Like many young talent today, his breakout came after posting a few covers that went viral online. Since then, it has gained fans all over the world, enjoying an international fan base through Spotify playlists. His music is also widely distributed in South Africa. Following his online success, Middleton sold eight theaters on his tour of Europe, where he also performed in unconventional venues like quirky museums and run-down warehouses in London.
Like most musicians in the COVID-19 pandemic, he has taken over live performances, canceling 23 shows that have been rescheduled for next year. In addition to her musical pursuits, Middleton recently collaborated on a photoshoot with acclaimed South African fashion designer Rich Mnisi, who
dressed the musician in bright pieces from his latest season titled Alkebulan, which appeared at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Berlin.
He also recently released his second studio album. A mild case of insomnia, which deviates a bit from his first electronic EP. And with the new, highly acoustic eight-track project, the singer is determined to show the world that independent musicians have more drive than their signed counterparts. Music In Africa contacted Middleton to talk about their musical journey.
MUSIC IN AFRICA: What is your vision?
JOSH MIDDLETON: I try to create something authentic and unique that makes sense. I don’t think there are a lot of artists who can tackle struggles, especially my generation. I went through this stage before, where I listened to so much music but couldn’t find anything relevant at this time. There are a lot of songs that I wrote stories about because of this. I also realized that our generation is so different and that there is such a division between us. There are a lot of kids out there who have struggled to form meaningful relationships, especially having phones and being on social media so early in life. So I just wanna tell real stories.
Your music addresses the themes of love, suicide and depression. Are your songs inspired by personal experiences?
It depends. There are songs on the album about my personal experiences. I had a friend who struggled a lot with suicide and depression, so I wrote a song about it. I have also seen people lose loved ones and have written about it as well, although I was not involved in this story. There are also songs that tackle multiple issues that I’ve never encountered before, so it’s a mix of both personal and impersonal experiences.
How does the SA music market compare to its UK counterpart?
They’re pretty similar industries, but it’s much more competitive in the UK. For every talented person in South Africa, you probably have around 10 other equally talented competitors in the UK. The UK also supports the arts industry much more than South Africa. The only important thing, I think, is that South African musicians should aim to take the success they have created in South Africa abroad and create even greater success.
Do you think your dual citizenship status gives you an added advantage over South African artists in terms of growing as a musician?
Yes. I have so many friends who could never go abroad and share their gifts there. So I’m really lucky. But to be honest these days with technology you can make an impact even before you visit these countries. In 2017, I collected a few covers and posted them on the internet and they went viral, garnering around 5 million views. From there I gathered a lot of fans around the world. This was before I had done or experienced anything in the UK music industry. This traction I had gained online kicked off my European tour and with the success of these songs online I was able to sell some gigs in Europe.
Do you think artists sometimes spend too much time writing songs and overthinking the creative process?
Absoutely. I think artists are going through this phase of what we call “writer’s remorse”. Spend so much time thinking about how you are going to write a song that is better than something else or your previous songs. But there are those times when you instantly get a song, like “Stay” and “Caught”. But there are also songs that took me two years to write. The song of the year took two and a half years to write. I never could find the right refrain for it.
If you had the power, what would you change in the music industry?
There is a lot of tension, hatred and jealousy in the industry. And I understand that it’s human nature to be jealous, but I would create a happy environment. Artists need to create a supportive environment for each other. I also think there are a lot of people in the industry who could be bypassed in terms of third parties. There are too many managers, publicists, booking agents and labels. I’ve met so many booking agents myself and got screwed, and that’s why I’m self-managing right now. It just becomes a cost queue where everyone is just trying to get their money’s worth. You get top managers in the industry who have worked with people like Locnville, Goodluck, Mi Casa. They come and charge say R20,000 [$1 300] a month, but they can’t say what they could do for you. I can do anything a manager can do on my own.
What has been your worst experience as an emerging musician?
There was a popular local booking agent who already booked me and several artists for a festival. We were told that there was a limited budget and that we could not be paid for our performances. The agent therefore gave us small amounts of R500. We later learned that she had received 100,000 rand to be divided among the artists. But in the end, there were around seven performers who all got around R500 each. I also remember not wanting to sign that one contract – we were told to share the copyright of a song for a track that I wrote entirely on my own. So there is a lot of sabotage in the industry, and you have to be tough.
Tell us about your latest album
The majority of the songs on the album were written overseas. I signed with Ditto when I was in UK, then slowly started releasing singles, and spent a whole year working with many talents and experimenting with sounds. My first album was very electronic, but I went almost completely acoustic on my last album. I was almost brought back to my roots; When I was younger my inspirations were Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Aretha Franklin, and lots of R&B and soul influences. So I would say the album is probably re-rooting me in soul and acoustic elements. ‘Freedom’ is one of my favorites on the project. It’s a powerful hymn that says it’s okay to be free, to live your life, and not to be afraid of what people think. And the album is called A mild case of insomnia because we didn’t get much sleep during its production.
What kept you busy during the lockdown and what do you plan to do next?
I did a lot of charity programming during the pandemic restrictions, but I was hesitant to stream any content from my home and create something that I wasn’t 100% happy with. In the future, I would love to work with local musicians like Shekinah, there is so much talent here. But before that, I will definitely take five minutes of rest. I’m going on tour abroad. It has been an eventful two years.