Tuesday, April 10, 2012

SXSW and beyond

King Kapisi with Rob Lowe, in LA outside Roscoes
A handful of Kiwi musicians recently ventured off to the annual music festival SXSW, held in Austin, Texas every March. New Zealand has built up a small but solid presence there over recent years (there's around 2000 bands playing), backed by the efforts of Outward Sound, the NZ Music Commission's initiative to support our bands get to new markets overseas.

This year's contingent at the official NZ Showcases ran to four acts: Electric Wire Hustle, Cairo Knife Fight, Kimbra, and Avalanche City. Other Kiwi-related acts playing SXSW were King Kapisi and Teremoana Rapley, and No, the new band from Steriogram's Brad Carter. King Kapisi was a late addition at the official NZ Showcase, (alongside Electric Wire Hustle, Cairo Knife Fight and Avalanche City) as he and Teremoana were attending SXSW as delegates, their second visit.

Read Cairo Knife Fight's tour diary here, and Electric Wire Hustle in Austin - 5 shows in 3 days, via Volume magazine.

Manager of Outward Sound Gary Fortune says that 35 bands applied to go to SXSW this year, 15 were chosen, and 5 went to the event.

The NZ Music Commission receives $1.378m a year from the government thru Ministry for Culture & Heritage - of that $400,000 goes directly to artists for international projects via Outward Sound. So, how do you get the money?

I spoke with Gary and Alan Holt (Outward Sound's export co-ordinator) late last year, to get some more background on how their programmes work. 

When Outward Sound started, it was in three stages, and it has evolved from there to its current form. Gary noted the original founding document for the programme from 2004, called Creating Heat, has been used as a template for similar initiatives in Ireland and Canada (see Creating Heat, pdf). The organisation is set up as a charitable trust, and uses an anonymous panel of 6 experts to select who gets the grants. 

Basically, if bands want to get that funding, they can't just turn up and say they're off to the UK or the US for a few shows and see what happens. They need say 15-20 shows and an album release, something solid. The goal with the Outward Sound funding is for growth stages for an act, not just return visits. 

They admit the success of the scheme does make it harder for new bands. But Fortune was keen to stress that they will help bands, even if they aren't successful with funding thru Outward Sound.

They have a range of contacts built up from networking at trade shows and events like SXSW or Midem and are happy to use them to help bands who are wanting to get offshore.

The funding is retrospective so bands have to spend the money first and front up with receipts, and is to half the value of the budgeted tour.

Read Outward Sound application forms, guidelines etc here.

Gary Fortune at SXSW, photo by Sam Wicks/Volume Magazine

Early last year, Fat Freddys Drop were successful in being granted funding to the tune of $30,000 for a proposed US trip on the back of being the first NZ act ever to be invited to play the prestigious festival Coachella, but the band eventually dropped out, saying that "... As an independent band that operates entirely within the confines of their own bank account, Fat Freddy's are unable to sustain the financial loss required to make this trip happen".

The NZ Herald's media columnist John Drinnan wrote a news story last June on NZ artist Ladyhawke getting funding from Outward Sound, which made the front page of the Herald with the rather absurd headline "Taxpayers' $60,000 gift for Ladyhawke".

I wrote him an open letter on my blog, pointing out that "When Ladyhawke gets $59,000 of taxpayer funds to tour overseas, and says she will remain based in NZ, that means shes going away and earning money and coming back and paying taxes here. In business I believe they call that EXPORTING."

Drinnan waded in on the comments on that blogpost, and several media folk such as Russell Brown and Paul Kennedy took him to task, and he did not like it one bit. He found the whole experience so distasteful he referred to it in print the following week, saying "the Ladyhawke debate was peppered with personal invective and swearing. The lesson was clear - you're in Blogland now."

The funny thing is, if you read thru the comments on that post, it is exceedingly civil, as internet debates go. I should have sent Drinnan off to Whale Oil for some real internet rage.

"Stalin was a probably big fan of state involvement in popular culture." - John Drinnnan, in the comments.

NZ On Air also funds some offshore initiatives, though to a lesser degree.

NZOA's 2011 annual report says they budgeted $5.5 million this year on music funding, of which $406,000 was spent on getting NZ acts noticed internationally (Aust/US)

For the coming year (2012), NZ On Air's Brendan Smyth says that budget has reduced to $380,000, as they are focussing on Australia. That country is now NZOA's sole focus, one of the outcomes of the review of NZOA's international music support programme done by Chris Caddick and released in late in 2009.

Smyth says "that [$380,000] is 6.6% of the NZ Music budget or 0.3% of the NZ On Air total budget.

"That $380,000 is pretty much half ($200,000) grants to bands for broadcast promotions campaigns in Australia (based on a 50% reimbursement of actual and eligible costs incurred) and half ($180,000) for other promotions like Big Sound, New Zealand music showcases, our deal with The Music Network, etc.

"Overseas is a pretty small part of our business really (as the % above suggest), partly because our core business is on-shore, not off-shore, and partly because international stuff is really the NZ Music Commission’s core business."

1 comment:

dubtropic said...

Pretty ironic that they're focussing on Australia; the policy ten years ago when I was assisting Rhian Sheehan, Module, Sola Rosa, SJD, Pitch Black, Minuit, The Upbeats and other NZ acts in Australia and was firmly told not to bother getting the artists to apply for NZOA funding as Australia was considered an easy market and part of any bands de riguer plan of establishing themselves was to make their mark in Australia. I very much disagreed at the time; pointing at the huge losses made by The Black Seeds in their first few tours; income made in NZ wasted on Aussie streetpress campaigns and attempting to build an audience among a hostile local market with no support from this new Outward Sound scheme at all...it was all very well playing to expats in Bondi but did nothing to build a profile amongst the local scene...

There's a book in my Aussie experiences that I'll one day recount... some acts have gone on to recoup their losses and then some (Black Seeds) but others suffered and have never gone back; SJD, Rhian and Module etc etc...