The Sound of Success
Words and illustrations by Stella Roper (they/she)
Stella Roper speaks to four people from across the music industry in Aotearoa, which has produced some of the most iconic and unique sounds in the world. They discuss its highlights, downfalls and how it could be improved.
Noah, 19 years old, is the studio manager and audio engineer at Depot Sound recording studio in Devonport. After taking over from his mentor, Neil Baldock, he now records music for all sorts of projects, while also playing drums for his up-and-coming band ‘Thinking Foxes.’ However, balancing work whilst playing gigs is nothing new for him - he also was a part of ‘Universal Authors,’ a band that’s now out of action but used to be a staple of the Auckland gig scene.
How has your experience as working in music production influenced your approach to creating and recording music?
Things have changed a lot for me since I started working in this field. My priorities have shifted. I'm not as obsessed with finding the "perfect" way to do things. I used to get caught up in using the right microphone and adding lots of effects to make my recordings sound great. But working with Neil taught me to keep things simple and focus on the most critical elements of a song.
What are some of the challenges of building a career in music production?
One of the main things I’ve been trying to deal with is burnout. I really love what I do, and I tend to pile on a lot of work for myself. On top of working at the Depot, I also had another job but due to seeing how the burnout has been affecting me, I reconsidered that position. I am interested in refocusing my vision and evaluating my priorities in terms of time management. By investing more energy into the studio, I can free up more time to meet new musicians, bring them to the depot, and ultimately devote more time to what I truly want to be doing.
What’s the most important lesson you've learned from all of this?
Being in bands I’ve learnt that being able to co-mediate is an essential lesson to learn. There are lots of differing opinions, tastes and preferred genres and you need to respect them all. Because at the end of the day, all those creative differences form the identity of the band.
Musician to shoutout: Faye Webster (@fayewebster)
Matt is the General Manager of Arc Up Rock Waves Promotions, an event company that runs seven different platforms for young creatives throughout New Zealand. Their oldest and biggest platform is Rock Quest - is a music competition featuring bands and solo, duo musicians. Formerly a Rock Quest judge, he currently specialises in event management.
What do you look for in a winning performance?
When it comes to judging art it can be a challenging task. In the case of Rock Quest, while it's not exactly comparing apples to apples, the song itself is the primary focus. A good, strong song is what will make an artist stand out above everything else. What makes a good, strong song? It's unique and has its own identity that sets it apart from others. It's not difficult to recognize a great song when you hear it.
What challenges do emerging artists face today?
The biggest problem is that we're a small country with a tiny population that doesn't like to spend money on art as much as other places. Which is a bummer. We can pack out stadiums with 50,000 rugby fans, but getting 100 people to a gig is a struggle. It's tough because everyone loves music, but it's hard to get people to show up and support local artists. So, we need more people who appreciate and value music enough to pay for it. Due to the still powerful impact of radio in NZ, it’s essential that emerging artists have more access to recording equipment and mentors with experience so they can be heard worldwide.
It’s a bit of a secret project, but without giving too much away, I’m planning on launching a programme in the next 12 months that tailors pathways for young emerging artists into actual roles; actual career paths. I’d like to create a physical space for artists to continue to grow in their craft as there is a large gap for this kind of space in Aotearoa.
Musician shoutout: Last years highlight Rock Quest country act, ‘Zac & Maddison’
Chris Mac is a member of iconic NZ band, Six60. He is also a Rock Quest mentor and produces music for artists with a variety of experience.
How has the music industry changed in the last 10-15 years?
Although at often a slow and resisting pace, the industry has changed to become more inclusive - which is awesome! There is more discussion surrounding inclusivity amongst lineups and I see foundations and projects being created to fund groups that are underrepresented in the NZ music scene specifically. Despite that, there is a long way to go.
What do you think a challenge is for emerging artists?
I think a challenge that new artists struggle with is how, due to the takeover of social media in music, people are looking for the ’next thing’ at a much more rapid pace. That can be tough for young artists who are just starting out. They might have a big hit online, but they don't know how to play a live show or handle the pressure. I won’t name names but I’ve noticed new upand-coming artists who are seen in NZ that got it big online and don’t even know how to play a show, they’ve got no idea. And that’s not on them, that's just how you are when you’ve just started out. This environment created by the digital age can be difficult like that.
Musician shoutout: Bella Bavin (@bellabavin)
Jade currently is doing a degree in Music and Business at UoA, DJing at a radio station and leading her band ‘Club Ruby.’ Having experienced a patriarchal, misogynistic and racist structure of Mormonism through the lens of the only child of a Vietnamese immigrant woman and an Orthodox pākehā man, Jade, 24, confidently states ‘The early life struggles I faced determined my trajectory.’ Her experience growing up a part of the church led to early exposure to criticism that left her feeling alienated from other church members. Despite negative experiences she had during her developing years, she continued to pursue music and moved from DC, where she had grown up, to New Zealand and attend UoA to undertake a degree to develop her songwriting and performance skills.
What are your goals for your career?
Well, we’d really like to get all the ticks to reach funding. We didn’t think that that would be an achievable goal until we actually got a spot in the ‘Asians in Music’ Sandbox programme, which allowed us get partnered with a mentor, Mareea Paterson, who helped us get onto mixing and mastering our first EP that we had been sitting on for about a year. It’s really exciting finally getting onto releasing that. It’s five songs and we will be releasing the first single: ‘BADA, (You're born alone and you die alone, and that's good enough for me so I hope that's good enough for you too.)’ It’s Fall Out Boy style.
How have you found the production side of things? Producing can be quite intimidating for some people. This is especially the case for female-identifying and presenting people, as it seems like such a male-dominated space. I believe that it is essential for there to be more funding for emerging artists, especially grants that are for people who aren’t often seen and encourage them to get into the industry. Aotearoa is such a diverse country and we must empower voices in the music industry which reflect that.
Musician shoutout: Check out Goodspace, a band we met through Sandbox who have such good vibes. Also our single-release party - a collaboration of Club Ruby (@clubrubysucks), Pink Plates (@pink_plates_ band) and Speck (@speckcomics). Get tickets for our gig through those handles!