Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Good ideas and grumbles

Ian Jorgensen, aka Blink, is a remarkable man: principled, organised, creative and willing to work to put his ideas into practice, be they the Camp A Low Hum Festivals, his Wellington music venue Puppies or a string of domestic and international tours, done right.

He has poured a good deal of that ground-level experience into his new book of essays The Problem with Music in New Zealand and how to Fix It & Why I Started and Ran Puppies. The essays each identify a problem -- 'Shows Run Too Late and Band Changeovers Are Too Long', 'Live Scenes in Small Towns Are Close to Non-Existent', 'The Alcohol Industry Uses the Music Industry to Further Dominate Its Presence and Influence Over Youth Culture'.

The best parts of it are chock-full of practical advice, much of it inspired by cooperative environments like the US punk scene (although the first wave of Flying Nun acts also worked in quite communal ways 30 years ago). He also takes on NZ On Air and Music Commission funding and proposes a focus on building grassroots infrastructure rather than funding recordings and videos.

I think there are some issues with some of the ideas -- do we really need a whole lot of barebones recording studios? Is there really a shortage, and how will people with existing businesses feel about the government handing out money to start-ups to compete with them? -- but they're worth looking at. I'd give Blink money to try out his ideas and see what worked in practice.

But the chapter that's been causing a stir is 'Apra and PPNZ Are Ripping Off New Zealand Businesses in the Name of Songwriters Who have No Idea What's Going On'. The first thing to note is that the title is really patronising to all the songwriters who do know what's going on and understand why they're Apra members. Pretty much all the people I know who've stayed in music rely to some extent on music rights income via Apra.

Although PPNZ doesn't exist any more (it has been merged with Rianz into Recorded Music New Zealand), the essay does cover OneMusic, the joint set of rights fees (Apra and RMNZ) collected from businesses using music. The fee schedules range from $12.65 per day live music is featured at a small venue to $19.55 for a big room. This doesn't seem as unreasonable to me as it does to Blink, but I guess I'm not running a music venue.

Where Blink does have a strong point is in the way money collected for the use of background music is distributed. I don't have a problem at all with these fees existing. They're provided for in law and if you're using music in your business -- to make your shop or cafe more congenial -- you should be prepared to pay a modest annual fee to the writers and copyright owners. But who gets the money? That's where the problem is.

Apra's radioplay logging system is really effective for distributing performing rights income from radio -- but it's a terrible way of apportioning revenue from background music fees. And that's currently what happens. Upshot: Fat Freddy's Drop, heard in a hundred cafes, don't get the income they deserve, because the revenue is assessed on radioplay.

Blink answers his own question with the same idea that occured to me: we live in the age of Spotify and Rdio. It should be possible for a businesses owner to use a streaming service that that logs exactly what gets played -- be it the Bats or Race Banyon -- and ensures the money goes to the right place.

There's potentially a further problem if the live music fee is levied and the acts that play on the night aren't Apra members. But there's a way around that, even if the artists are members: both users and creators of music can opt out in various ways. It's quite a flexible system. Not all performing rights organisations do this kind of thing.

But I don't think any of that justifies the repeated use of phrases like "crooks and gangsters" and "extorted", or the outright pissiness about other Apra activities: its various scholarships and grants and the Silver Scroll Awards.

Here's the key fact here: most of the rights revenue handled by Apra accrues to offshore copyright owners. It's not some indie band in Wellington who's paying for the scholarships, it's Katie fucking Perry. Would Blink really prefer that Apra and RMNZ completely turned their backs on the New Zealand music scene, did no good deeds and sent the money offshore instead?

The reference to a the Silver Scrolls as "a lavish, alienating joke of a ceremony celebrating ONE song" is ridiculous. The great thing about a Silver Scrolls ceremony is that each finalist's song is reinterpreted and performed on the night by another act -- often a young band or singer who gets a good fee for doing so. The event itself is free for members, but it's not really "lavish" and calling it a joke is pretty much trolling.

In my experience (I sometimes get invited, but more often see things from the press seats) it's a really soulful evening. Scribe performing Dave Dobbyn's 'It Dawned on Me' with Mark Vanilau last year was special in a number of ways. Happily, the New Zealand Herald streams the awards live now, so everyone can see them. 

Unfortunately, that perspective got further garbled in a Sunday Star Times story that contained more errors than facts (Blink himself and Flying Nun's Ben Howe posted their respective lists of corrections on Facebook) and reverted to ye olde NZ On Air-bashing (which Blink doesn't really do in his book).

But there has been some fruit borne here. Apra's Anthony Healey sought a meeting with Blink as soon as the book was published, Blink invited some other people he thought should come along and everyone seems fairly happy with what went down. That's good. Apra does account to members, but there's never any harm in being accountable to your critics too. And on the other side, it's harder to demonise people you've met.

Anyway, that'll do for now. If you're in a band, or your kid's in a band or you want to make something happen in your town, get Blink's book. I suspect he'll be along to join the discussion, as well Samuel Flynn Scott. I'll also post some other relevant material in the comments.


Here's something we can all get behind: a crowdfunding campaign for a book gathering together and contextualising all Chris Knox's visual art and graphic work: album covers, posters, cartoons, comics, paintings, the lot. Proceeds from sales go to Chris himself. I'll be contributing today and I hope and trust some of you will too. I'd like to see some businesses kick in towards the $50,000 goal as well.


New from Jordan Reyne, "'Dear John' is the tale of a Prime Minister invited to a feast where all the guests are mysteriously absent. A song about the impact of people who don't recognise their own privilege on the lives of others."

Rock'nRolla Soundsystem have made their brilliant mix CD a free download again.:

A new Tiny Ruins video:

Trick Mammoth live, from their King's Arms show last December:

There are two more clips and some background here.

Some nice, laconic indie-guitar from Miss June at TheAudience:

And Terrorball is back with another funky house tune. Very cool! (Click through for the download)

And finally - Courtney Barnett is coming! She plays the King's Arms on September 17. I'll have a giveaway or two and hopefully an interview. Cheers!


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