The joke that is NZ On Air funding

Last updated 09:57 31/08/2010

I tend to stay out of arguments relating to the behind-the-scenes aspects with music. Funding? Not really my problem. Same with record companies. There are a couple that won't even return my calls or emails these days. I've named them before, might as well mention them again. They are Warners and Sony. Warners told me off for being mean about Midnight Youth. Sony? Not sure what I did there.

Anyway, as time has gone on, a few people have written to me suggesting I say something about the funding in New Zealand - the system is a rort, they say. It's a joke. It's the same damn bands getting to slice up the pie. I read the emails, I field the suggestions; smile politely when I'm caught in the conversation. Thing is - it's not my problem. I review music. And here with Blog on the Tracks, I write about music, old, new - good, bad - my favourites, your favourites. I try to cover a range of topics.

NZ On AirAnd then I realised that I probably should look at this topic of funding; the NZ On Air model; the shambles of a system...

Why the change of heart? No, don't worry, I'm not applying for funding myself - if I did, it wouldn't be as a musician (because you lot tell me regularly that I am not one); it would be so that I could receive music regularly from Sony and Warners to write about, to offer something beyond the patronising, condescending, frankly ludicrous hyperbole that contributes to people taking bands like Midnight Youth seriously. But I'm not going to hit up Brendan Smyth from NZ On Air for CD money. He already sends me CDs anyway: the Kiwi Hit Disc. I'm late to this. I've only been receiving them the last few months. I've yet to spot a really good song on any of the discs. There have been some okay ones, but most of the good ones are from albums I end up buying or receiving to review. The duds? They are plentiful. Sadly.

The real reason I decided that I could use Blog on the Tracks this one time to talk about the joke that is NZ On Air funding  is because, well, I'm a community-guy when it comes down to it. I am, to crib a line from David Mamet, a big fan of society!

And that means I can set this up as a topic - and you can reply. You can have your say. We know this drill already, right? This is the point of a blog. So I'm happy to offer this up on this forum.

But the other reason I am interested in starting this topic off is because I was disgusted to see that Autozamm is a) receiving more money for another video and b) has received a total of over $200,000 in funding.

It breaks down like this: in 2003 the band received $10,000 under the New Artist Recording funding allocation. Since 2004 (and including one just granted this year) the band has had 11 video grants - that's $5000 a pop to make a video. And since 2005 the band has had three injections of $50,000 to make albums.

Good on them you might say. And you also might want to know why I said I was disgusted in relation to the band?

Well, they are a nothing band, an awful collection of not-quite-garage-rock sounds clashing with not-quite-pub-rock and not-quite-indie-chic. They are not-quite the feelers and not-quite Opshop. They are the sort of band that comes second (at best) in a Battle of the Bands.

(NB: I'm using that as a general term of abuse, I've no proof they even scored that highly in any band-battle).

So if they are that bad/bland/redundant/unnecessary I could just ignore them, right? I could just let them pass me by?

Well of course I could - and I mostly have. But it's pretty absurd that this band gets to go back and drink from the trough when they really are not delivering. If we vox-popped the street asking who, really, has ever heard of Autozamm - what would be the answer? Anyone who said yes is probably a member of the band or a friend of a member of the band. Or, since the band is making off with $200,000-plus a better question might be to ask who has bought their album/s?

This band is terrible. And this band regularly tanks. Their albums do not receive strong reviews - usually. They do not sell well. And, well, I wasn't going to link to them but see here and here - these songs are nothing. And they certainly do little to reflect any distinctly New Zealand culture.

Perhaps NZ On Air could come clean and change their criteria to reflect what is actually happening. Couldn't they at least state: we only fund bland, unexciting, bottom-feeder music that offers no real sound of its own, thinks inside the box only and does little more than desire to be used as the soundtrack for a NZ Post ad.

Now, I don't know the members of Autozamm - but this is not about them as people, this is about the bad music they make that keeps getting funded. So I am sure they may well all be very nice people (and clearly NZ On Air thinks so) but they are hurting New Zealand music with their nothing-sound.

But we should move on to look at something else.

Scribe is a recipient, this year, of $50,000 to go towards his third album. His last album was a giant turd of a record; a dud. And his first album wasn't even that good. But I can concede that it did the numbers. But why does he keep getting funding? He is many years past his best work - and that work was ropey in my opinion. Again, I don't mean Scribe the person any harm. I don't know him. But his albums are not good. And what have they really done to reflect the culture of New Zealand besides recommending suburbs that don't actually exist (it is a case of water-taxis only if you wanna go to East Can-ter-bury!)

One of the other winners of a $50,000 handout this year is I Am Giant - this is a band that is only half-comprised of New Zealanders. Worse still - that half used to play in the bands Blindspott and Tadpole.A NZ On Air comp... This really is a cruel joke, NZ On Air!

And then we have the feelers - they just received another $50,000 grant, for album number five. Which, given the odds, will sound like albums 1-4 (since they all sounded exactly the same).

