Music lesson for everyone – Sunday Star times
May 3, 2006
Here is a full article nabbed from teh Sunday star times:
Music lesson for everyone
18 December 2005, By ROD ORAM, Sunday Star Times
Perhaps over the holidays you'll have more time than usual to listen to the radio and to one of the great New Zealand success stories of recent years.
New Zealand artists now account for 21 per cent of the music played on air, up from less than 2 per cent in 1996.
This is a triumph of industry ambition rather than government regulation. With great enthusiasm, radio stations, record companies, artists, retailers and industry associations have worked together to exceed the voluntary target they set themselves.
In the process, they have enlivened our lives, helped define us as a nation at home and abroad and encouraged many more young people to write, sing and play. But the industry and its artists still struggle to make a living. Music is a host of mostly minuscule unsustainable businesses.
Retail music sales have been falling by about 7 per cent a year for the past six or seven years, in line with world trends. Sales may total only $200m this year, of which NZ artists have roughly a 20 per cent share.
While there are some money-making hits, other success is usually a relative term. A CD is a winner if it sells 1000 copies. But thanks to extremely low costs through digital DIY recording and production, it might be slightly profitable. An independent label and its band might
share perhaps $5000 in profits – a meagre return for months of hard work.
In the wider world, a deluge of artists has turned music into a commodity. And the internet's brutal assault has massacred record company profits. Trying to capture an audience – and make money out of it – has never been harder.
Since everybody else in the world has access to the same technology,success will flow to those who use it in the most creative and persuasive ways. This is New Zealand's big chance. We have rich and diverse music thanks to our many cultures, we have a slightly exotic, intriguing story to tell about who we are and where we are in the world, and we're good at striking a rapport with people.
To do so, though, requires the New Zealand recording industry to make an enormous improvement to its skills.
Here are seven lessons:
# Nurture the talent.
The upsurge in interest in local music is attracting teenagers into writing and performing. This year's Coke Smokefree Rockquest competition drew 650 secondary school bands playing their own compositions. The Play it Strange song writing competition for the same age group had 315 entries. A recent television documentary on Play it Strange and an upcoming commercial double CD of its top 30 songs reveal the passion and growing sophistication of these young composers.
This broad base is crucial to talent development, says Mike Chunn, chief executive of the Play it Strange Trust, NZ chief executive from 1992 to 2003 of the royalty body, the Australasian Performing Rights Association and a member of the legendary NZ band Split Enz in the 1970s.
It's a numbers game, he says. The more teenagers deeply into music, the better the chance a few will rise to the top of world rankings. He likens it to rugby. We have a large and talented All Blacks squad because of the depth and intensity of school, club and provincial competition.
# Use the technology.
Artists and labels are starting to make money from selling songs through internet downloads. Most of the activity has been through home-grown sites such as Amplifier but a few Kiwi songs have achieved global distribution through Apple's i-Tunes. But paradoxically, it might never have been easier. The internet and mobile phones are radically changing the way audiences are won, music delivered and money made.
Since everybody else in the world has access to the same technology, success will flow to those who use it in the most creative and persuasive ways. This is New Zealand's big chance. We have rich and diverse music thanks to our many cultures, we have a slightly exotic, intriguing story to tell about who we are and where we are in the world, and we're good at striking a rapport with people.
# Build a rapport with audiences.
Local bands are excellent at building local audiences, which explains how this year, Fat Freddy's Drop was the first band recorded by an independent label to enter the charts at number 1. It also swept the music industry's Tui awards. But local bands are only just learning to build global audiences over the internet. Given Kiwis' personalities, more are likely to succeed.
# Develop business skills.
The local music industry has made great strides in sorting out its structure and organisations and getting them to work better together. It has also built better relationships with major international labels. But it does not have the skills to be a serious or sustainable
wealth generator, and it never will if it remains almost entirely a domestic business.
# Create new ways of making money.
Licensing of Kiwi music for films, commercials, video games and other uses is starting to increase. Innovation is crucial. For example, Tardus, an independent label, has put together a CD of Kiwi music which will be distributed to about 200 US creative directors of JWT, the international advertising agency.
# Outgrow government assistance.
Six years of sizable government funding under a Prime Minister who doubles as Culture Minister is great, but it won't last. When the government changes, support and money will probably dry up. The industry has used the money well so far but is still a long way from self-sufficiency.
# Forge a distinctive NZ brand.
We're too diverse and interesting a nation to have a narrow "Kiwi" brand of music. But we can create highly distinctive forms of music under a distinctive brand of New Zealand music business. To cut through the global cacophony, we need to be just as famous for the way
we make money from music as we are for the music we make.
At the heart of the business brand will be some of New Zealand's greatest strengths – our ability to be small but global, to be remote but accessible, to be different but authentic. These qualities are highly prized in the world. People will pay well for them.
Yet, this isn't just a music thing. These lessons apply to almost any business. They are our hope for a fulfilling and prosperous future.