The path to success is not always straight and narrow. This can be taken to the extreme when you consider a field as dynamic and unpredictable as music. Singer/Songwriter Dominic Neill is a perfect example of how your destination isn’t predetermined. With a top 10 SA Idols finish under his belt some might have thought that enough to secure a comfortable career in the music industry, however, it took several years and time away from the stage to give Dominic the perspective he needed to seize the opportunity for stardom when it next presented itself. CSA caught up with the rising talent and got an insight into his musical journey.
Words: Tshiamo Seape
CSA: Before entering Idols what was your musical background?
Dominic: I always say music was like the uncle that’s always around. I never had to worry because I knew it would always be a part of my life. The same way that uncle is always going to be there just because he’s your family. It’s also very strong in my family. My mom values music a lot. I started playing the piano when I was four and jumped to other instruments later on – drums, saxophone, lots of different things. But, when I was about 15 or 16 I realised I wanted to move away from the more classical stuff and I wanted to create, and use music as an outlet to tell stories. I dabbled in a bit of music while at Stellenbosch (University) before I entered Idols.
You’ve recently signed to Universal. Did that come about soon after you left Idols?
No, it took me a while. Idols showed me I had what it took to make it, but it also showed me I have a lot of work to do to bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. I also wanted to study, so I went away and studied and during that process just carried on writing and carried on dabbling. After that, I started working at a label called Respect Music, where we manage a couple of artists. Through that, I met Matthew Gold – who is signed to Universal. So, I was always in meetings with Universal guys, and so we built a relationship. Eventually, the question came up: are you still an artist yourself? I said that I wasn’t really, but I was looking for opportunities. After that, I was sent an instrumental which became my radio breakthrough on a song called Better Day, with Joe Louis. One thing led to another and Love You Still with DJ Kent came along. That along with the hundreds of demos I had stacked up over the years made them think it was a good time to sign me. All in all, it’s about three years after Idols and I’ve been signed to Universal for about 9 months now.
Any other collaborations in the pipeline?
Yeah, man! I was in the studio with (DJ) Ganyani this week, which could be quite interesting. He just did a track with Goodluck – Fading, that’s doing quite well. I was also in Germany for a month writing with a team in Berlin – it’s really exciting.
What part of being a musician is the most interesting to you?
Everything gives you different stimulation. Obviously, the creative process is great because I’m a creative at the end of the day. I think for me it’s telling stories. Telling honest stories whether they’re mine, or someone else’s is the best part. As cliche as it is I also love being on stage ; that’s quite a mindblowing experience. It’s just a completely different experience from what I’ve been doing previously. Also people – I love people. The fact that I was in Berlin working with people from England and two people I’d never met and we wrote a song is quite interesting.
Are there any musicians you’d like to produce music with?
I think Jon Bellion is very cool. What I like about John Bellion is that he’s someone who’s just so unique – he produces himself, he writes himself, he sings himself. He does everything. Also, If you could put me in a room with the people who produced Dua Lipa‘s latest project, I’d be happy as chips. It’s just an incredible project. You can listen to the whole album and it makes sense.
What are your gripes with the SA music industry and what are you most happy about?
As South African artists we have all these amazing digital platforms that should allow us to really get our music to everyone and bridge the gap between physical and digital. Unfortunately, our culture is not so digitally driven yet and it’s difficult and expensive. We need to create a culture where people buy music, and people consume music. When you give away your music for free it creates the wrong precedent, and we need an industry that grows.
You’re quite close with fellow Idols alumni Shekhinah so we wanted to know what your relationship is like now, after the show?
Shekhinah is super busy because she’s amazing and she’s doing incredible things, but we did write on my album together. The first single: Out of My League was co-written by her. I wanted her on the track as well but sometimes things just don’t work out. We see each other every now and then when we can.
Lastly, what have been your highlights of the year?
I played at Ms South Africa, which was so cool. We did a medley with and that was incredible. It was a cool experience for me and a good introduction for people who didn’t know me. I got to write in Berlin, and playing Park Life in Johannesburg was a big highlight. Also, playing a lot more live shows. I want to play more live music and share my music with more people.
or listen and download his latest EP here