Hard News by Russell Brown


Out of the Groove

For some reason, my Real Groove hasn't arrived in the mail, so I can't gauge the context, but I suspect that Neil Finn didn't mean his diss of the Prime Minister to come out quite like that.

Update: Now that my internet is back, I can point out that I do have a copy of the article. It's not an interview, it's an opinion piece that contains a couple of quotes from an interview with Neil last October. I've posted a bit more on it in the discussion thread for this post.

On one level he's sounding a fair note of caution about the reality of New Zealand music making a "big splash" on the world stage.

On the other, Neil's comments were pointlessly sour and missed the point that in general (there are exceptions), New Zealand On Air support simply isn't aimed at generating export sales, but at domestic broadcasting.

In the past eight years, thanks largely to the voluntary targets the government agreed with the commercial radio industry, the proportion of radio playlists composed of local repertoire has more than doubled to 20%. Over those years, New Zealand music sales claimed a progressively larger share of a declining overall music market. It's a pretty good result.

But it's radio that's the problem here; for Neil anyway. It's likely that the voluntary targets scheme was a quid pro quo for the government not proceeding (or at least dragging its heels) with a dedicated public youth radio network. Neil poured time and energy into the idea of a youth radio network over some years, and committed some of his own money to the project should it go ahead.

He was very passionate about the idea, and not tolerant of those he felt were obstructive. I worked with him on an advisory group that developed ideas for a potential network, and I endured a long and rather difficult phone conversation with him after he deemed me to be insufficiently committed to the vision. He was quite frank about his bitterness when he eventually gave up the battle.

But let's cut Neil some slack - especially after what happened to Crowded House at Coachella last week - and move on.

The industry has been in something of a lull in the past year -- certainly in comparison to a period of unprecedented sales success and public presence in the early part of the decade. Dawn Raid - which spent too much on a project that failed, and didn't pay its taxes - collapsed recently. But that doesn't mean the collapse of the industry.

There are several promising releases scheduled for this year (watch Hollie Smith go) and a very lively undercurrent of independent acts, particularly in Auckland (the New Zealand Music Month Auckland showcase tonight features no fewer than 10 of them). At least one major external sponsor is preparing to re-enter the scene. There are a lot of people who actually really love music in the local industry.

Lil Chief Recordings has delivered the Brunettes to Sub Pop Records and the Ruby Suns to the excellent Memphis Industries label. The Checks have their debut album out soon on another British indie, Full Time Hobby. The trick will be for a Lil Chief or someone else to cash up to the extent that it can hang on to artists and market them internationally itself.

This isn't new: it's almost impossible to generate that kind of money in a market as small as ours. Government funding for export development goes some way towards bridging the gap.

For more, you may want to catch a discussion on the state of the industry between Trevor Reekie, Chris Hocquard, Mike Bradshaw of Sony BMG and myself, recorded earlier this week. I was particularly impressed by Mike's contribution. If you think major label managers are ignorant fat cats, listening to Mike ought to change your mind. It airs on National Radio as part of Music 101, some time between 2pm and 5pm. (It might be easier to catch it up on the website, particularly given that Public Address Radio, 2pm tomorrow on Radio Live, is a scorcher: Ardal O'Hanlon, Craft 2.0, ponoko.com; plus the regular features from David Haywood and Craig Ranapia.)

Staying with the music theme, Idealog magazine has launched a project I've thought about before but seriously wouldn't have the time or energy to do: a New Zealand music wiki. It's being overseen by the Idealog editors and Mark Roach, and may wind up as a book. I will be contributing.

Matt Cooney at Idealog also covered this week's striking events at Digg.

Congratulations to our own Damian Christie for achieving what might have seemed impossible: getting a sound report on the open source movement on prime time TV on Close Up this week. Nice one.

The Bill Moyers interview with Jon Stewart on PBS is just great. Honestly, you don't want to make a cult out of the guy, but Stewart is sincere, thoughtful and funny.

Somewhere else you might also want to visit: when we first began our relationship with Karajoz Coffee Company, I was reassured that these were our kind of people when I had a yarn with Derek Townsend about the days of Café DKD. Derek has a great many stories to tell about such things, and he's been induced to get online and put them in a blog. He'll also be talking about coffee and the coffee business.

Finally: as our discussion threads tend to, yesterday's took a winding path that led from the Child Discipline Bill to Brian Tamaki, through MC Hammer and back to Brian and the issue of whether we should call him "Bishop" like he wants. Along the way, Heather Gaye offered a line of sheer inspiration:

Smack My Bishop

She is so getting some coffee for that.

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