Popular music policy in Australia and New Zealand: Part 1: Roy Shuker on New Zealand popular music

In 2008, the journal Popular Music issued a special edition [Volume 27, Issue 02, May 2008] on the cultural policy of popular music. According to the editors, Simon Frith and Martin Cloonan:

on the one hand, there clearly is a global policy trend: from cultural policy to cultural industries policy, from treating popular music as a matter of social or cultural concern to treating the popular music industry as a matter of economic concern, from devising policies to counter the local effects of international commerce to devising policies to embed local practices within the world marketplace. On the other hand (and whatever the common development of such things as export support mechanisms and state-subsidised trips to the US music trade fair, South By South West), how cultural industry policy is articulated nationally is determined by quite different ideologies of what we might call governance. National music policies differ from country to country, that is to say, less because of different popular musical traditions or practices than because of different ways in which state power is organised and understood.

This issue contains a couple of interesting articles from the antipodean context.

From New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington academic Roy Shuker analyses New Zealand’s cultural policy environment in regards to popular music. In a time when you can see Flight of the Conchordes on a major US television network, Shuker is surely correct when he writes that “this is the greatest visibility that New Zealand music has ever enjoyed.”

Shuker follows popular music policy from the abandonment of music quotas through the inception of New Zealand On Air and on to the present day. He argues that one of the key elements of this success story has been New Zealand On Air:

New Zealand On Air (NZOA) was established in 1991 to administer the funds
collected by the annual Broadcasting Fee (then around NZ$90),3 which was paid by
every household with a television/radio set. During the 1990s, when the fee was in
place, close to NZ$100 million (US$73 million) was collected annually from more than
a million fee-paying households. This income was used to facilitate the production of
New Zealand media culture, including local music. When the politically unpopular
regressive broadcasting fee was ended in 2001, NZOA received equivalent direct
government funding.

New Zealand On Air (NZOA) was established in 1991 to administer the funds collected by the annual Broadcasting Fee (then around NZ$90),3 which was paid by every household with a television/radio set. During the 1990s, when the fee was in place, close to NZ$100 million (US$73 million) was collected annually from more than a million fee-paying households. This income was used to facilitate the production of New Zealand media culture, including local music. When the politically un-popular regressive broadcasting fee was ended in 2001, NZOA received equivalent direct government funding.

Shuker goes on to describe the current policy environment. Partly owing to some useful export initiatives and a new code of practice for commercial radio,

In 2005 New Zealand music accounted for a record 20.8% of music played on commercial radio, creeping up from the previous high of 19.6% in 2004. Local bands Breaks Co-op and The Feelers produced the top three airplay songs on commercial radio. Radio airplay translated into sales, rather than simply ‘turntable hits’. In May (New Zealand Music Month), fans brought 55% Kiwi (New Zealand performers) CDs, representing nearly 30% of all album CD sales (Smith 2005, p. 18). Airplay of New Zealand music had now doubled since March 2002 when the Code of Practice for New Zealand content had been launched, and the target (of 20%) had been reached eighteen months ahead of schedule. Announcing the new figures, Broadcasting Minster Steve Maharey observed that ‘it demonstrates what we’ve known all along – that New Zealanders want to tune into more of their own music’ (Maharey 2006).

Finally, Shuker then profiles the success of some of New Zealand’s music scenes, including the Wellington roots/reggae scene made famous by Trinity Roots and Fat Freddy’s Drop, the South Auckland rap scene from which acts like Che Fu, King Kapisi and Scribe emerged, as well as the garage acts like The Datsuns and The D4. It’s a fantastically informative and insightful article.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Shane Homan on the Australian pub rock debate.

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