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Why South African Folk Artist Jeremy Loops Is Pushing For International Collaborations

South African folk musician Jeremy Loops is an international star. He packs venues and performs in major festivals in Europe and other parts of the world. His music has millions of streams on Spotify.

Jeremy Loops’ domination started with the song “Down South” which he released in 2014 and appears on his debut album Trading Change, released in the same year. “Down South,” which featured the Cape Town-based rapper Motheo Moleko, topped most of the country’s radio stations in its prime.

“My aspiration was that ‘Down South’ was a number one South African hit,” recounts the musician during a Q&A session with Sheer Music Publishing founder David Alexander during the Midem African Forum held at Bridges for Music in Langa, Cape Town towards the end of February.

“It was just getting played everywhere and that was kind of as big as a song down my musical lane could get. But it didn’t touch sides anywhere else. Despite the fact that my team and I had a hit on our hands, we had no way to get that hit further than the South African borders really.”

Loops realized that that shortcoming was part of a big problem faced by many South African musicians. “There are amazing songs coming out of the South African market every day, but how many of those songs are going global?” he says. Loops then decided to try a different approach.

“If you have a song that is a hit in either Germany, the UK or America, that song can and probably will become a global hit,” says the musician. “Because if it’s number one in the US, it’s going to be number one everywhere else. So, the idea for me was, if I’m ever going to write a global hit, I need to try and get in the rooms with the producers who have already written a bunch of these global hits.”

He applied his theory in his sophomore album Critical as Water, released in 2018. The lead single “Waves” was produced by Will Hicks (Ed Sheeran, Lilly Allen, Bastille), with additional production contributions by Jake Gosling (James Bay, The Libertines, Shawn Mendes). Additionally, Loops worked with Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, One Republic, Lady Gaga) on the album’s opening song “Gold.”

For his upcoming album, the musician is working with more songwriters and producers from abroad, especially Europe. “Jake Gosling wrote the first Ed Sheeran albums with Ed Sheeran. Ed Holloway, who I’m writing with tomorrow, has the biggest two Lewis Capaldi songs and just won a bunch of Grammys last week,” he says.

He feels if “Down South” bore credits of an established songwriter and/or producer, we could be having a different conversation today. “When we sent ‘Down South’ to UK radio, he recalls, “We found out you have to pay for it to get a radio plugger and they take it to the UK radio and they’re like, ‘we don’t know who Jeremy Loops is.’ But if it was co-written by Ed Holloway or Jake Gosling, they would have been like, ‘we don’t know who Jeremy Loops is, but we know who these guys are, let’s listen to the song. And if they like it, they might play it.”

The musician saved up some money he had made from shows and started making trips to the UK and other parts of the globe. Getting into the studio with the aforementioned writers and producers was, however, never a breeze. “The way one gets to work with these producers is you have to have worked with some of them before,” he says. “Locking down that first thing with Jake Gosling was tough. We went over to the UK, we looked up the management companies in charge of the songwriters and producers.” For two weeks, Loops and his team head-hunted the companies. “What those people do is they listen to your stuff and make their decision. Through that hunt of looking for producers, we ended up hearing about Jake Gosling. We got hold of him, said, ‘would you like to have a day in the studio?’ He said, ‘yes, I’m happy to do a day.’ And we traveled out to his studio in Surrey and I spent the day making music with him.

Throughout this hunt, it didn’t hurt Jeremy Loops’ chances that he had a rich profile—he has sold out the 5000-seater venue The Brixton Academy in London, and he worked with Jake Gosling in his second album.

“If you nail it in those sessions, then the doors open. Then you are friends with the guy, you’ve had a great day in the studio and you write a good song. And that’s really all they want to do is they want to work on cool songs because they know if they write a good song, it might end up somewhere amazing.”

But at times it doesn’t work out. “I worked last year in October with one guy and we wrote the most ridiculous reggae song together. And at the end of the day, I think we both just looked at each other like, ‘cool, I’ll never see you again.’ Or how about the time two collaborators who were smoking all day and suggested they made a ‘combination of gypsy and country’? The output from those sessions, he considers the worst songs he’s ever made. “When I got back,” he says, “my manager asked, ‘how did it go? We spent 80,000 rands on this whole thing. Let me hear the songs.’ And I was like, ‘no, no one will ever hear those songs. Not even you.'”

But the hiccups are fewer than the victories. His tactics seem to be working. Millions of people are listening to his music. Jeremy Loops’ streaming statistics are impressive. “Down South” has 19 million views, “My People” 7.3 million, “Waves” 4 million among many others. The biggest pop stars in South Africa don’t have that much traction on streaming sites.

How those numbers translate financially in a South African context, however, is utterly disappointing. “‘ Down South,'” says Loops about his most streamed song on Spotify, “brings me like $480 a month from all of its streaming on iTunes, Spotify, and Deezer. So, it’s not huge money, but it’s money for sure. And it’s the biggest song I have. So, if you’ve got a global hit that’s got hundreds of millions or billions of streams, yeah, there’s big money attached to the royalties that come in for that.”

But that’s not his primary focus. “The publishing revenue is not my interest,” says the artist, “my interest in having a hit song, being booked for every major festival in the European summer because I’m a live band. So, it also depends on what you’re trying to get out of it.”

The possibilities are endless and could be achieved with his upcoming album.

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Written by How South Africa

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