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Radio Silence: Success without Mainstream Airplay

Mako Road might just be the biggest band in NZ not on your radio. From sell-out tours to global streaming attention, they're in no hurry for that to change.

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Mako Road will never boast their success or streaming statistics to you even if you try to get it out of them. It’s not in their nature.

But let this sink in. 

Just four years ago, the indie-rock foursome was born within the beer-littered territories at the University of Canterbury, playing covers to their friends and slowly building their own discography of original tunes. Fast forward to the end of this year, and their near 450-thousand monthly listeners on Spotify would pack out Eden Park nine times.

How on earth did the mammoth growth happen? Especially with precisely none of their infectiously catchy tunes playing on any of our country’s main radio stations?

Connor Jaine, the band's bass player, puts it succinctly.

“Fucked if I know really!”

Define 'bugger all'...

The Big Idea caught up with Jaine, a.k.a ‘CJ’ (Bass) and Robbie Day (Drums) as their week-long marathon of practicing in Nelson before the festival season drew to a close. For Day and Rhian Ward (Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitar), the sunshine capital of New Zealand is home, and the place the band has retreated to before playing shows in the past two months. Before COVID trashed everyone’s plans, the band had a tour in New Zealand and up to 15 dates in Australia planned, as well as a stint in the UK in July. For Day and co, it meant going back to the drawing board. 

“What replaced it was, really bugger all.”

If Day’s idea of ‘bugger all’ is creating an eight track album from scratch now set for release early next year, then sure, bugger all indeed happened. 

After nine months away from playing any shows, Mako Road got back on the wagon and toured the album last month, playing five shows in five nights and selling them all out. That included back-to-back sets at illustrious Auckland venue, the Powerstation.

“It was bloody cool. It was also weird after not being on stage for so long. I was like ‘holy shit, what am I supposed to do here?’”

For Day, even recounting the week-that-was left him close to being speechless.

“It’s quite surreal, you don’t really take it in. Even now, it’s like… I don’t know, it was awesome.”

“Yeah, it was really mean,” CJ replies.

Sweet sounds, radio silence

The rise of online music options has propelled this chaotic and rapid success while somehow sidestepping the traditional path to music success. You’d be hard pressed to have found Mako Road on the mainstream radio.  Their newly released single Helicopter was previewed on Radio Hauraki briefly and their songs have been aired on some local stations and University Radio. 

But the musical bait that many fans globally have latched onto hasn’t been digested by the big players of the airwaves quite yet. 

So why?

“Radio is now part of a much bigger puzzle in terms of getting your music out there.

“It’s a mixture of things. It’s our genre of music, it’s that we’re not really that phased, and that we’d have to get someone to pitch it for us. In terms of radio, I feel like there is a big gap somewhere for young independent artists. The local stations go really hard, they play local artists and younger independent people,” Jaine and Day discuss amongst themselves.

Day refers to Australia’s Triple J as an example of a station Aotearoa should look to add to their collection of frequencies. Triple J predominantly plays indie, alternative and independent musicians, striving to promote unearthed talent across their country, and even ours.

“If there was that sort of thing in New Zealand, I feel like we would get some radio play from that.”

“Radio’s funny. It’s just weird that you really seek it to get it. Shouldn’t it be that if the radio likes it, they just play it? It seems like a bit of a backwards system,” Jaine adds.

Mako Road on the road

With the streaming stats on their side, the band are more than content with not actively courting radio play for their songs. For now, they’re gearing up for a gargantuan curtain close to 2020. Amongst headlining their own shows on 28 December (Coromandel) and 31 December (Papamoa) in partnership with Bay Dreams, Mako Road will also take to the Rhythm and Vines Stage on the 30th, as well as beginning the summer run with a headline spot at New Zealand’s newest festival ‘Le Currents,’ which Day has circled as the show he’s most looking forward to.

“It’s a new festival and the line-up is insane. It’s full of indie-rock artists, which is right up my alley. It’ll be cool to have a festival in Taupo, it’s long overdue!”

A summer of celebrations and not looking back on the year that was is also well overdue. Mako Road are just thankful they can be part of a final farewell to 2020 for swarms of New Zealanders. Good luck being able to hear your own voice at their sets.

“I’m outrageously excited. I feel, I wouldn’t say guilty, but just grateful. It feels quite unbelievable that we’re the only country that can do this sort of stuff.”

Written by

George Berry

24 Dec 2020

George Berry is a 22-year old Freelance Journalist and Musician.

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