Kahn Morbee went back to university this week – to finally, well officially, learn about the business side of the music industry.
Photo: Kahn Morbee. Source: Lizemarie Richardson, LR Photography
He’s been in the game for the last two decades: the Parlotones, which he started with school mates from Roodepoort’s West Ridge High School turns 21 this year. He also launched his own solo career five years ago, as the eponymous KAHN as well as finding time to successfully coach two winners of the Voice, talent reality show, in 2016 and 2017.
It’s been a career that’s seen some incredible highs; the Parlotones were the first SA band to headline a show at Johannesburg’s Dome, they played the FIFA 2010 kick off concert televised globally to billions and they’ve won numerous SAMA awards, but also experienced some real lows, like Kahn developing polyps on his vocal cords and having to undergo surgery, as well as a bruising and bloody legal battle with their former management.
Now though, that’s all behind them; the band is still together; they released their impressive double album China nine months ago and they’ve got a busy gigging schedule planned for the year. Now Morbee is getting used to going to lectures and attending study groups.
“I write songs for a living,” he says, “now I’ll just be writing assignments.”
Music has always been his first love, but he had been intending to study something related to it to ensure the longevity of his career.
“I was looking to do something in design or project management perhaps, but then synchronicity in the form of Jon Foster-Pedley, cropped up offering me the music and creative industries scholarship to study for my MBA at Henley Business School Africa.”
It’s a prospect that excites him given the disruption the has occurred in the music industry and the continued need to stay in a business that saw him go full time into it after first working in tele-sales at Mweb and managing only a term as a teacher at Johannesburg’s Jeppe Boys’ High once he had graduated with a BA in Communication from was then Rand Afrikaans University (today the University of Johannesburg).
“I’d read a book by Sting, who wrote about how he had taught during term time to earn a salary and then used the holidays to promote his music before becoming the star that he is, but I couldn’t. Teaching was taking up so much of my time, I have so much respect for teachers, believe me, but I found I had less time to focus on my music than when I actually had a nine-to-five job.”
From Jeppe, he went into the financial services industry and from there full time into the music industry.
“My journey in music has always been approached from a business point of view. I’ve had some wobbles along the way and maybe I’ve done things back to front. I’m hoping that through this academic journey to understand the business of music I’ll develop a better model especially in a day and age where nothing exists any more, but I think that’s true of most other businesses.
“Everything seems to have been disrupted but in the same breath it’s allowed us a freedom through an access to technology that we never had before. The music business is no longer the domain of the major labels where the old model was to sign you, throw money at the marketing and the recording in the form of a horrific loan that you would then take years to pay back.”
Morbee speaks from experience, he and the band had a legal battle with their previous manager (and their label) which resolved in the band agreeing to buy their back catalogue of music.
“It was kinda like blood money I guess,” he says.
“I hope I’ll discover that I’ve been doing business type things by default but that I’ve meandered to get to the right place eventually.
“We did a lot of things wrong, but we also did a lot of things right.”
Foster-Pedley said the business school had received a number of great applications for the scholarship but that Morbee had stood out because of his grit and resilience.
“We were looking for someone who not only had shown commitment to their own career but was were reaching that point where they can go beyond performance and help set up the industry far beyond their personal gain.
“Kahn has really paid his dues and he’s come out strong on the other side with a sense of purpose,” he’s a perfect candidate for what we are trying to achieve here.
As for Morbee, the music won’t take a back seat while he’s hitting the books.
“We’re still gigging, I’ll have to juggle things about, but I suppose my solo career will have to take a back seat as I complete this chapter.”First published in Saturday Star Article, May 25 2019