Making NZ Music Month Last All Year Long
There are always positives that can be drawn from negatives.
Thankfully, the saying can be applied for the music industry amidst what has been a pandemonious post-pandemic period for everyone, no matter what field of work they find themselves in.
Nearing the back end of New Zealand Music Month, it’s been a chance for the New Zealand Music Commission (NZMC) to continue promoting the goodness produced right here in our own backyards. They simply had no choice with the absence of international acts since the world shutdown, and the NZMC took it in their stride, led by Head of Special Projects and Events, Rodney Fisher.
Under the theme of ‘Access for all of Aotearoa’, Fisher has been across 22 towns this month, supporting artists and telling the stories of success amidst the chaos.
“We’ve been really focussed on helping the growth and development in the industry. We’ve got a whole lot of mentors out on the road this month too. I guess the month has been taken on board and celebrated a lot more than it has in other years, and the partnerships we’ve had.
“I feel like there’s been a lot more activity than usual which is cool.”
Hitting the high notes
That increase in activity has been spearheaded by record numbers of acts touring the country and showcasing their sounds. On top of that, commercial radio networks and stations playing contemporary New Zealand music collectively played more than 20% local music content in the last calendar year - the first time they’ve broken that mark since 2005.
Despite the gleaming statistics, Fisher insists the month is about more than frequent plays on frequencies.
“New Zealand Music Month is about the whole country. It’s not just about trying to get songs on radio, it’s a celebration for all New Zealanders. It’s having a more of a cultural stamp on Kiwis as a whole.”
Photo: Liam Brown.
Being able to put a magnifying glass on our country has meant there have been opportunities to focus on other important elements to life within the industry for Fisher and his team.
“It’s nice to be putting effort into the local ecosystem. Once the world goes back to normal, hopefully there’ll be a much healthier ecosystem for local touring because of this.
“It’s a well-being thing for the music community as well, it’s about finding that sense of belonging and where you come from.”
Well-being is the pure focus for MusicHelps, a Kiwi charity offering financial aid and well-being services for Kiwi artists in need. Acting General Manager Carmel Bennett’s thrilled they’ve been able to continue offering a 24-hour counselling service for all members of the music industry, which was used heavily in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.
“It was well used during COVID. Well used. The main issues, it’ll come as no surprise, were anxiety. ‘Where's my next paycheck coming from?’”
With the help of Government support, MusicHelps were able to initiate the COVID-19 Relief Grant, handing out over $800,000 of financial assistance. While money can certainly help, it didn’t heal wounds for some members of the industry. One of the main struggles brought up by those using the service over the phone or in person was the anxiety created around the lack of creative output.
Photo: Liam Brown.
“There was some pressure that artists were experiencing where they were seeing people achieving so much online, and thinking ‘why aren’t I writing or recording a song a day?’
“Some people have felt like there’s been more pressure on them to make use of the opportunity,” Fisher added.
The phone service could have been discontinued after the spike in COVID-related calls dropped as time went on. Bennett’s thrilled it didn’t, meaning the opportunity has arisen for another critical issue to be heard with clearer ears, the importance of feeling safe whilst working within the industry.
“It’s about offering a safe space to talk about these things, particularly for women in the industry.
"I’ve been in the music industry since '82, and it’s only been in the last two to three years that we’ve started holding these conversations, that we’ve started to accept that this isn’t right. I think there’s more support to allow people to disclose. There is more acceptance of people speaking out. It’s no longer, ‘there you go, love - sit in the corner and shut up.’”
Photo: Liam Brown.
Communication and open conversations at the forefront of importance. With all of this in mind, it would be fair to say the NZ Music Commission and MusicHelps would claim a few victories. But there’s still a way to go.
“I think it’s important to recognize that whilst the venues are open, whilst artists and crew are working. Until those big international acts start coming back into New Zealand, the industry is not back on its feet.
“You think about someone like Guns n’ Roses who would employ about two-to-three hundred New Zealanders.
“It’s fantastic watching all these New Zealand bands out and about, but they can’t afford to but a crew like that out. The industry certainly isn’t in clover, and it will take a long while.”
Fisher concurs with Bennett, but can see a COVID-forced shift working in Aotearoa’s favour.
“A lot of what we were doing was putting things in place so local bands could access that bigger production to help support those other businesses that were struggling. You look at the likes of Six60 and L.A.B who have been filling the gap with their arena shows.
In a dream scenario, there would be just more of those acts growing to that level, slotting into those spots where internationals would usually be.”
It’s been a year that has created a path no one could’ve scripted, with the ball now well and on New Zealand Artist’s side of the court, ready to blaze a trail across the nation before taking on the world.
If you need support from the 24-hour counselling service provided by MusicHelps, you can call the help-line; 0508MUSICHELPS or you can begin the process online - www.musichelps.org.nz