This post, originally from August, 2006, in reply to a question from Robbie Siataga on an earlier post, linked, still seems to work for me. I thought I'd repost it for NZ Music Month, and because of the ongoing discussion on Public Address:
where do you see
music going and what measures would you implement to ensure it's continued relevance in the standardised global media market ??? New Zealand
So a qualifier again: this post is not trying to offer definitive answers, rather it’s a series of random thoughts, written as they occur. My opinion is just that and I don’t pretend to have any answers or pretend to be able to predict anything. I’m no seer, and I'm no self proclaimed expert.
DM…you expressed your fairly strongly held, feelings about NZ on Air and the way they administer the brief they have from the people of NZ, via the current government, to promote the nation’s music across the broadcasting spectrums. Your opinions are not uncommonly held and are regularly expressed on various forums and elsewhere.
Whilst I have my problems too with some of this they’re not nearly as pronounced as yours and others' are. It is a topic, however, that a lot of people, musicians especially, feel very strongly about.
Myself, I think NZ on Air is trapped a little between the need to promote something with a strong indigenous flavour (i.e. the cultural side of its brief) and the commercial radio stations who, despite lip service have no desire to play any real percentage of New Zealand music and would, if the political environment was right, drop most of it as fast as they possibly could. It’s a tough place for Brendan to be and for this reason, and a few others, I am of two minds about the concept of a quota. On a clear downside, and evidenced in NZ recently, the quota (and I’ve said this many times) strips the music of its identity, especially its cultural identity, in the mad drive to get songs on a radio system that is obliged to play a percentage but only wants to play songs that fit easily.
They don’t want songs that quirkily stand out, they want songs that blandly sell ads, songs from acts like Breaks Co-op, the new Stellar and Brooke Fraser which are facelessly unthreatening. I’m not saying they’re bad…Breaks Co-op are quite pleasant. But that, sadly, is not what the NZ music industry, if it is to thrive and survive, needs. It needs raw and rough originality, music that sounds different to that global mass released daily. I think Scribe had that, it was so wonderfully Newzild despite its pretensions to being otherwise.
However, I have to say, it’s an ominous sign that his new, massively overdue, album is being recorded (partially with DJ Premier, a bit of a hero of mine) in NYC. But that’s what the soulless bulldozer that is Australian A&R (which has had a shitty record in recent years) does I’m afraid, as I know from personal experience.
Up against that is the need for hits. Pop music is driven by hits which traditionally are driven by radio and video, hence the two main targeted focal points for NZOA. And I agree with that focus generally. Without hits, underground or overground, no sales. You can’t survive on credibility, as Flying Nun found, being forced to bring in Mushroom as a partner (which started the process where NZ’s most important catalogue disappeared into an American corporate which will inevitably eventually forget it exists).
But that formula…radio, video, hits…is changing and will change in future years (and not too future…very few predicted Youtube five years ago, although the pointers were there) in ways we can’t imagine yet. How the hits will come will change and that change has already begun. Digital access to everything, unbelievable interactivity in our entertainment and the sheer amount of material available to each and every one of us is inevitably going to force a sea-change in musical entertainment as radical as the one the planet endured when recorded music first became widely available about 90 years ago.
Already one thing is obvious. The album as such is more or less in its death throes. It’s going to take a while but it’s inevitable. The song, which is where this all started, is where it’s all going back to, and the delivery medium is a form of digital or the suchlike. It’s easy to forget that the album as a force is less than 40 years old. And there are very few successful albums that haven’t been driven by one or two key songs. Even the iPod and its equivalent is just an interim step…already music capable phones are dealing to standalone MP3 players in the more technologically advanced societies of
This inevitable step makes the major record companies largely redundant. All they really offer now is the means of distribution and the money to record and make videos. The last two requirements have more or less already slipped out of their hands as the means to do both are to a releasable level are within the means of virtually anyone.
The video delivery process too is in the process of being democratised. The means of distribution offered by the majors will still be a strength as long as people want to buy CDs from brick and mortar shops, but the end of that is in sight too, perhaps not in the next couple of years but sooner than most people realise. And any requirement for physical CDs will be fulfilled by central warehousing linked to shops that are little more than ordering and listening booths, mostly in Wal-mart / Warehouse type operations. Already the hardcore artist fanbases are almost exclusively catered for on-line.
The only other thing the big boys can offer traditionally is marketing muscle. Once again the digital revolution, right now the likes of MySpace and the p2p sites and MP3 blogs are removing that from the domain of the majors and placing it in the hands of the artists or their switched on management. Ever wondered why the big boys are so violently against the P2P sharers. They’ve been screwing people for decades without a conscious ethical murmur, so the righteousness of their position is questionable. No it’s because it removes another layer of control, of need for their services. The majors will soon be reduced to little more than catalogues to be licensed, and a few mega acts that can’t survive outside the machinery of those companies.
In 2006 over 20% of the music sold globally now comes from sources outside the majors. As that creeps more and more on-line it means that a larger percentage of the return from the sales of music will return to the makers. A record or CD will no longer need to have a massive comfort zone in the pricing (about $10 per CD on a full priced NZ disc) to cover the majors’ bloated costs, or the “warehousing”. The artist will, hopefully, no longer have to suffer punitive recording contracts. Even the role of the publisher is reduced to little more than a bank and a sync negotiator as the digital age and various performing rights organisations provide all the services a writer really needs. The balance shifts.
So what has this got to do with the future of NZ music. Everything, actually. It’s a reasonable assumption that in the medium term multinational labels will cease to invest in local music.
In my previous post I talked about the digital divide between
As the digital move is made away from majors and multinationals, so NZ on Air’s role will have to change. How exactly I’m not sure, but a return to their grassroots seems obvious, supporting the smaller, cutting edge, more innovative music being made at that level. I think the export drive, the funding of such and the relentless talking, committees, and reports are and were a waste of space and time. Unless of course you have something viable to sell. No one was doing Fat Freddies abroad but there are 200 Brooke Frasers. Which one makes more sense to push. And yet the whole NZOA system has been dedicated to the likes of that latter because it made our radio happy and worked for the quota. FFD on the other hand were made by the fans, both in NZ and abroad, and, like Split Enz, in 1979, driven to radio by the public.
So as I said earlier, the mad rush to radio removed the things that made so much music identifiably ours. The industry got caught up in the whole “kiwi music” thing and “kiwi music month” so much that it lost track of what was special in the first place. I think we do our best musicians a disservice too by putting all “kiwi music” on such a pedestal, forever saying that we have so much talent in NZ, implying that it is somewhat more advantaged than the rest of the world.
Of course we have talent, but no more so than a city of four million people anywhere else in the world. There are some, no make that, many, truly awful musicians and bands in the country too. Being “kiwi” doesn’t make the 50% of stuff on most “Kiwi Hit Discs” that is un-listenable, any better than it is in the real world.
Our edge and the ability to sell
Ok, that’s enough from me…I’ve said my bit, probably a bit too much. Some of the opinions expressed are probably rather crudely put and need fleshing out somewhat but I think I need a Bintang……