The logo and the damage done

Lorde: the firestarter
Lorde: the firestarter

In the middle of Duncan Greive’s fab profile of Lorde in the October issue of Metro magazine, Ella Yelich-O’Connor  and her manager Scott Maclachlan are discussing why the Lorde videos were made without NZ On Air funding. Maclachlan says the productions were so simple and inexpensive that funding wasn’t needed. Then Lorde drops a bomb, saying of the NZ On Air logo,  “You know how much negative power that logo has for my generation?”

Whoa!

It would be easy to dismiss this as just a teen sassing off at the establishment for the sake of provocation, but her other observations are pretty spot-on (David Guetta is gross). But what’s behind it? Why would the NZ On Air logo seem negative to young people?

Chris Knox creates while the original logo rotates
Chris Knox creates while the original logo rotates

It comes down to what the NZ On Air represents. All funded music videos must display the logo in their videos (though it can be removed for overseas broadcast). All it signifies is that the video received funding from NZ On Air, and at the bare minimum the funding panel thought the song was good. But the NZ On Air logo is not a mark of quality.

Let’s assume that all songs that receive NZ On Air video funding are of above-average quality. They’re the sort that the funding panel decide have a good shot at getting airplay in New Zealand. But that doesn’t mean that all the videos made for these songs are of above average quality. In fact, the quality of videos greatly varies. Great songs can have poor videos; average songs can have great videos.

No one sets out to make a bad music video. It just ends up that way. Sometimes it’s not having enough money to fulfil the director’s vision. Sometimes the band doesn’t come across well on camera. Sometimes someone’s mate, who said he’d do the video for free, just takes ages to do it and makes a half-arsed effort, despite his best intentions. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

So when all these disappointing music videos end up on TV or the web, they’re all out there with the NZ On Air logo.

K'Lee: no longer do you feel her
K’Lee: no longer do you feel her

Other videos just don’t age well. They belong to a particular time and place (and that’s perfectly normal for pop), but when viewed a few years (or even months) later they seem a bit naff. K’Lee and TrueBliss’ videos had a particularly short shelf life, all with the NZ On Air logo.

A lot of artists who get NZ On Air funding are new, trying to get noticed – and some artists receive funding for only one or two songs before they disappear. It’s these early years, when the artist might still be finding their sound, trying to figure out if this whole rock thing is going to work out.

Compare Bic Runga’s first solo music video – the low-budget “Drive”, which sees Bic hanging around an apartment on her own – with the far more ambitious “Something Good”, with a huge supporting cast and Bic floating above Cuba Street.

But this is good. NZ On Air should be allowed to take chances on upcoming artists without demanding screen tests or video concept ideas first. A lot of the time these chances pay off and New Zealand bands enjoy long careers – Shihad and the Feelers are two who have made the most of NZ On Air funding. And Kimbra took early steps in the mid ’00s before her international success in 2011.

The Metro article notes that Lorde chose not to release any of her earlier experimental recordings, waiting until she was finally satisfied with “Royals”. But not all artists have the luxury of taking their time. For some, they’ve got a decent song, they’ve got music video funding so they’re going to make a video, even though they might not quite be ready for primetime.

In New Zealand, we only experience this with local artists. When an overseas artist has enough potential for their record company to promote them overseas, the label is going to put a lot of effort into marketing to make sure it’s worth it. So we never see the crappy videos from Australian bands who never make it in New Zealand, or the homemade vids for up-and-coming American bands. For example, Fall Out Boy’s low-budget debut video “Dead On Arrival” happily avoided New Zealand screens, but two years later their super slick “Dance Dance” video was all over the place. So because of this, the implication is overseas = cool videos; NZ = rubbish videos.

Deceptikonz: preaching to the choir
Deceptikonz: preaching to the choir

And then there are local bands who made cool videos without NZ On Air funding. In 2001, the Deceptikonz and Blindspott both released videos without any funding by NZ On Air (“Fallen Angels” and “Nil By Mouth”). Dawn Raid Entertainment funded the Deceptikonz video (and it had a crane shot!), whereas Blindspott’s video was a self-funded, cheap-as, $800 job. Both videos were good and both groups went on to many successes – and received NZ On Air funding for later videos. But the absence of the NZ On Air logo on their debuts seems to have done them a favour. It put them in the same category as groups like Crowded House – New Zealand artists who are so successful that they don’t need NZ On Air funding.

