Star Struck By MAINZ
May was NZ Music Month and not to be overshadowed by the insidious virus controlling the headlines in recent weeks, there’s some serious talent deserving of (more) time in the spotlight as the country returns to a ‘post-covid’ normal. The talent has a common thread as well: they are all connected to The Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand (MAINZ).
Troy Kingi and Paige Tapara are two current artists who have spent time at MAINZ honing their craft. There seems to be a formula for success at the renowned institute: passionate educators who are talented musicians in their own right, great mentoring, state-of-the art facilities and real-life industry knowledge taught in a practical, applicable way. The result is a plethora of talented, employable professionals able to utilise their skills in roles right across the spectrum of the music industry.
At the beginning of May, Troy Kingi and his band, The Upperclass won the 2020 Taite Award for the album Holy Colony Burning Acres, the third instalment of Kingi’s epic 10|10|10 Series (to produce ten albums in ten genres in ten years). Kingi also won two Tui awards for the same album at the NZ Music Awards 2019 - Te Māngai Pāho Best Maori Artist | Te Kaipuoro Māori Toa, and Best Roots Artist | Te Kaipuoro Taketake Toa.
The Taite award is an opportunity to recognise Kiwi albums not necessarily at the top of the charts but rather, the judging criteria is based on quality musicianship and originality, and looks to acknowledge “outstanding creativity for an entire collection of music contained on one recording”.
Kingi said it felt amazing to win the Taite award. Although he definitely doesn’t write his music to win awards, he said he does hold the Taite Award very highly, purely because its based on creative merit. “I’m not sure what winning the award is gonna help me achieve, but its great to know that I’m heading in the right direction and people are resonating with my art”.
Kingi’s a graduate of MAINZ, a faculty of the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT). For years MAINZ has built an enviable reputation for providing high quality programmes, with the noteworthy calibre of graduates making an impact in the NZ music scene. Programmes have a strong practical focus and are designed with the end goal of graduates achieving employment in the music industry.
When he was in High School, Kingi said music was the only thing he wanted to do, there were no backups, no ‘Plan B’, he had an ‘all my eggs in one basket’ passion for music. Fortunately, his school counsellor recommended MAINZ to help him pursue his musical ambitions. He also knew a few friends who’d started the year before, helping pave the way and the move from the small Northland town of Kerikeri, to Auckland.
He rates the connections he made at MAINZ as one of the highlights. He went from his small community looking for like-minded people and a place to belong - and in MAINZ he said he found that, and some. After completing his Certificate in Contemporary Music, Kingi’s first child was born. He decided to move home to be closer to parents so that they could get help raising their family, rather than returning to do the diploma year. “I sometimes regret not finishing the second year but sometimes that’s just how it is... The skills I learned while at MAINZ I have used to this day and will continue to use well into the future”.
Dr Mark Baynes is Programme Manager at MAINZ Auckland. He says at MAINZ there’s a bit of a family vibe and students get to hang out with people who care and know about the industry. “We are all about the students and we give them a hard time when they need it, so they don’t lose their way”. That guidance for the creative brain is crucial he said, where, with some structure and direction, students learn how to harness and enhance their creativity by incorporating the practical elements of being successful into their lives, like time management, for example.
MAINZ provides an important role to musicians who may already have natural talent by the bucket load, but perhaps don’t know how to progress further. “No artist is their own island, all artists have gaps in their knowledge and we provide them with objectivity and give them perspective”, said Baynes, citing songwriting as an example - it’s a learned process for most artists to expand their repertoire and write more than one kind of song.
Kingi says the biggest thing he took away from MAINZ was the song writing methods. Trying new things to get different results. “I also think MAINZ is a big reason behind me wanting to do 10 different genres in my 10/10/10 series. In just one year we fully immersed ourselves in about eight differing genres, styles of music that I was never really fond of previously - I was now getting huge inspiration from”.
Looking ahead, Kingi has plenty of scope for material to expand his musical artistry in the near future as he continues to work on his 10-album series. “I have 5 years left till I reach my 10 albums in 10 different genres in 10 years goal, and then when that’s all said and done, I’m gonna hang up my artist boots and focus on engineering and production”.
MAINZ well-established programmes have produced a huge alumni working in the music industry, and in the broadest sense too. MAINZ has been successful in producing graduates of a complete cross-section of the music industry, where there are many people functioning in roles behind the scenes, not in the spotlight, who contribute massively to the industry. They make the on-stage stuff both happen, and then run smoothly – the producers, sound engineers, and event managers, all having learned their craft through the support and guidance of MAINZ’s staff of seasoned musicians and educators.
Encompassing state-of-the-art facilities, the campuses in Auckland and Christchurch offer a range of programmes, from introductory short courses through to certificate, diploma and degree level qualifications. These cover: music performance, DJ and Electronic Music Production, live sound and lighting. MAINZ offers strong foundation programmes to encourage early school leavers to continue on their study journey with music.
