The Detail today looks at New Zealand Music Month – what it aimed for, how it worked, and whether there’s anything left for it to achieve. 

May is New Zealand Music Month – but that intensive effort to get radio stations to play more Kiwi bands on the air has lessened somewhat. In the late 90s the aim was to lift the airplay from about five percent, to around 20 for the month of May. It didn’t take many years before that target was being reached every month – but NZ Music Month is still with us. So it’s been successful – but is it now redundant?

What does it do now, and is it still worth it? And what happened to the t-shirts?

David Ridler is the head of music and radio at NZ On Air, which invented New Zealand Music Week and then expanded into a month… although nowadays the NZ Music Commission is charged with running it.

He says while it’s ‘mission accomplished’, it’s a constant evolving beast, and not a case of ‘once it’s done, it’s done’.  He says getting a high level of airplay for New Zealand music is a constant crusade.

“It depends on the songs that are coming through at any given time – it’s not a set and forget sort of thing,” he says. “We’re constantly striving to find fresh new music and support fresh new artists, and also support established artists who have fresh new content, to try and get airplay and get space on streaming services and that sort of thing. It’s really a job that’s never done.” 

According to the New Zealand Music Commission’s annual plan for last year the budget for New Zealand Music Month is $50,000 – and NZ On Air throws in a small amount as well. Ridler is convinced the public is getting value for money.

“It has a different focus every year. Last year it was discovering new music; this year it’s discovering live music.” May saw well over 1,300 gigs around the country that the NZ Music Commission had listed in its system. Ridler says while it might seem quiet during the day, at night time the venues have been alive with live music.

And while the battle of the past may have been with radio stations, the big danger for Kiwi musicians now is a digital one – how to get cut-through from the beast that is streaming services, such as Spotify, which are programmed mainly in Europe.

In Auckland, NZ On Air has a small promotions unit which pitches local music to the streaming services, but there’s so much content on places like YouTube that “it’s crazy”, says Ridler.

How does an artist gain traction in these large amorphous playlists?

“Without actually promoting the music and trying to get it into people’s news feeds and into their consciousness it could just disappear without a trace,” he says.

Some NZ On Air money goes to music managers so they can promote themselves where they know their audiences are.

And this is where radio has gone from zeros to heroes – now they’re the platforms promoting local music, and that’s where you’ll hear the new local sounds that will never get attention from the streaming services.

Even Six60, the New Zealand band that sold out Western Springs, hasn’t had any luck internationally getting its songs heard.

As for the iconic t-shirts with the target on them – you can now buy them online.

Here’s the list of songs used in today’s podcast – 

The Chills – Pink Frost; The Feelers – Venus; Garageland – Beelines to Heaven; Bic Runga – Sway; Zed – Glorafilia; Lorde – Liability; Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding – Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore; Teeks – Never Be Apart; Six60 – Special

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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