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Covid-19May 1, 2020

How NZ music can thrive in the post-Covid world

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

With so many gigs and jobs cancelled over the past month, Covid-19 has devastated the New Zealand music ecosystem. But as Recorded Music NZ CEO Damian Vaughan writes, the right support can see the industry emerge even stronger.

By the numbers, this should be a time of celebration for Aotearoa’s music industry. We just finalised the recorded music revenue numbers for 2019 and the sector experienced its fifth consecutive year of growth, up 13.8% on 2018.

New Zealand music is increasingly everywhere and on everyone’s playlist. L.A.B. hit number one on the official charts in early March with ‘In The Air’, the first Kiwi number one single since Lorde’s ‘Green Light’. Six60 played to a sold-out crowd at Western Springs for the second year running, and after scooping up a stack of NZ Music Awards with her debut EP and breakout hit ‘Soaked’, Benee’s new music has been garnering accolades all over the world.

But like many other businesses and individuals across New Zealand, we’re not celebrating because we know 2020 will be one of the toughest years the music industry has ever faced.

The latest data shows our music industry contributes around $730 million to New Zealand’s GDP and employs more than 3,000 people. As a result of Covid-19, the industry will experience significant losses in 2020 primarily across live, broadcast and public performance revenue areas.

The situation is devastating and continues to evolve. In the past month we’ve seen all live music cancelled throughout the country. Performing artists, venues, crew, production suppliers and all in the live music eco-system have experienced dramatic losses, which will continue until New Zealand’s border restrictions are lifted.

Other revenue streams that artists and musicians rely on to support their careers – notably from public performance licensing and broadcasting – have also been substantially impacted as physical premises such as cafes, bars and retail shops have closed and broadcast advertising revenue has reduced.

While the impact of Covid-19 has been shocking and sudden, transformation is nothing new to the music industry, which has been at the forefront of technology disruption for years. Most New Zealanders already enjoy music via a streaming service like Spotify, and during the lockdown our artists were finding new and interesting ways to reach their fans via live performances on social networks. They found receptive local audiences who were engaging with their favourite artists in unique and direct ways.

We know this environment will present us with opportunities to innovate, rebuild and reshape our music industry, if we take action now to cement its future.

It has been heartening that right from the beginning of this crisis the music sector has come together as one, working collaboratively with a shared goal of supporting our artists, songwriters, and the many workers, organisations and businesses who make our live and recorded music industry world class.

One of our first actions was getting in behind the work of our industry charity MusicHelps. For eight years MusicHelps has been providing emergency financial support and professional counselling to music people who have experienced hardship or distress, and never before has its work been more important.

We launched a fundraising appeal, MusicHelps Live, and have also requested financial aid from the government to support all those affected through an uncertain winter. Initially, funds raised will go towards rapid response grants to affected individuals and there will be further announcements and initiatives over the coming weeks and months.

As we continue to navigate through these times, it is imperative that we focus on the health of our domestic market, our musicians and the music they make. We must encourage all New Zealanders to buy, play, stream and support New Zealand music.

The major streaming services are already highlighting Kiwi music across their platforms and supporting our local initiatives such as MusicHelps. We applaud our local radio stations and networks that have increased their New Zealand music airplay over the last 12 months from pop to alternative and everywhere in between and beyond. I’m thrilled to see the first quarter of 2020 has seen the highest proportion of local music across commercial radio for a decade and Kiwi music on radio is increasingly being played during peak periods when the most ears are listening.

In these difficult times we are encouraged by the New Zealand public embracing our artists and new local music. As we start NZ Music Month 2020 we look forward to working with our partners across streaming and radio to really build on this momentum, let’s keep it going!

We are grateful for the substantial support government has made available to individuals and small businesses in the music sector, and we believe the wage subsidy scheme has already saved hundreds of jobs.

However, we will need additional government support to help us recover from the impact of Covid-19. This includes support and relief for small businesses such as music venues and music retailers, and an extension of the wage subsidy scheme for affected music workers until restrictions on mass gatherings are removed and the border is reopened.

Longer-term asks include the reintroduction of something like the Pathway to Arts and Cultural Employment scheme to financially support artists and emerging professionals to start or reignite a creative career. We’ve also called for increased funding for our government music agencies: The NZ Music Commission, NZ On Air and Te Mangai Paho, to support the vital work they do such as ensuring musicians are able to tour domestically and can continue to create, market and earn a living from new music.

As the alert levels start phasing down there will also be a real need for government and local council to work proactively with the industry to problem solve and get live music up and humming again. We will also need to support those sectors that add value to their business through music, especially broadcasters, hospitality and retail sectors that pay licence fees to use music and therefore produce income for our artists and songwriters.

Despite the trials ahead, we know that music can unite us and heal us. Our music whānau is resilient and innovative and will find ways to adapt and thrive in the post-Covid world as we rebuild and reemerge stronger.

Keep going!