That’s not to say that there’s something inherently bad about NZ On Air videos or something good with independent videos. I’ve watched over a decade’s worth of NZ On Air music videos so far and there are a lot of really good ones in there. Well, at least what I think is good.

And consider the non-funded video for The X Factor winner Jackie Thomas’ debut single “It’s Worth It”. It seems inspired by Lorde’s “Tennis Court” video, but it looks and feels cheap. There’s no magic. Over on her Facebook page, hardcore Jackie fans were really upset that their idol had been given such a poor video.

Dave Dobbyn: cool uncle
Dave Dobbyn: cool uncle

The NZ On Air logo creates a club of sorts, its brand uniting disparate artists with only one thing in common. The problem is, one artist might not necessarily want to be associated with others in the collection. Does Lorde want to be seen as a peer of, say, a roots band like Katchafire, a serious rock band like the Feelers, or a veteran like Dave Dobbyn? In the article Lorde has a playful dig at Goodnight Nurse, the old band of her producer Joel Little, who received funding for 14 music videos. Does Lorde want to avoid being lumped in with a fun pop-punk band of the ’00s – even when it’s the band of her creative partner?

It’s not that there’s anything broken with NZ On Air. Plenty of artists are more than happy to have the logo on their videos – so far I’ve only come across two out of over 600 videos where the NZOA logo has been obscured in a later edit. It’s more that the logo has covers such a broad range of music videos from 22 years of New Zealand music that it’s come to represent business rather than art.

So while the artist might be striving to create a certain kind of image, along comes this little logo that suddenly snaps the viewer out of the universe of the video and takes them to the reality, of the band manager filling in a form, applying for music video funding, just like hundreds of other artists have done over the past two decades.

Update: What’s missing from this page? The current NZ On Air logo! Here it is in two versions – full colour and the grey watermark. They’re more subtle and deferential – a big improvement on the garish rotating animation of the ’90s.

19 thoughts on “The logo and the damage done”

  1. Great reading, Robyn! “…the logo has come to represent such a broad range of music videos from 22 years of New Zealand music that it’s come to represents business than art” – the logo has always represented business, I think – the criteria its judged on is a business one, ie commercial, not artistic. And Lorde’s generation have access to gear that allows them to make music videos on their phones and laptops, which neatly bypass the need for corporate funding. There was a time when NZOA funding was mostly the only way you could get a video made.

    1. Thank you! Yeah, things are getting very interesting at the moment with new technology. I recently heard from a guy who reckoned his band could have made a better video costing less than their video contribution of $2000, rather than the $8000 video they ended up with.

  2. I do wonder whether the NZOA logo represents the last bastion of cultural cringe. As someone in their late 20s (a decade older than Lorde but still young enough to have only known NZ chart shows with funded videos) the problem was that it often screamed of the quota: I remember when the Top 20 was funded by Pulp (yep, going back) that along with the ‘up and coming’ bit there’d ‘local’… which if you were a young kid you’d groan as it seemed to always be student radio rock and even metal rather than pop (and if it was pop, often rather me-too-ish as per K’Lee… remember the Deep Obsession videos?)

    As an adult, I’ve really enjoyed seeing the NZOA vids here, but I certainly didn’t appreciate a lot of them at the time. I’d hope that in 10 or so years Lorde is more forgiving of NZOA works and sees them for what they are: different voices.

  3. “… this little logo that suddenly snaps the viewer out of the universe of the video and takes them to the reality, of the band manager filling in a form, applying for music video funding,”
    So true, a Pavlovian sigil that breaks the ‘fourth wall’ of illusion, no one who wants to believe, wants to see how the magic is created – once revealed it can never be ‘unseen’ again.
    As a former roadie, nowadays at gigs, I can’t turn off my ‘observation of process’ – it overrides my ‘enjoyment of the moment’… and from my time in the media trades I always suspect press releases, packaging and implied baggage I didn’t pack myself.

