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Does NZ Music Month Hype Match Reality?

06 Jun 2024

We speak with a quartet of acclaimed creatives to see what having a month dedicated to music in Aotearoa really means to those within the industry - and what it can do better.

New Zealand Music Month (NZMM) has come to a close for another year - but what does it really do for those it aims to promote? 

The big month of May reached its conclusion with the return of the Aotearoa Music Awards (AMAs), a night of celebrating top contributors and talents across many different categories and genres. It’s a night of glitz and glamour - and a good place to ask those in the know about what impact the month-long local music push actually does to benefit those at the coalface.

As music makers reached the end of the AMAs red carpet, The Big Idea spoke to artists at different stages of celebrity and the creative process to get their thoughts on what is being done - and what could be done better - in the name of NZMM.

Best Soul/RnB Artist Award finalist Sam V reckons the media doesn’t do enough to give our artists the coverage they've earned.

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Sam V. Photo: Stijl/James Ensing-Trussell.

“Aside from maybe seeing more posts from our media platforms, I don’t really see much. For me, it's not Music Month - It's a career, I love it every day, music is the whole year. I think to give it a month - it doesn't really give it the shine that New Zealand music deserves. 

"I think our media can do a better job at treating our artists like the superstars that they are.

"I do love seeing the productivity from artists and their output - I just wish that it was encouraged all year round. I've seen a couple more show pop-ups maybe - but nothing too out of the ordinary. Just a regular month.”

For Chelsea Nikkel (AKA Princess Chelsea, winner of this year's Best Alternative Artist Award), her thoughts on media attention during NZMM have changed over time. 

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Princess Chelsea (Chelsea Nikkel). Photo: Stijl/James Ensing-Trussell.

“It's good to focus on music for a month - it gives the media a theme - but there's a lot more to the music scene here than just a month. 

"I try not to be too cynical about this stuff - the younger me probably was. But to the older me - it’s amazing. The opportunity for musicians to get coverage, to get a bit of a spotlight...it’s nice.

“I've always felt a little bit invisible in New Zealand. Not by student radio and not by my peers, just in general by the (mainstream music) industry. But that would exist for me no matter what country I was in because of the type of music I play and the way that I do it. 

"So for me, it's probably my best chance to get a little bit of recognition by part of the industry that might not normally give that. 

"In saying that, in the last year or so, I’ve won some awards - I've been invited in (to the spotlight) more. And I like to say that I don't care but I do care, and we (as artists) do care what other people think, I’m not going to lie.”

Another AMA winner Georgia Lines (Best Pop Artist) believes NZMM is contributing to raising the profile of homegrown talent - not just on our shores but around the world.

“There are some awesome things happening (during May)… I feel like there's a lot of momentum growing, for sure. 

"Especially going outside of New Zealand - meeting people and the conversations that I've had around what they're hearing about New Zealand music is really awesome. Like the saying ‘the tide rises all the boats’ - when one person in New Zealand does well, the tide rises and it lifts everybody.

"I think yes, it happens in May with NZMM but it's happening more and more throughout the rest of the year as well. It’s really helping to highlight and bring awareness to what is happening in New Zealand…there are waves that are being made internationally, which I think is amazing. 

"We're this tiny little country but what is coming out of our country is being seen, heard, valued and appreciated. 

"It's really special.”

Perhaps part of what’s lacking in May’s coverage of Aotearoa’s musicians is what happens when the mandatory monthly spotlight fades. That hard work that goes on behind the scenes - the dogged determination to keep going.

For multi-talented and multidisciplinary creative Tom Scott - winner of Single of the Year with Avantdale Bowling Club and Best Hip Hop Artist with Home Brew - being a musician/artist has a personal cost that is often swept underneath the red carpet.

Tom Scott accepting his Tūi. Photo: Stijl.

He's making sure he speaks out on this topic, sharing with the AMAs audience during an acceptance speech that he's 51 days sober. 

He spoke with The Big Idea about music as an outlet for people who don’t feel they fit in.

"Like most of these people on the podium...most of them are freaks in good ways and bad ways. I think there's two sides to the blade. Always. 

"You might get an introspective album from someone who's thinking too much. You might get a beautiful soulful album from someone who's feeling too hard. You know what I mean? None of this shit happens without the other side, which is the part that we don't show you guys. 

"You see the finished result but it comes from pain. 

"I’m here (at the AMAs) without alcohol today. I feel fucking horrible, I feel anxious. I just think sometimes we're put on these pedestals to be these finished products and look all pretty in a nice suit and that. But (underneath) we’re all weirdos."

There's another toll that can hit even the mainstream-embraced musos - one most creatives know all too well - the burden of trying to make ends meet financially.

Nikkel muses “You work real long hours, physically hard - as with a lot of jobs - to be an artist. You just do it for the magic. I can't explain it. It's just how I put across things that I can’t put into words and I hope that gives other people enjoyment.”

Georgina Lines performing. Photo: Stijl.

Lines concurs. “This is a really hard industry, but also really beautiful. There's lots of hard moments, especially as you're working things out. I'm trying to figure it out along the way -  And you're problem-solving every second day and trying to figure out how to pay for things. You're thinking, 'is this gonna work or is it not? What do I have control over? And what don't I have control over?' 

"But then equally, I get to do this for my job - I get to write music and I get to create from a place of vulnerability, honesty and depth and seeing how people connect to that is so beautiful.”

“It’s a lot of yakka we put in - a lot of hard work, investment and time," Sam V sums up.

"Normally there's the PMAs (Pacific Music Awards) for me and this is my first time being part of the AMAs. It’d be cool to just have more spaces like this for artists of all genres and communities to come together and to celebrate Aotearoa's music scene because I reckon internationally, we stand up.”