Music in Dunedin has been tagged or tarred depending on your point of view and music tastes with the "Dunedin Sound" Label. Whether there ever really was a 'Dunedin Sound' is a bit of a moot point. Today most musicians ignore it, live up to it, or try to avoid it.

The flying Nun History has a short history.

What was the Dunedin Sound? Many of the musicians involved denied its existence, but to outside observers, early FN releases had a distinctive sound, which was only partly attributable to rough recording techniques. This "sound" was typically marked by the use of droning or jangling guitars, indistinct vocals and often copious quantities of reverberation. Punk amateurism was a big influence, especially on the Clean, but the Dunedin bands tended to lack punk aggression, and favour, at least in theory, a more "pure pop" approach. Many band members had large record collections, and the sounds they favored tended to be older ones (apart from punk) especially 60s white pop and rock, from the Beatles and Dylan to the Velvet Underground, the Byrds and the more psychedelic sounds of early Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" and "Nuggets"-style "garage punk". (Bannister 2006)

Stylus Magazine has an innteresting angle about the “Dunedin Sound” from a Northern Hemisphere perspective. (McGonigle 2005)

“There wasn’t a Dunedin Sound, except that the bands recorded on the same equipment and possessed the same feel. We all shared a love of good songs and a loathing of stage personas and such.” — Martin Phillips, Southern Skys magazine, 1991.

“The Dunedin sound, mmmm, me and my big mouth!” — David Kilgour, coiner of the term ‘Dunedin Sound’, by e-mail, 2005.

However, some of the conditions that lead to the Sound that Dunedin is famous for are still in existance, and effecting music here today.
Similar constraints lead to music in Dunedin being effected in similar ways – Dunedin is isolated, far from the common touring routes of live musicians, hard to get gear to/from, relatively small, making the pool of musicians small, and it's potential pool of audience. However, it has a vibrant student community, meaning the group of people in their early 20's is larger than a similar sized city elsewhere. These factors mean, like in the heydey of the "dunedin sound", musicians have to be have somewhat of a do-it-yourself attitude.

Back in 1995, airplay for New Zealand songs on commercial radio registered somewhere under the 2% mark. In March of this year, the Ministry of Broadcasting proudly boasted that the Radio Broadcaster’s Association had hit its own target of 20% airplay, 18 months ahead of schedule.

The success of New Zealand music in recent years has had little to do with being signed to record companies. Fat Freddy's Drop have managed to claim number one on the album charts for a total of 10 weeks.making them now the local group with the longest running number 1 album in our chart history. The only other NZ group that comes close is Crowded House with 8 weeks at number one. Here is few recent examples of Kiwi acts cracking it internationally, and see how many of them signed to a major label here, and used that megabucks offshore marketing to make it.

Fat Freddys Drop
The Brunettes
The Datsuns

None of them signed to a major label here before making headway internationally except Zed, who managed to get signed in the US and went on to do a song for an Adam Sandler movie (The Hot Chick). The Brunettes had a distribution deal with EMI NZ for their last album, but their US tour last year was set up independently, and led to their signing with US label Subpop.

New Zealand music is on a roll at the moment, accounting for at nearly a quarter of all music sold in New Zealand in 2005.

Peter at dub dot dash picks up the theme pointing out that the Fat Freddy's drop album is now 6X platinum (they've sold 90,000 albums. By the end of last year they had sold 60,000 with no single or video. Since releasing Wandering Eye as a radio-edit/CD single/video, they've sold another 30,000 albums. Bic Runga's latest is 3x platinum, and the latest discs from Eminem, Coldplay and Black Eyed Peas are 4x platinum.  (McLennan 2006) On top of that, the band had the business nous to create their own record company. They are reaping all of their own profits and are only outsourcing their distribution to a small independent company. (Liam Dann, NZHERALD) The marketing costs were negligible because the band simply didn't bother doing any marketing – their success has been driven largely by word of mouth.

In Rod Orams article article in the Sunday Star times he points out how much New Zealand music is on a high at the moment, and how much it has changed in the last few 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", a "is a triumph of industry ambition rather than government regulation." (Oram 2005)

 Oram states that ther eare seven lessons to be learned from the current state of New Zealand Music if we are to take advantage of it and progress in the future.
#1 Nurture the talent.
Encourage the youth to get involved. "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."

It's a numbers game "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." Mike Chunn, chief executive of the Play it Strange Trust

# Use the technology.
"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."

# Develop business skills.
The local music industry 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.
New Zealand is generally considered to be behind the times in broadband uptake, but we're finally getting on board. On Wednesday 3rd of May, 2006 Communications Minister David Cunliffe finally announced the unbundling of the local loop.  The New Zealand Herald in it's story on the news recognises that "Broadband allows for high speed access to the internet and is seen by many as being key factor in improving economic efficiency in New Zealand. "The Government announced tonight that it would require the local loop to be unbundled and other changes to provide faster and better broadband internet services. " 
(NZ Herald 2006)

 Russell Brown, a media commentator on his Public Address blog adds "The real curveball – one that will force Telecom to get a new business model – is a mandate for naked DSL. That is, a line without a dial tone, leaving consumers free to use their line only for broadband data, and choose their own voice solution. That's huge." (Brown 2006)  

As Aaron Hawkins in the Critic said: " I think that would be missing the point somewhat. As far as I can see, we are in phase three of the evolution – from hiding from our own music, to over-compensating and embracing it with religious zeal, to the present day. The depth of talent in the industry and the exposure they are afforded puts us in the healthy place now of being able to judge work on its own merits, rather than through the eyes of some rustic discourse of nationalism and pride." (Hawkins 2006)

Bannister M "Flying Nun History" <; Accessed April 29 2006

Brown R "It's all on – eventually" <,; May 04, 2006

Dunn L "Kiwi music hits mainstream" <; Accessed 30 April, 2006

Hawkins A "NZ Music Month Strikes Back" Critic Magazine, issue 9 2006. <;

Mclennan P "Wandering Eyeballs" <; Accessed 1 May 2006

McGonigle D "In Love with those times" <; 4 November 2005

NZ Herald, "Govt to open up Telecom network for faster broadband" <; Accessed May 3, 2006

Oram R 2005"Music Lessons for everone" in McLennan P "Dub dot dash" 2006


15 Responses to “New Zealand and Dunedin Music”

  1. Rob Milne Says:

    Brilliant and informative. We’d ;love to ba able to publish this on our site. We’d credti both author and website for this. Plaese let me know.

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