    Perhaps the NZOA logo and/or model has passed its ‘right time’ as well ??
    A ‘rebranding’ or refocusing might open it to a new generation while closing the door for another, turn, turn, turn…

  4. NZOA needs a serious overhaul.The logo makes me cringe and a tad ashamed as a once successful NZ muso. As a songwriter/composer with a 40 year track record (Counting The Beat/ Split-Enz founder etc) I still write/record and release albums. I am financially challenged as a 60 year old disability pensioner. After decades of applying for grants I have never received one cent from any NZ funding source especially NZOA.I’ve made numerous attempts to have songs placed on the NZOA promotional CD’s..and have been declined every time. There are those of us in our dotage still create in earnest and deserve an airing, we are simply ignored by what seems a very insular and ageist organisation. The NZOA CD’s baffle me,even the Finns get placement, as if they need it…

    1. God .. Thank you for speaking out!! Your Scnell Fenster body of work was amazing .. Isn’t it horrible how our masters of their craft are cast aside .. I don’t think Lorde should be speaking out about such things . as she really has never had to struggle or know what it is to be independent, struggling finding a budget. I am a country artist, with two top 20 Australian radio hits. NZ female artist of the Year 2012 . and struggled to get any funding .. Yet my vids have had played on J2 here and CMC Country in Australia .. because my genre does not have a commercial radio network we are struggling for NZOA support. and as I am a mature woman I am bottom of the priority list too .. thank goodness for social media, crowd funding and my dedicated fanbase.

      1. Hey, thanks for both your comments.

        The issue of who gets funding is a whole different bag of worms! Aly, you’re right that country music doesn’t get funded as much as other genres like pop, rock and hop hip. I don’t know what can be done about this, though I know the recent changes to the funding scheme have seen more niche stuff get funded.

        And then there’s the issue of age. As sad as it may seem, the world of pop is dominated by younger artists. That’s just how things are. There’s still room for older artists, but they tend to be people like Dave Dobbyn – ones who have a firmly established reputation as popular hit writers. But hey – 67-year-old Cher just had her latest album chart at #3 in America, so it’s not impossible for older artists to still make great and successful music.

        1. And although part of another corporate machine Susan Boyle out sold EVERY other artist in the world in 2009 as a debut artist at 50 years of age. Probably earned Neil Finn more royalties with Don’t Dream its over than Crowded House. In mechanical royalties alone. The sad thing about Country is the likes of last night a kiwi Kaylee Bell was supporting Alan Jackson ( HUGE COUNTRY STAR) in Australia. She is Toyota Starmaker winner 2013 which means more Australians will know who she is that NZ’s most major artists .. She is our little kiwi yet you never hear her here and her 1st album spawned 3 top 10 Australian country hits on radio, yet RIANZ shunned that album and it didnt even go down as nominated for NZ Country Album of the Year . Yet she is arguably the most successful NZ Country Recording artist in 20 years .. The cringe for NZ Country artists is even worse than the cringe of the NZOA logo and their are many NZ artists who would give their eye teeth to have a grant, to have a break .. and be happy to have a logo on their video ..

  5. Never knew why the logo had to be there. I was involved in many grants in the 90s on behalf of groups. There even was a funky ‘urban’ logo, good grief. Corporate (NZ On Air) hubris and unpleasant branding really. NZ on Air know who comtributed to it, the band knows, so who else cares? Taxpayers don’t care, they already know they’re getting reemed for loads of mediocre nonsense with a distant hope something is decent. Nobody needs an ugly label at the beginning of music clip, it’s marketing-wank chest beating, and it’s silly.

    1. To be fair, the latest version of the logo is a pale grey watermark that is more deferential to the video, rather than the attention-seeking animation of the ’90s.

  6. For me when I see the logo, I instantly know that it’s a kiwi artist, and then I want to check out the track/artist out of curiosity. I was the recent recipient of funding for a video for my project Kong Fooey, quite simply without there would be know video. We just don;t have the funds (even $800)to put towards a mint video of quality. I dare say Blindspott would of pulled a lot of strings with their 800 clam budget, we had to pull strings for my NZ on air funded video, everyone got paid and the end result is fantastic, but agreed for up and coming artists who have great music but no capital to sink into a music video, NZ on air can be very helpful. BTW Lorde is on a major label, they could easily afford to pour in triple the amount of the NZ on air allocation (currently $8k) and then some.

    1. I’ve heard other comments from people who get good feelings when they see the logo, like “yay, NZ music!”. From watching hundreds of NZOA videos (so far!) I have realised that there are so many good videos out there – ones that probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for NZOA funding.

      By the way – hopefully this doesn’t sound sarcastic, but it is brilliant that you were able to pay people working on your video!

