Dean Meldau's hi
By Robert Laing
Sometimes to move ahead, you have to step back. As soon as Dean Meldau finished school, he went straight to Hollywood to make it big. His most prominent parts were audience member in Dr Phil Show and extra in Matchstick Men, but he's no quitter. He plans to return, better prepared.
"I'm much older and more experienced now," the 24-year-old says. "During my first time in Hollywood, I was just a kid with a guitar. Now I've got an album and a video. I can go knocking on doors, doing the thing properly."
Dean has called his debut album h.i. for three reasons.
"It's my first album, so I'm saying 'hi'. H.I. also stands for for Hollywood Inspiration which is my goal, my purpose. And the cover has a guy flying high."
The title track Hollywood Inspiration (h.i.) struck me as melancholy, an oddity in an album striving to be up-beat and inspirational. A first on my 1485AM radio show, Dean asked if he could bring his guitar and perform some live songs. He mainly played new material, but opted to perform Hollywood Inspiration live rather than have the recorded version broadcast.
Musicians often cringe at their recordings, wishing they could go back and redo songs the way they have further polished them. I asked Dean if it was because he had a newer and better version, and he replied it was because he wanted to step back to the original version. His album was mastered in California where efforts to make the song more full-bodied and fleshed-out blunted its minimalist beauty.
Listening to Dean with just his guitar performing
My eyes are blinded by my dreaming Can't take this anymore
the song sounded even more heartbreaking than the orchestrated version on the CD.
"I was actually standing in Hollywood hills when I wrote this song. When I think of Hollywood, I think of stars, fame... that's my dream, that's my inspiration."
The idea of my radio show is to hear singer-songwriters tell the stories behind their songs. Dean has done some of this already in h.i.'s liner notes. The CD's booklet contains the lyrics to each song with a one-line description. But it also has the caveat: "Every song has many meanings, and is open to interpretation. I have decided to include one of my interpretations with each song."
The line that goes with Hollywood Inspiration is: "This was inspired at a stage in my life when I had to take a step back, in order to take two steps forward."
Dean decided before he could conquer America, he would need to return to South Africa and launch himself here first, and then go back prepared. He had gone to Hollywood after school to study at the Musicians Institute for two years.
"I had mixed emotions. It was a very fearful time, but also very exciting, but also sad. I love South Africa, but want to make it outside."
Like all local musicians, Dean faces the snag that South Africa does not have a properly functioning music market. A key ingredient for any market to work efficiently is information. And you have to be a real aficionado to be informed on South African music because there is no proper music press, and radio playlists are cut 'n paste from Billboard's Hot 100. This country has plenty of great musicians with no way of reaching their potential audience.
Dean, however, is undaunted.
"It's a state of my mind. People are always saying 'music is the hardest industry to get into, why don't you rather become a lawyer'. But if you're passionate and focused, you can make it."
As he sings in h.i.'s opening track Smile with me: "Believe in it, it will be. Create your destiny."
But Dean's drive and determination so far have only gotten him chastised on air by a commercial radio station DJ. There's no local equivalent of Billboard's Hot 100, so commercial radio stations use audience vote-based systems. They typically air a local music hour on a quite night to pretend they're meeting their local content quotas, and the station in question's is is on a Sunday evening. Dean followed the steps explained on the station's website, and encouraged his fans to fill in an online form. Instead of getting playlisted, the DJ told him on air to quit pestering him.
TV has been kinder. Dean advises musicians to invest in videos. He was offered a good deal by a Belgium production house which has won several awards. Its video of Dean's song Beautiful, featuring him canoodling with a sexy blond, has been nominated by MK89 for "best love scene" award. It has also got him exposure on SABC's TV stations.
"Through dedication, hard work, persistence and commitment you can achieve anything you set your mind to," his liner notes say.
I hope that turns out to be true for Dean and all the other talented people getting battered and bruised in South Africa's broken music market.
Add a review or comment on Dean Meldau: