Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 4. 7 April 1970
The New Zealand
The New Zealand
'Pop' is a pretty difficult concept to define neatly. One could say that pop music is that which is created purely as a marketable commodity, written and performed following musical trends as they come popular, and recorded for the buying public.
Pop is commodity, just like toilet paper and soap. A record is made and it has to be sold. Like any other production concern, a recording company ensures that a profit is realised on its goods by straight-out advertising through the press, handout material, TV and radio. Most top forty shows can really be regarded as nothing more than long pop music commercials. These shows arc the last step in the process of bringing the newly recorded product before the public. They are very important to the recording industry in that, to some degree, the NZBC holds early power to make or break a potential 'hit' when putting it through an audition process for approval. Some discs don't get approved, and these often quietly die, although refusal by the NZBC may sometimes create an aura of notoriety for a single which ensures sales.
Disc jockeys are approached by recording companies rather as though they were ad-men. New discs both of local and overseas production are 'sold' to them by promotors in the hope that they will be singled out for special mention and replay on the pop shows. There is no payola involved—the selling to DJs is all straight. Nevertheless one of the basic rules for a record promotional officer is to get to know DJs very very well.
Most of the music on NZ top forty-type shows comes from overseas via honourable mentions or placing on (mostly) American or British sales charts. Its eventual placing on local charts depends on two different methods of popularity assessment; votes placed by the general public on special forms in record stores and local radio stations, and sales results obtained from record stores. The first method is not exactly reliable in that most people do not bother registering the disc of their choice on the forms provided. In addition to this a situation can arise where a totally unworthy song can jump up the charts because 18 schoolgirls voting en masse provided the only data for the week for the local radio station.
Judging popularity on sales is more reliable, but it is generally over to the DJ to obtain this information from the stores in his area. It's a bit of a slog, but ultimately it's worth the effort in order to base charts on a fair assessment.
Apart from the Good Guys on private radio stations, there are really no real disc jockeys in New Zealand. There are radio announcers who are eminently suited to the stylised raving delivery necessary these days for a high powered pop show and these can develop quite a public following. But NZBC works to a roster system circulating its announcing staff. This means that an announcer who proves to be a superb DJ, with the knowledge and the delivery that's needed, can often be cut off in the middle of his popularity. The system of announcer circulation could be regarded as an NZBC safety factor to ensure staff retention in the past popular DJs have left Broadcasting and gone freelance, capitalising on their popularity to front similar programmes. This is okay for the individual personality but hardly desirable to the organisation who employed and trained him. It's a tricky situation but one which could be alleviated as the number of private radio stations grow, allowing for employment of DJ personalities and providing healthy competition to the NZBC.
The local pop music industry is as yet a baby. The records we make mostly capitalise on overseas trends; that which is tried-and-true as being safe for marketing. This isn't really a very good thing, in that any real originality that New Zealand can contribute to pop is pretty well squashed. But things are better than they were in the recent past. Adventurous local A & R people are producing discs which do have something out of the ordinary to appeal to the pop buyer—possibly it was Peter Dawkins who engineered the first real breakaway with his production on the Shane single St Paul. This was, by local standards, a fine and original production although the song itself was not locally written. Lately, however, there has been more attention paid to local song writing, and this is good: the more we can produce music that is 100% homegrown the closer we shall come to creating a more distinctively New Zealand pop scene. But no matter how close we come to making our own pop music it can never be a completely New Zealand sound as' this country has no indigenous music to draw on, except Maori chants (not the Hoki Mai variety but the original wails) and this is pretty limiting if it is to be used. There has been only one real try at this—Ray Columbus' Travelling' Sin gin' Man. This song displays further surprises for a local pop-piece in being the first to use place names successfully.
Such institutions as TV's Studio One, the Loxene Gold Disc and the APRA Silver Scroll do a lot of positive things in promoting New Zealand pop on all levels—songwriting, record production and performances. The Gold Disc, as an order of merit and a recognition of big sales, is the least important of these three as a creative stimulus The Australasian Performing Rights Association's Silver Scroll Award is presented annually to the writer of the year's best locally written song, regardless of sales of the record. A panel of judges with reasonable musical qualifications selects this from a number of entries.
