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October 10, 2011 | by  | in Arts Books | [ssba]

It’s the Last Books Page of the Year,

so we’re giving you double your money’s worth. Fairooz Samy talks to…

The formidable Mike Chunn, NZ music legend and co-author of I’m With the Band, a how-to of everything musical in Aotearoa (with Jeremy Chunn and Salient’s own Barney Chunn),

I’m With the Band; How to make a career in popular music in New Zealand
Mike Chunn, Jeremy Chunn, and Barney Chunn
Hurricane Press, Price TBA

I’m With the Band is a sequel to your 1997 publication The Mechanics of Popular Music. Why did you feel that now was the right time to release it? Is it that NZ musicians need a bit of a call to arms, or that the nature of the industry has changed over the past decade?

The industry bears little resemblance to 1997 in its technologies and distributions. They could not have been imagined back then! The slow eradication of the stranglehold the major record companies had is the main shift. And of course the Internet has provided tall platforms from which songwriters and artists can fling their recorded music all around the world. It’s important that NZers realise that their options these days are plentiful.

The book gives advice on every part of the musical process—from forming the band to writing songs, the roles of managers and entertainment lawyers, publishing, performing, and promotion. How did you manage to compact everything in to such an incredibly detailed but easily accessible book? Were there sections you felt you had to emphasize more than others?

We felt it was important to avoid theory. We talked to those artists who have carved out proactive, rewarding careers as well as those administrators who (as well as being passionate about music) have worked like bastards to bring the music of NZers to the people. In Blink—Malcolm Black, Becs Caughey, Ian James—we have gone for a spread across pole positions (as such) to cover the various domains that this crazy, amazing industry has.

You have interviews with some iconic New Zealand musicians—Supergroove, Shapeshifter, Neil Finn…. How would you describe NZ’s musical community today? Do you think there’s still a sense of camaraderie or has corporate competitiveness muddied the waters, so to speak?

NZs musical community is fabulous. There IS a sense of camaraderie amongst those of us who are now in later years (i.e old!). We all knew we had to front up to a nation that in our formative, emerging years was backward and quick to dismiss a belief in the importance of song in the lives of any nation. And NZ, well, we’re a young nation. NZ songs were desperately needed back then so we took it on the chin and wrote and recorded them.

There’s a chapter in the book titled ‘Creating the difference’, where you talk to Ian Jorgensen about the split between ‘live’ bands and ‘radio’ bands. Why do you think there’s such a disparity in NZ between artists who get airplay but hardly do gigs and artists who have huge live followings that almost never get airplay?

It’s inevitable in an isolated nation with a small population. The radio world is about Top 20 music from overseas—the Anglo-American pop flood. It has been and will always be there. But really—Top 40 radio is about the song in the first instance. So an artist like Zowie will have a Top 10 song in ‘Broken Machine’ but won’t get 100 people to a live show because those who prop up the sales and research at radio for that recording like the song . They don’t care who’s singing it. Whereas an act like Shapeshifter carved out a huge following on live shows. A live show is an event at which the punter thinks—“they’re playing to me. It’s about them and me and those around me who sense and know the wonder and emotional connection that this room is holding for us. That’s unique. And if from there, an artist like Shapeshifter crosses over to Top 10 radio with a song or five then they will be enormous! That’s what happened to Split Enz. Those first seven years established a figurehead of musical exploration and stagecraft… and then came “I Got You” in their 8th year.

You’re the recipient of a Living Legends Award, among others, founder of Play It Strange, and one of the most respected people in NZ music. With so much experience in the industry, what’s the most important piece of advice you have for up- and-coming NZ artists?

You have to be unwavering. You might be booked to play a bar and as you start you see absolutely no-one in the room. You play like there is a full house. You stand and deliver! Watch the World Cup rugby games. A team can be down 50-nil. How are they playing? Do they walk off the paddock ‘cos they think “Bugger this. We’re losing”? No they don’t. That’s why they’re in the team. It’s the same in the world of taking your music to the people. You must be unwavering in your self-belief and musical dedication to excellence. Oh, and you must love your fellow man. Songs, live performance and recording all collide in a perfect way when human relationships are complementary and complimentary. In the end – and I am deadly serious about this—a fulsome and vibrant path in the world of music falls on the relationships you have or make with other people.


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Comments (1)

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  1. Jason Hailes. says:

    Thank God for the Chunn Family.
    Your an inspiration to us all.
    Look forward to reading the Book.

    Jason Hailes.

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