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May 16, 2011 | by  | in Music |
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NZ On Air Isn’t For Musicians Anyway

I’ve been playing in bands for years now, from the teenage-sweat-filled Smokefree RockQuest to Camp A Low Hum. Like many musicians I don’t know exactly what NZ On Air is meant to be doing. But my understanding of it based on who gets the money is that NZ On Air funds bands that show commercial potential. They give money to bands who are going to be played on commercial radio stations. They give a whole lot of their money to established, commercially successful bands too.

I’ve been involved in plenty of conversations about NZ On Air funding. A lot of those conversations have involved someone saying, “NZ On Air funds bad music and they’re real lame.” I agree that NZ On Air funding is mainly given out to bands I don’t like, look at how many times Autozamm has got money. Heaps of the bands that are successful at applying for funding are slammed by people involved in making their own music, because they’re seen as not artistically credible.

The way that NZ On Air gives out money seems unfair too. They give huge grants to a few bands and then nothing to anyone else. The Bleeders got $50,000 to make an album, matched by another fifty grand from their record label. Besides the fact that most other bands would make something much better with $100,000, it doesn’t seem right to be putting so much money into just a few artists. For a band to produce an EP might cost at most $5,000. So you could fund ten bands for the cost of one. They could spend the money even thinner and give twenty bands $2,500. Maybe that wouldn’t cover the total cost of making an album but I can say that it would sure be helpful. There’s so many bands in need of a leg up that it sucks to be allocating funding the way they do.

This goes for NZ Music Month too. Lots of people have pointed out that the huge marketing campaigns don’t do anything for struggling NZ bands, and that it all just seems to be a commercial wankfest. Like the allocation of funding, NZ Music Month is about the industry and not about helping musicians at all.

But that’s the thing. NZ On Air and NZ Music Month aren’t about helping artists to make something good. It’s about producing commercially successful NZ music. Bands are going to be successful at getting funding if they have radio potential, not because they’re interesting or innovative or whatever. And it makes much more commercial sense to give some bands heaps of money if you get a commercially viable album out of it. The funding system is all about seeing returns for the money that is put in. So of course actual musicians won’t get funding, unless they know someone in the right place.

So yes, it’s shit. You can argue that we shouldn’t have a system like this. But that’s the way it works. The funding system is a big capitalist machine and it should never be mistaken for something cuddly and nice and benevolent. It seems fair enough to complain that putting money into an unsuccessful pop star (cough, Annabel Fay) doesn’t show any business sense. It’s incompatible with NZ On Air’s own goals if an artist isn’t ever going to be commercially successful. But then maybe Annabel Fay will be successful, because NZ On Air has the behind-the-scenes power to make it so. I guess the overall message for musicians here is that if you’re a band that aspires to commercial success in New Zealand, and you’re not getting NZ On Air funding, it’s probably a pretty good indicator that you’re doing it wrong. But if you’re just a regular band that isn’t aiming for commercial success in NZ then you should chill out and stop being so interested in NZ On Air funding. It’s not for you anyway.

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