busiswa hopes that distributors might work on ways to make it easier, from writing invitation letters to help artists get their visas, to providing concierge-style services to get them through airports and the travel process.

The interview was part of the ‘The Future of Distribution’ track at NY:LON Connect, which was sponsored by The Orchard. Music Ally co-runs the conference with Music Biz, and you can read our other reports from this year’s event here.

While you’re here… There’s a new module on the Music Ally Learning Hub, our online learning platform training people in music marketing and the wider music business. The module is called ‘Distribute: How to Pick the Perfect Distributor for Your Music‘. It focuses on the process of distributing your music to streaming services and different types of service providers on the market.

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