Big Band Big Bang, Little Band Big Attitude

Albert Combrink, Adelia Douw and Katlego Maboe.

Musicians work hard during the festive season. They need to be balanced, not banging, as the year rolls to its close.  They are often one-man-bands, or very small operations.

Albert Combrink is a pianist, agent and concert organizer. He accompanies jazz singer, Adelia Douw, who is Delft Big Band’s lead singer. She recently won the 2015 Open Mic Jazz Singing Competition at Grand West Casino. They share their experience of what it takes to make it as a full-time musician, including anyone interested in a career in the creative industries.

What challenges do you face year round?

Albert: Artists must wear many different hats simultaneously. You are your own front stage and back stage manager. You’re making your art, which is a full time job with programme selection, rehearsal time, and the performance on stage.

Additionally you must do your own public relations, marketing, and admin. Finding clients and negotiating your fee is the first stage, then you perform for them. Afterwards you must follow through with sufficient energy to chase your invoice.

Adelia: The client’s budget is always an issue. Meeting the client’s need requires flexibility. As a vocal soloist it’s useful if you can work with backtracks. This secures gigs you wouldn’t otherwise get if the client can’t afford a whole band, or there isn’t space in a small venue.

What particular challenges present at year-end?

Albert: When everybody else is ready for their holiday, you are gearing up for your busy season. At Christmas and New Year, family time goes out the window.

If we put together a product, like a Christmas programme, then Adelia and I each try to sell to our individual networks. You make a generic Christmas programme based on a broad genre and style, and then you peddle, peddle, peddle.

What is the best advice you can offer to other creatives at this busy time?

Albert: Because it’s holiday time, family and friends expect you to be available. You’re constantly explaining why you are not. This puts an emotional load onto you, so you need to balance yourself. Schedule in rest time. Don’t be too eager to take every bit of work that comes your way otherwise you face burnout.

Adelia: Stay professional, you know yourself as a musician. You’re there to work at the party, so you can’t go in with the vibe. After the performance, you can mingle with guests and have a drink but stay professional. Socialize and network. That’s how you get the next job.

What is your marketing advice to artists at this time of year?

Adelia: Be versatile. People book me but even though I’m a jazz singer, they want different styles of music, like Christmas carols, or pop songs, or African music.

Albert: Preparing more than one product or programme. I work with choirs, offer end of year functions, set up Christmas Carol concerts, and accompany Tango. You can’t do only one thing.

How do you market your work?

Albert: It’s a mix of cold calling and working the network that regularly employ you. It’s an absolute game we play the whole time.

Adelia: Winning the competition made a big difference. The gigs are flowing in now. People are starting to notice my talent, so I get booked for more things, especially corporate gigs.

My manager does my marketing for me, but when I do gigs, I market myself. That’s how I get my next gig. You have to socialize and network. Always carry business cards. Get out there. Talk to people. There’s no point hanging back.

Albert has his own website. They both utilise social media sites, Twitter and Facebook.

How do you cost your services?

Adelia: Fees are always an issue. Businesses have an entertainment budget. They’ll splurge on catering, but they want artists to perform for “exposure”.  Exposure doesn’t pay the rent…

Do you really want to take up a poorly paying gig? Is it worth your while to work for three hours for R500? Energy wise, petrol wise, it’s not worth the hassle.

Albert: The bottom fell out the market completely. People aren’t prepared to pay prices they paid five years ago. A leading international five-star hotel offered me R2000 for a Christmas Eve performance now, for which they paid me R2500 in 2010. Frankly, I turned that down. If you don’t value yourself, don’t expect anybody else to…

Enjoy Albert and Adelia’s live TV broadcast on the SABC3 Expresso Show via Youtube:

Find Adelia Douw and Albert Combrink on Facebook.
Follow @AlbertCombrink and @AdeliaDouw on Twitter.

By Liesl Jobson