It’s called The Great Escape – and between Thursday May 9 and Saturday May 11, Henley MBA graduate Barry van Zyl was there, finding ways of exporting South Africa’s music to the world.
Henley Business School is widely recognised for its diversity and international reach with 150 academics from 18 countries, widely published, over 7,000 students from more than 140 countries, it has international campuses and offices in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Malaysia, Malta and South Africa.
Held in Brighton in the south of England, The Great Escape Festival is a showcase for live music with 572 bands on the 2019 line-up with a music industry convention running alongside, attended by more than 3 500 expo attendees, from music managers to impresarios, agents, recording labels, journalists and marketers.
Van Zyl was there, invited by the UK government’s Department of International Trade (DIT) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which also hosts the Brit awards every year honouring recording artists. The DIT, says Van Zyl, has believed in the potential of developing live music as a potential export since the phenomenal success of the Beatles more than 50 years ago, so much so that it established a successful music export growth scheme (MEGS).
“The return on investment is above average, so investing in music industry start-ups a better bet than incubating other certain product or service industries.”
It’s something that’s very close to his heart not just as a lifelong professional musician, but also the subject of his MBA thesis done at Henley Africa, this time on how to successfully export live music from South Africa. Doing the research brought him into contact with the DIT, but it was when he hosted a delegation of seven Nigerian film executive to London on a trade mission that the DIT and BPI approached him to attend the convention, arranging a series of speed meeting sessions.
“These meetings could have been between an agent in Australia, management from USA or even a festival in Lagos. This is a place where there is a whole lot running concurrently, where the entire music world descends looking for business opportunities and scouting talent, especially collaborating between countries.
“After the DIT saw what we were doing with the Nigerian film execs they said: ‘why don’t you see if you can’t expand this to music too?’”
From Brighton, Van Zyl was off to London to meet with the events team at Henley UK to put the finishing touches to the second master class session that he co-designed with Henley Business School Africa associate and iconic South African comedian John Vlismas.
“We did the pilot in Lagos last year, with John hosting and facilitating, and now the second will be held at Henley Munich at the end of May.
“We’ve reinvented the masterclass that used to only be held at the Henley Greenlands campus in London, in the hope of turning it into a global event held in different territories not just to engage with the Henley alumni community but also to attract future Henley students.”
Straight after that, Van Zyl was to stay in Munich to attend the Henley International Alumni Board meeting, as the chair of the African alumni chapters. From there, it was on to Henley Copenhagen to present a networking session on the business of rhythm to students.
It’s a far cry from drumming for Johnny Clegg for the last 20 years, but exactly what Van Zyl signed up for when he enrolled for his MBA, graduating last year.
Henley Business School Africa dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley agrees.
“There’s a direct correlation between economic growth and the growth of creative industries, especially in emerging economies. One of the most compelling studies has been done by Clayton M Christensen, one of the doyens of the Harvard Business School and the theorist of disruptive innovation. If you build creatives you build economies, it’s that simple.”
Henley’s unique MBA for the music and creative industries was created specifically to achieve this, he says.
“The problem is that our economic landscape is still dominated, almost asphyxiated, by the monolithic corporates of that era. This all-pervasive corporate conservatism and conformity act like a thermostat keeping the status quo in place. We need to break that mould, shatter the greenhouse and create the conditions that nurture the growth of organic businesses that disrupt the model and evolve the economy.
“What Barry is doing is just the start of many other initiatives that we hope will follow as we continue to set ourselves apart from other business schools – and look to narrowing the Gini co-efficient in South Africa and build the leaders who build the businesses which will build Africa.”