Now, sure, the feelers have been successful. But it's not anything to be proud of. And given they've had full record company backing from day one (well, from their first album) why is this funding being awarded to them every single time? Isn't it time a chance was taken on someone new?

The deal is this: through the government's Culture and Heritage arm, NZ On Air devotes $5.4 million a year on a mix of music funding schemes and promotional strategies. That includes the rather unnecessary Kiwi Hit Discs and decisions to fund terrible bands. That's about it.

It's not a good situation - whichever way you look at it. So I want your opinion. Do you think, copout that it is, that NZ On Air has a tough job and does well? Or do you think the model is all wrong, a lie essentially? Remember one hand is saying that it wants to fund diverse, culturally enriching music; the other is saying that it wants to fund radio-friendly chart-fodder (these are not, and never will be, the same).

Have you applied for funding and been successful? Have you applied for funding and been denied? Have you purchased an album by Autozamm?

Do you think that NZ On Air needs to be picked apart, rebuilt, re-planned, then reinstated? Or do you think that it's fine the way it is going - handing out funds to inferior, lazy, obvious acts who essentially repeat themselves?

And do you have horror stories to share? This is a NZ funding model that can only improve if we talk about it, right?

The figures for funding - finding out who gets what can all be viewed, by anyone, right here at the NZ On Air website. So if they have that kind of transparency why can't we have some honesty about why these dud-bands keep getting the cash? Nothing will convince me that Autozamm is worthy of the amount they have blown over the years.

Postscript: There is one silver lining in all this. Autozamm has signed a "partnership" with Warners to release a new album before the end of the year. The silver lining? There's a good chance, given the record company involved, it will not end up in my letterbox.

Postscribe: Well, we can but dream...

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Nathan Mills   #1   10:10 am Aug 31 2010

Sorry Simon can you explain why anyone shouldn't be proud of being successful?!!

RO5CO   #2   10:13 am Aug 31 2010

You're not really discussing the NZ on Air funding Simon, as always you're just using the topic as an excuse to outright bash the music acts in NZ that you don't like. In my eyes, being so negative on everything that is popular is just being an elitist jerk (and no I'm not a fan of any of the acts you listed)

Merlin   #3   10:16 am Aug 31 2010

..why is it you ALWAYS complain about NOT getting FREE albums? If you are interested, then buy it like the majority of us music buyers. If you hate NZ music so much (or should I say any kind of 'well known' NZ music), then go live somewhere else! Have you thought that you are really not that important Simon? Rude awakening perhap .....

JT   #4   10:18 am Aug 31 2010

I agree somewhat, and suggest that maybe after sponsorship for a first album or video, if no record companies want to pay up for more, that the funding be dropped. No point funding music that no-one wants to hear.

King   #5   10:19 am Aug 31 2010

It seems to me that the money goes on the "safe" options. The bland, middle of the road stuff that is the equivalent of wallpaper when it comes on the radio, it's just "there". As a result nothing really fresh or exciting gets funding.

Scott A   #6   10:27 am Aug 31 2010

I don't think I'm entirely ignorant of the local music scene... but I've only heard of Autozamm once before. Why are they getting my taxpayer dollars again, NZ on Air, given the previous funding clearly hasn't worked?

Brett Dale   #7   10:27 am Aug 31 2010

1: nathan

We shouldnt be proud of these guys, because they arent standing on their own two feet, they are funded by the tax payer.

McFail   #8   10:28 am Aug 31 2010

Always wondered about NZ on Air for bands, is it a cop-out for them? They can't be bothered doing the bar circuit and building up a reputation so they have the NZ on Air marketing fund to do it for them.

It does seem like it only promotes the bland of the bland though. I know a few bands that have applied and been denied but are easily better than the Feelers or Autozamm... who are they anyway? never heard of them.

Marty Jones   #9   10:32 am Aug 31 2010

I always thought it was weird that I Am Giant got funding when half the band is British. We all know that they moved back to get funding and will bugger off overseas again once they've made their album, videos etc. care of the NZ taxpayer. Sadly i think a MASSIVE part of the funding issue is commercial radio in NZ, they pretty much dictate what does and doesn't get funding due to their close minded programming.

Stella   #10   10:34 am Aug 31 2010

I saw Autozamm advertised on TV years ago, but I didn't think they were still going.

I had a look at the NZ on Air site, and here's my problem with it: so many of the bands getting funding are already what you might call established. They've put out one or more albums already. That list contains Scribe, The Feelers, Anika Moa, the excrable Brooke Fraser, Phoenix Foundation, The Black Seeds and Opshop, among others who already have albums out and could be described as being already established. I'd like to see NZ on Air funding being reserved for artists who are starting out in the industry, to give them a leg up and a better shot at making it. But I think they should make it (or not) on their own. I don't think the same people should be able to come back year after year for another slice of the public funding pie. A lot of new artists will miss out under this system and a lot of funding will be given instead to artists who can already stand on their own two feet and don't need it. And if they do need to keep being propped up with NZ on Air funding they are clearly not delivering the goods and shouldn't get funded anyway.

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