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July 20, 2014 | by  | in Arts Music |
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The Problem with Music in New Zealand and How To Fix It & Why Blink Started and Ran Puppies

It’s easy to get cynical about New Zealand’s music industry. We’re tiny. Nothing happens here. When it does, we either over-hype it to the point of nausea or cut it down before it properly blooms. Anything that isn’t somehow involved with cows seems doomed to fail financially – there just aren’t enough of us, and we aren’t interested in anything but drinking and fucking and rugby.

The fatalism isn’t exactly unfounded, but it’s part of what is holding us back. Low expectations clash with inexperienced idealism; you end up either jaded or on the other side of the world. Or you end up as Blink.

Blink (real name Ian Jorgensen – yes, you have read this line hundreds of times) is best known for Camp A Low Hum, a summer music festival with all the annoying shit taken out that ran from 2007 to 2014. He also created a Wellington bar named Puppies, with a similar ethos, which shut down last month – not due to failure, but because Blink is busy working on other things. One of these things is already out – a book, named ‘The Problem with Music in New Zealand and How To Fix It & Why I Started and Ran Puppies”. As the title suggests, this collection of short essays is split in half, the first recording Blink’s problems and proposed solutions for the the industry, the second a chronicle of putting some of the solutions into practice – that is, building and running Puppies.

Blink isn’t jaded, but he is a little angry. A kind of quiet rage runs through the first half of this book, most of it aimed at two very deserving targets – APRA and booze.

The alcohol industry dominates our entertainment industry at almost every level. Nearly every show is either outright sponsored by alcohol (‘Jim Beam’s Homegrown’!) or held in a fucking bar. All-ages shows are almost non-existent, despite the fact that nobody cares about local music more than local 15-year-olds, and booze appears to distort nearly every other part of the live music experience. Shows start late and run late, giving the bars more time to sell drinks, and liquor laws are often complicated and unworkable – yet needed – stifling the possible innovations many venues might put in place. He emphasises that this is a particular problem in New Zealand, that he didn’t realise how bad it was until he toured the world with bands and saw plenty of small shows that weren’t at bars. Blink isn’t against alcohol per se – understanding that a few drinks are essential for some of us to have a good time – but he still mentions the ‘student who shows up at 11 pm after a bottle of scrumpy’ (I’m paraphrasing) with particular acidity. Ahem.

I could find a succinct quote on APRA, but the title of the essay does it all – “APRA AND PPNZ ARE RIPPING OFF NEW ZEALAND BUSINESSES IN THE NAME OF SONGWRITERS WHO HAVE NO IDEA THIS IS GOING ON”. Basically, the people responsible for making sure that bands get paid when people use their songs – in TV, on the radio, even on a stereo at a café – have been stuck in the past, basing songwriter compensation on radio plays, despite the fact that the radio charts in no way mirror the actual amount a song is played in various venues. Blink makes clear that he sees much merit in APRA’s mission; he just finds that their methods are wilfully ignorant, and there has already been a bit of a mea culpa from APRA, as well as a lot of support from others in the industry.

Blink also rails against some of the more arbitrarily stupid shit about shows in New Zealand. Why are they still $5? The price of everything else has gone up, but we still expect four bands and hours of entertainment for five bucks? The expectation that we will buy two or three $10 drinks may have a part in this. My fourth-form metalcore band broke up after only three shows, so I never quite realised all the bullshit that bands have to put up with to play shows in New Zealand, including literally paying for the ‘privilege’ to play in some bars. Not that bands aren’t at fault either – Blink has plenty of advice for them too, but this is starting to sound like Blink’s book is a rant. It’s not.

Blink provides a multitude of ideas to deal with the problems in our industry, both ones he put into practice at Puppies (concrete advertised set times!) and ones he dreamed of years ago (two identical shows! one night!). There’s a detailed guide on how to set up DIY venues and parties, even in small towns, with New Zealand prices and recommendations and advice on liquor laws. There’s hope, but realistic hope. Blink is an idealist who has been making shit happen for years. He’s toured artists around the world, and seen that things can be a lot better, even for a country as small as ours. If you have any interest in making music shit happen in New Zealand, buy this book, or download it for free (alowhum.org). In Blink’s words: “Suck it up and make it work.”

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