Now that the excitement of the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival has simmered down a bit it’s worth taking a bit of a retrospective on New Zealand Music Month (NZMM) and looking at CHARTFEST which was a one-day event held in Christchurch.
Amidst all the workshops, demos and performances programmed to introduce the youth of Christchurch to the New Zealand music scene, sat a panel of three guys with loads of experience (guitarist Graeme Downes from the Verlaines, sound artist Bruce Russell of The Dead C and Flying Nun pioneer Roger Shepherd) having a session discussing it all. They were thrown a few questions along the lines of ‘how’s it been’ and ‘where’s it all going’ for making music in NZ.
In a nutshell, it’s been massive and not especially easy, and it will continue to go that way for those who are serious about making music. That has always been the case ever since Beethoven (and before) to the likes of the Ramones and the Rolling Stones (it wasn’t always easy for them and who remembers when they last wrote a good album anyway..! Ludwig you are excused…and I guess the Ramones are too…how many are left!).
Some things get easier. Graeme reckons that after more than 20 years, he’s a bit faster at writing music now. Technology and its availability can make some things a bit easier too but there is nothing that can replace the unique thing inside you that drives you to make music.
This was echoed by Bruce who talked at length about determination and to ignore the music market and do what you believe in. I have just finished ploughing through his book Left-Handed Blows, and his passion for creativity and being ‘in the moment’ is very clear, although it was a fine line between pleasure and pain trying to get my head around some of those really dense phrases that he loves to use.
Back to the panel …
Roger mentioned the necessity of looking after yourself, especially during the unrewarding bits, and there will assuredly be some. These days it seems to be easier to get started but it’s always going to be hard to make money from it and there is ever more competition. But luckily, there are always people who want to try things out with music which can keeps things interesting.
And that is part of the reason why he is back at the helm of Flying Nun. There is so much music that came out of that period that needs looking after. The idea is to maximise the potential of that material but not fall into the trap of just becoming a re-issuing label. And for the future, he will be sticking to his guns about what goes onto this label…no bland music.
Keeping things lively and controversial, Bruce brought up marketing music in New Zealand and brazenly suggested that marketing music in NZ can be generally pretty unproductive and self-congratulatory and he believes the money would be better spent going directly to the artists, so they can be creative and not bland. I love a good controversy!
He also reminded the audience that making music is not the same as running a business. I’m with him on both fronts. But there was a definite buzz going around the Christchurch Town Hall on that greyest of days and that’s thanks to NZMM, plus there’s nothing like a bit of promotion and information for young people trying to make some big choices. Who knows, maybe one day we will get to the point where there is no need for NZMM…