Award-winning South African music producer Helmut Meijer discovered his exceptional talent for music and technology surprisingly late in his life. Even though music was clearly in his genes, with his father having been a concert organist and improvisor, and his mother a concert pianist, he only developed an interest in playing a musical instrument when he was 17 years old, and he only considered music as a career choice after completing a BSc degree at Stellenbosch University (SU).
“As a child growing up in Oudtshoorn, I was always surrounded by music, but it was never forced on me and I grew up as a normal boy who spent a lot of time in the outdoors. When I finally started taking piano lessons at the age of 17, I progressed very quickly. And yet, I decided to study for a BSc degree at Maties and major in Geography.”
It was his time at SU, however, that sealed his fate. “I discovered the wonderful Conservatorium and its practice rooms where music students would practise for hours. Whenever I had the opportunity, I would slip into any unoccupied practice room I could find to play the piano and improve my own skills. I became such a familiar face that people started to believe that I was a music student myself,” he laughs.
Helmut’s talent and keen interest in music soon drew the attention of the music staff. “When I was in my third year of BSc, I had a conversation with Prof Ria Smit, a lecturer at the music department, who told me about a brand-new master’s degree in music technology that they were planning to launch the following year. She believed that my love for music combined with my analytical mind and interest in technology made me a perfect candidate for the course; and encouraged me to apply.”
The happy result was that Helmut became part of the very first intake of students for the MPhil in Music Technology at SU in 2001. “It was an incredible time. The Conservatorium had received funding for an amazing recording studio and I enjoyed free scope to use all the modern equipment as part of my training with my mentor Theo Herbst. I was like a kid in a candy store!”
As part of his training, Helmut started to make recordings for the Conservatorium as well as some of the very talented bands that were starting to make a name for themselves on the local music scene. “Together with my friend, Daniel Steenkamp, I founded Merchant Records and, in close association with the recording studio at the Conservatorium, we got to work with some incredible local talent and were involved with several community upliftment endeavours.”
One of the first big names that Helmut worked with during this time in Stellenbosch was the DNA Strings, one of South Africa’s best-known instrumental bands. “Working with the DNA Strings was a career highlight and I am very proud to have won my first South African Music Awards (SAMAs) for producing two of their albums: ‘El Niño’ and ‘Nomad’.” (Helmut went on to win a string of music awards for his excellent music production skills over the subsequent years.)
After obtaining his MPhil in Music Technology cum laude, he founded his own company Helmut Meijer Music where he continues to work as music producer, as well as music director, composer, arranger and musician. In 2015, he co-launched StoneBear & Mayor, a new boutique record label that focuses on developing local talent for the international market, with fellow music producer and songwriter Lukas de Beer.
Helmut has worked with a wide range of projects and artists over the years. Besides the DNA Strings, other big names include Delta Blue, Abaqondisi Brothers, Heinz Winckler and the American rock band Switchfoot. His work took him to many interesting parts of the world, including the famous
Abbey Road Studios in London. “I have had the incredible privilege, on more than one occasion, to work with Geoff Pesche, who has mastered albums for many top artists such as Coldplay, Madonna and Kylie Minogue,” he mentions with pride.
According to Helmut, working as a music producer comes with great responsibility. “Artists rely on us to make their dreams come true. It requires a lot of hard work, attention to detail and absolute dedication, but it is also extremely rewarding.”
When time allows it, he composes, performs and records his own music under the Calev brand. He also loves to travel and has a special interest in Israel, having lived there for a year and studied the Hebrew language.
“My motto in life is to lead and inspire. You can only inspire others if you remain inspired yourself. It is for this reason that I travel often and try out many different things. I never want to stop expanding my horizons.”
- By Birgit Ottermann. Photo by Wil Punt/Peartree Photography -