Piet van Wyk de Vries, a songwriter and singer, has earned fame and respect in the circles of Afrikaans singers. Dozi, PJ Powers and Lebo M are just a few of the published artists who have chosen songs from this writer. Most notable is Mathys Roets, who almost exclusively uses songs from his friend. He believes that the songs written by Piet van Wyk de Vries show gravitas and integrity.
But Piet also has a dark sense of humour and refuses to conform or fall into commercialism. He is well known as the barefoot performer – an Afrikaans singer and songwriter creating for passion and not for fame or money.
FdT: When did you realise you want to be a songwriter? Tell us a bit about your development as a songwriter.
PvWdV: I realised during high school that much of the music in my head, that I thought I had heard on a radio, did not actually exist yet. I also became conscious that not everyone thought, “Oh, they did that wrong there,” or, “They should have taken the song to this or that place instead,” when they heard a song on the radio. The rest of it was just practice.
FdT: How did you get published for the first time as a songwriter?
PvWdV: In the ‘90s the band I was in, “Flying Circus” signed a development deal with JT Publishing. But around 1996 the head of EMI Music Publishing, Robbie Callenbach, offered me an enormous publishing deal when he heard a demo of some songs I was working on at the time.
FdT: What has been your greatest writing achievement?
PvWdV: The last song I wrote is always my greatest achievement, until I write the next one. Most of them would be deemed silly or not up to public standard, but to me, at birth, each is the best.
FdT: How do you decide what to write about?
PvWdV: I do not generally decide on songs. Writing for me is not a choice; it is like breathing: it just happens.
FdT: How easy is it to make a living as a songwriter?
PvWdV: In SA, virtually impossible. The proliferation of Information Technology and the state of the economy are adverse factors, not to mention the institutionalized culture of plagiarism especially in the Afrikaans market. One could make money if you write for the masses, which I have done, although, I am not interested in that side anymore. Being a successful songwriter can make you some good pocket money, but in our small part of the world, it can at most be a sideline career.
FdT: What general advice would you give aspirant songwriters just starting out?
PvWdV: Keep it real; there are enough stupid songs in the world. Do something worth at least the ink on the paper.
FdT: What tips would you give a songwriter about getting published?
PvWdV: Do your homework. Educate yourself on the music business and the legal side of it. Get proper legal advice. Choose carefully. Visit SAMRO and learn all you can about them and how they could help you. Talk to other songwriters who have more experience than you. Don’t be precious about your stuff.
FdT: What do you consider to be the most important song writing tip you ever received?
PvWdV: Keep it under 3 minutes and 30 seconds, under 4 minutes for slow songs. If you cannot do that, you are not a good songwriter.
About the Author:
Ferdie du Toit is passionate about contemporary music and the writing behind it. He has good relations with some of South Africa’s most talented singer/songwriters. When he is not writing he loves travelling, which he combines with his photography. He escapes the madness with fantasy novels and movies.
Ferdie recently completed the Magazine Journalism Course at SA Writers’ College.