Tutors are all seasoned industry professionals, with extensive knowledge and experience to share. Baynes said “what’s always been consistent with MAINZ and rings true, is the passion of the teachers for music and how active they are in the industry”. Tutors are not just active participants in the music industry, they’re also across all of the new technologies, providing the best contemporary learning to students. There’s almost a sense of flying under the radar, for the staff like to shine a light on graduate achievements, but it has to be said, the immense depth and breadth of abilities in industry achievements amongst MAINZ staff is, in a word, excessive.
In keeping with that thought, MAINZ tutor Dixon Nacey was announced last week as one of three finalists in The 2020 Recorded Music NZ Te Kaipuoro Tautito Toa | Best Jazz Artist Award, with the winners annouced on Saturday, June 6th.
Nacey said he felt really privileged and honoured to be nominated and get into the top three, because of the calibre of the musicians involved. Jazz in comparison to other music genres in NZ is smaller but very active, and the talent and quality of the musicians is top-notch.
He said the nomination is quite an esteemed one for him, not just because of the quality of work amongst his contemporaries in the NZ jazz scene, he’s also very proud of the body of work on Edge of Chaos because he worked really hard on it and it was the output from his recently completed Masters.
Having taught in a university environment for many years, Dixon made the switch to MAINZ recently and was expecting much of the same. But he said MAINZ is something else, it is a whole new world in comparison. “It’s absolutely amazing. The students are so engaged, there’s a family feeling to MAINZ and it’s well-organised with fantastic programmes”.
He said ‘cohesion’ is the best word to describe what happens there: it’s about the connectedness between the teachers and what the students are doing across a range of subjects, then how they’re brought together with good leadership and good programmes.
Being active in music and teaching, Nacey says the students expect him to bring examples of his activity to the table, and the quality of the activity is important, it needs to be credible. Dixon has loads of credibility in the form of a 27-year long career, with some calling him the best guitarist in the country. He’s also been Musical Director for Coca Cola in the Park since 2016.
With such extensive and current connections in music, MAINZ is well supported by the industry, because of a responsiveness to its needs and relevance of the courses. And the music industry comes to MAINZ in the form of instantly recognisable names. APRA Silver Scroll winner Tony Waine, is Bachelor of Musical Arts Programme Leader (Level 5) at MAINZ and said Universal Music, Sony Music, Apra and Recorded Music NZ are just some of the companies regularly invited to MAINZ, they come and tell their story and and talk to students about how to be in the industry.
Waine himself has been a musician for more than 40 years. Well-known for his involvement in (multi) award-winning Kiwi band, The Narcs, he’s in his 40th year with them, and they are still rockingly active in the NZ music scene. Here’s a brief run-down of recent happenings: played as support act for Icehouse two months ago in Auckland, recorded and released three singles in the last 18 months, and produced a fun, rousing rendition of All Day & All of the Night, during Lockdown – well worth checking out.
Tony’s taught for 12 years at MAINZ. It was his first teaching job and he said he was unprepared for the challenge and intensity of the musical/artistic environment. He thinks the students have taught him more about life over the years than he’s taught them. You get a sense of what a nurturing environment MAINZ is, when he says like a proud father how many of the students go on to have stunning careers and full lives.
He commented on rising star Paige Tapara, who spent two years at MAINZ honing her craft. She has recently signed with Arista Records, New York. Arista records, a subsidiary of Sony Music, is an established American label with some of the biggest stars on the planet on their books. Legends like Aretha Franklin recorded under Arista, through to current artists like The Killers, Sean Mendez and Fall Out Boy.
"I'm so glad I went to MAINZ because it helped me understand the music industry. I would have been lost without MAINZ” said Tapara, adding “The songwriting classes really pushed me creatively and it was great learning from industry professionals".
MAINZ tutors understand what it is to be an artist and the different pathways to success, they know what’s practical and what’s applicable, Waine said. The benefits of studying in the creative industries are huge and it’s not narrow, it’s a broad learning pathway, with a the approach of collaboration being the key factor in the journey. Working with others is at the core of what happens at MAINZ, and “developing good human beings is at the centre of it as well. We’re all working together, no-one gets there by themselves. We embrace that. It’s all about participating with others”.
Waine has the pleasure of working with final-year degree students and he says virtually every student says MAINZ is a place where they’ve felt at home, with like-minded creative people in an empathetic environment. In fact, ‘we understand’ should be the MAINZ mantra – the students have a lot of freedom, but with extremely good results, and because the staff know and understand so well, he says “ we know it’s not the easiest of pathways, but it can be very rewarding”.
With some final thoughts, Baynes conceded with a laugh that MAINZ is a place for ‘nutters and crazies’, and that included the staff, which speaks of an accepting environment able to embrace all types of people. But more importantly he said, “ you’re going to be taught, and taught well by people who care. A lot of music gets talked about and a lot of music gets played here”. The resulting creativity speaks for itself.
MAINZ Auckland Campus Manager, Dot Bach, is looking forward to the relocation of the campus in July (semester 2), and being welcomed into the extended whanau at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Māngere Campus. The Māngere campus is within walking distance to the Māngere Town Centre and students have access to a full range of facilities and student support services.
For more information about MAINZ programmes, go to https://www.sit.ac.nz/Courses/MAINZ or phone Auckland campus 0800 265 526 or Christchurch campus 0800 264 426