Studio One is probably the most potent Creative stimulus of these three in that through this nationally televised competition the country gets to see and hear the new talent, and to hear New Zealand-composed songs. It's before the public for a longer period than the end-of-year Gold Disc stakes. Also where the Utter is an award only for those who have made it to the stage of actually having made a record, Studio One is able to reach the general public, stimulating the amateur songwriter and performer (while mercifully sparing us the agonies of the preliminary talent-quest-type semifinal auditions) and being Open to all. It has proved a good way to snow the public just what we do have in the way of musical talent.
The Studio One contest has commendably high ideals in trying to get across to the New Zealand public as many facets of pop performance and song writing as it can find that are of value. The song writing side of the programme, however, has its hangups. A large number of songs are presented for judging prior to selecting the final pieces for entry. Many of these, while good songs, can't be placed in the semifinals because of the capabilities of the resident singers who will perform the entries. For example, this year's entrants for Studio One will be hamstrung if they have entered a big-sound jimmy Webb flowerpot, a gospel song, or a bluesy piece because, stylistically, such numbers are wrong for the resident vocalists; Maria Dallas, Eddie Low and Toni Williams. It'll be a country-orientated programme again this year.
It's been country singers who have cleaned up on the 'New Faces' side of Studio One too. Obviously country-and-western has a pretty solid local following, but it's strange that it shows up in talent shows such as this when most of the music on the pop charts is anything but country. One never hears about sales of CAW records, but they do sell. We're a pretty country-music-orientated country, regardless of any amount of Yummy yummy yummy I've 'got Love in my Tummy that we hear may have sold thousands. One of the few local groups which has managed to retain a steady popularity and solvency as fulltime performers is the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, who never make the charts, but whose concerts are almost consistent sellouts. John Hore sells, simple country-structured songs such as those ballads sung by Tom Jones and John Rowles sell. Max Cryer and his little boys and girls sell. It's the short-back-and-sides performer in New Zealand who makes all the money and has the popularity.
Rock musicians on the local pop scene have it pretty bad, both on stage and in the recording studio. Our recording studios are lately trying to keep up with the increasingly sophisticated equipment that is available, but most discs put out by New Zealand groups suffer from inferior sound. This is largely due to the equipment they play on, which is limited by import licensing. Quality instruments are virtually unobtainable, unless a group gets in good with a visiting overseas band and arranges to buy gear along the Japanese-Fijian taperecorder lines. But this is risky to they're stuck with instruments that went out with the Shadows.
Most of New Zealand's rock talent tends to become, through the demands of last public as much as anything else, pale imitators of overseas ravers. They'll say onstage that they are going to do the new song by such and such a group that's currently popular, and they proceed to do so—badly, with little if any attempt at adding any new interpretation, trying to ape the original riffs and licks on gear that's incapable of producing anything like the desired original sound. The result is pretty sad. The Formyuls, even though they write most of their recorded material, are even reduced to pandering to public taste 'in concert' by playing someone else'spage 14
hit As someone else's hit. It's the public that's at fault here, and not a lack of musical imagination, which this group has a heap of. Mercifully, they have had the opportunity to obtain overseas gear which helps them get closer to the sound on the original disc, and they are professional enough and have enough musicianship to add something of themselves to someone else's song. They are one of the few groups who can get away with it.
We are a small country with a small population. Naturally we have a small quota of real pop talent, and this is all too soon aired to a small public. The 'top' in New Zealand isn't very high at all, and a performer finds it necessary to go on to bigger things overseas to prove himself. This is sad, but necessary to the individual performer who is determined to make it. What is left behind is not always the best we have. At the most all we can say about our pop performers is that our best is really only our most promising. How good he or she is as a creative talent in the pop field can never be fully proved in this country—if proved, it could never be maintained here. New Zealand is only a jumping-off place for creative talent. Those who say they will be back are talking hot air; we haven't the population to sustain them, and often, what population there is lacks the appreciation.