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Creative NZ support for contemporary music

Funding for the art of it
Creative New Zealand support for contemporary music

Che Fu and his manager Richard Lose were sitting on a Ponsonby footpath in mid-1997 with just enough cash between them to buy a fish and single order of chips. Things had to get better, they reckoned. And they did. A few months later, Lose secured the $12,000 Creative New Zealand grant that enabled Che Fu to make his debut solo album, 2 b S.Pacific, setting him on the path to multi-award winning success.

Che Fu recounted the story of too few chips when he went up to collect his fourth - or was it his fifth? - trophy at the 2002 New Zealand Music Awards. Back in 1997, Che Fu’s then record company had pulled out of funding his debut album because “they didn’t think it had any number ones”, Richard Lose says.

When 2 b S.Pacific was released, it reached gold within a day of hitting the shelves, went on to record platinum sales, was named Rip It Up magazine’s number two New Zealand album of the century, and won Che Fu the Vocalist of the Year and Single of the Year trophies at the 1998 New Zealand Music Awards.

“The Creative New Zealand grant was a lifeline when we really didn’t have many options,” Lose says. “It enabled Che to make the album he wanted to make.”

Lose says he’s never forgotten how tough things were before the grant - and a lot of hard work - helped get the album made. His friends, he adds, still call him “Fish”.

Getting arts council funding to make music is not what DJ/producer Jim Pinckney - aka Stinky Jim - would have expected had he remained home in England. But it’s a different story here, he says.
Creative New Zealand helped fund artist SJD’s acclaimed debut album, Lost Soul Music, recorded for Pinckney’s Auckland-based Round Trip Mars label. And Round Trip has just released Sideways Too, a compilation of dub, downbeat and elsewhere sounds made with Creative New Zealand support.

“In terms of resources, independent labels can’t compete with multi-national major labels but we have no restrictions on recognising and developing talent,” Pinckney says. “Getting funding for projects like Sideways Too or SJD allows us to get on with ensuring the records we release are of the highest standard possible.”
Labels and artists in Britain were stunned to see the Creative New Zealand logo on SJD’s album, Pinckney says.

“They couldn’t believe that independent artists could get support for a project that’s so obviously uncompromised. I think it’s both healthy and essential to have an arts body that can offer funding assistance based solely on creative terms.”

The New Zealand Music Awards are all about acknowledging artists for their work. Jim Pinckney reckons that if there was a prize for on-to-it music funding, he’d like to see it sitting on a mantelpiece at Creative New Zealand.

While Che Fu took the awards for single of the year, album of the year, top male vocalist, best music video and best R&B/hip hop album, there were other artists winning Tui Awards who had, at one time or another, received Creative New Zealand funding. Andrew Spraggon/Sola Rosa (best electronica album) was one. Among the others were Greg Johnson, the Topp Twins, C L Bob, and Fatcat and Fishface (best children’s album).

Jack Body and Rattle Records also made the “best classical album” with Creative New Zealand support.

Creative New Zealand’s Music Arts Advisor, Jeremy Winter, says there was once a perception that the country’s main arts development organisation funded only classical musicians. Clearly, that perception has changed.

Approximately half Creative New Zealand’s project funding to music supports contemporary music although the distinction between what used to be labelled “popular” and “classical” is becoming increasingly blurred. And with NZ On Air focussing on fostering New Zealand music with commercial radio success, Creative New Zealand can look a little wider to the “R & D” side.

“We’re about supporting the creation, development and presentation of high-quality music that’s also original and innovative,” Winter says.

It is, says industry stalwart Murray Cammick, all about the “art” and “commerce” of New Zealand music.

Local artists last year did all right commercially but considerably better critically, says the founder of Rip It Up and Wildside Records. By the end of 2001, New Zealand music content had reached 11.24 percent on commercial radio.

Critically, Murray Cammick says, New Zealand music is doing better than commercial airplay reflects. When asked to name their favourite albums of 2001, New Zealand Herald music writers chose 40 percent local releases while Rip It Up’s score was just below 24 percent, a dead heat with that of The Evening Post critics.

Cammick says that New Zealand music is doing well “with the art of it” and is optimistic about what is to follow. “I reckon if we get the art of it right first, the commerce of it will follow.”

Brendan Smyth, NZ On Air’s New Zealand Music Manager, says everyone’s talking about the renaissance of New Zealand music.

“I believe this renaissance has been fuelled by commercial radio,” he says. “Since 1995, there’s been a six-fold increase in New Zealand music on air, which means that more New Zealanders are hearing more New Zealand music than ever before.”

In 1995, local music content on commercial radio was 1.89 per cent. By the March 2002 quarter, this had increased to 13.19 percent.

Creative New Zealand’s funding for “the art of it” complements the work of NZ On Air, says Jeremy Winter. In the current financial year, the organisation has offered more than $650,000 in funding to music projects across all genres.

“Many of the music project grants are not large when compared with big-budget, commercial recording costs or international marketing campaigns,” he says. “But they are generally directed at the artist and at a time when it can make a real difference as to whether an exciting project can go ahead.”


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