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Rock On

In recent years there has been a slew of US musicians and actors who have built business empires, from will-i-am to Sarah Michelle Gellar. South Africa is no different. Danny K may be working on his next album, but he's also planning to dominate the business landscape. AS TOLD TO NADINE TODD

Nadine Todd

You may know Danny K from his first hit single Hurts So Bad, or multiple chart toppers since then. If you’re a Makro shopper, you’ve probably seen a local range of electronics, Rocka, with a number of products branded with local musicians. Or perhaps you’ve seen the Sweets from Heaven retail packets, or are a fan of the Good Heart healthy snack range. Well, those are all Danny K too.

Danny K grew up in an entrepreneurial household. He watched his dad sell floor polish door-to-door, and later build the first LG importer in South Africa into a listed business. He launched his own record label and a decade later his first business. He’s known rejection and success. And he knows that if you can face failure and pick yourself up, you can ultimately succeed.

These are his lessons.

Rejection is a matter of opinion.

I only learnt this later, but looking back I can see that I didn’t let someone else’s opinion of me stop me. Opinions are highly subjective. You can’t base everything you do, or choose not to do, on what someone else thinks. I was a white kid trying to do black music at a time when the local music industry didn’t believe there was a place for South African pop and R&B musicians. I started submitting demos when I was 17, and for seven years I was rejected by all the major labels in South Africa. But that was the music I loved. That was who I was. I’m also a pretty tough-nosed person. I don’t like giving up. I had a songwriting partner, and we became the thorn in the side of the labels. We wouldn’t stop pestering them — they hated us. We were young and tenacious.

My parents reached a point where they wanted me to study. They supported me, but no one was convinced my music career would take off. So, I studied law, then went to Wits Business School (WBS), and started working for an investment bank after my degree. I wasn’t done though — I wanted to give my music one more shot. The difference was in my timing. Small, independent labels were launching, and they weren’t following the mainstream labels. One of them gave me a shot based on my demo, Hurt So Bad, which became my first single and an overnight success.

The lesson: There’s no such thing as a final ‘no’. Believe in yourself and push forward, or learn from those ‘nos’ and adjust your pitch — just don’t give up.

You need to take control of your destiny.

If my experiences in London finally taught me anything, it’s that you want to be in control of your own career — not live on the whims of other labels — so together with my brother, Jarren, I started my own label. I was never going to be reliant on anyone again.

I was about to release my second album when my world came crashing down. Jarren was killed in a helicopter accident, and everything else that had happened until that point stopped being important. I was finally done with the industry. I had no idea how to push forward.

And then things shifted. Even as I made the decision that I couldn’t push on, I felt this tremendous sense of responsibility to take this thing that I had built with my best friend and brother, and do something with it. I released a single, I Can’t Imagine, as a tribute to my brother, and renamed my label and company J23, because Jarren was 23 when he died. I channelled all that pain and tragedy into what I was doing, and I learnt about failing forward, and what it means to live up to not only your own dreams, but the dreams that the people who love you have for you too.

The lesson: If you’re able to fail forward, you’re learning from everything that happens to you. You can turn tragedy into triumph. It’s all about mindset.

In everything you do, use everything you have. I come from a family that fosters entrepreneurship. My dad came from nothing. I would go on the road with him when I was a kid and watch him build something out of nothing. He secured the first LG licence in South Africa and built it into a listed business. It made me realise anything was possible, and that I wasn’t limited by my own imagination.

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November 2018