Money and music don't mix easily, but by putting the notes before the dollars the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra is already making a melodious profit.
Beginning as a fun jam session in a cafe, the group which Age Pryor and Bret McKenzie started three years ago has become one of New Zealand's hottest new acts - and one that actually pays its way.
The pair are professional musicians by day, with McKenzie one half of the runaway success folk comedy act Flight of the Conchords and Pryor becoming a household name with his own music.
Inspired by a Fijian ukulele experience, the pair started jamming in Wellington's Deluxe Cafe for fun.
A few enthusiastic friends later, the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra is 12-strong and the monthly Deluxe appearances standing room-only concerts.
A $50 tip in Deluxe was the first income the band took, but professional performance fees are now standard and a range of merchandise is paying the band's expenses and slowly filling the coffers.
Pryor said the financial success, boosted by a soundtrack role for the new Whitcoulls television advertising campaign, had been faster than any band he'd known.
"That happened unusually fast. It normally takes years [for a band to start making money]."
T-shirts, CDs, ukulele workshops, advertising gigs, concerts, and tips in the cafe have made the band sustainable and paid each member a small "bonus", but no one's yet working the ukes fulltime.
Pryor said the goal was to build the brand and income, but the only way to do so would be to focus on the collective group, the central dynamic of fun and music, and ensuring that nothing eroded that ethos.
Consensus, a collective passion and the group vibe were marketable assets which could not be replicated, Pryor said.
"The brand is about one thing - the love of music," he explains.
"The company exists on the basis of people getting along and playing music together. It's a different way to run a business."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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