  7. Artists signed to majors are fortunate to have all the machinery in behind them so I wonder why it is that they get NZOA funding…
    NZOA funding should only go to indies who have little or no budget. Too many talented Kiwis have missed out on funding while companies like Universal get NZOA funding for their artists. Sorry but it seems immoral.

    1. NZOA funding is available to any New Zealand artist, regardless of whether they’re independent or on a minor or major label. There’s no requirement for means testing. It’s easy to think of major labels (e.g. Sony and Universal) as having loads of money, but the reality is that the NZ offices of these companies are often operating on budgets as tight as indie labels. Sometimes they can do a Lorde and self-fund a video or two, but other times the NZOA funding is gratefully received.

      And where do you draw the line and how would you prove it? Are indie labels like Arch Hill and Lil’ Chief too successful? Would they need to submit financial statements to prove their situation?

      If you think funding criteria should change, you should contact NZ On Air and also the Minister of Broadcasting (Craig Foss) and let them know about your thoughts and ideas.

      1. Ummm PLEASE .. Lorde is number one in the US and you cannot tell me she is on a small budget! She is in the USA territory with the USA branch major’s heavy financial arm at work .. Believe me I have written to broadcasting ministers, since the 80s about Multi National Companies collecting tax payer money. Their justification is that the majors spend money in the industry in NZ… for what? A handful of artists, whilst NZOA completely ignore other artists who are doing amazing things outside of NZ (because it doesnt fit NZOA criteria of NZ radio play (AUSTRALIA airplay should be included… it is our nearest neighbor) .. They’ve pumped in millions and barely even broken most of those artists across the Tasman even .. WHY because those artist are OWNED by a multi national. The NZ brand have to entice interest of their sister territories ( and if those heads of their sister territories are simply not interested they can pump all the NZOA tax payer money in they want and NOTHING will happen) .. and yes with Lorde obviously the NZ major have got the big US territory on board. What about the millions of tax payer money pumped in to everything else .. did it really get any of those artists known outside of our tiny territory ? No not really .. and yes if a NZ indie is a Growing NEW ZEALAND owned company it should be supported.. You cannot compere a multi-national with a nz indie label for means testing .. thats ridiculous! It may be that the NZ majors are a branch with a budget on NZ made product for THAT branch but the product (the artist) is still owned by the corporation world wide) and its largest products (Major USA and UK artist) are still the main products being pushed by the NZ branch.. its just fact .. The multinational’s operations have been propped up by NZ taxpayer money for decades .. The question is .. How with TPPA affect it all now?

        1. The thing is, the mandate of NZOA music funding is to get New Zealand artists broadcast in New Zealand. That’s it.

          It’s not to support NZ artists overseas or develop businesses. If that happens as a side effect, that’s a bonus, but it’s not what NZOA are there to do.

          Yeah, if NZOA did that, things might be easier for you. But that’s not how it works. You’ve been in the business for years and you haven’t sunk yet. (Your “Midnight Sun” video is brilliant.) You might have taken a rougher route, but obviously something is working out for you. 🙂

          1. Hi Robyn, yes I know what the mandate is .. but I think its too narrow. Certainly its about making content. If that content is owned in NZ, by NZ company and artist and is making waves in another territory also that should be taken into account. Arguably Country is the biggest money making genre yet simply because NZ has no country commercial stations we are missing out on funding New Zealand artists in this VITAL genre .. Vital in a cultural way as well as Country tells stories .. This has become more evident to me working in Australia the rich culture in the bush ballads and stories of Australia’s history, because the genre here has a cultural cringe factor and we are not exposed to the developed worlds country music and our funding bodies don’t support it, we are culturally suppressing county music and ALL of its wide and diverse genres unless it falls into an Alt catagory and commercial country is shunned by many which is ridiculous. Thanks for the comments on Midnight Sun .. Yes Crowd Funding and Social media have worked for me and hard word work and pioneering new idea cross marketing with brands to get support etc .. I try to pave a new way forward and help others where I can, but certainly I still think NZOA has a long way to come in the work it does. Its a small pool with a lot of people vying for funding this I recognise .. but their are lots of forms of “On Air” now .. with the internet .. this has to count too in what NZdrs are doing to access their content. No longer is it just commercial Radio only.

  8. I’m closing commenting on this page as the discussion has gone off-topic. There are other places on the web to discuss personal issues with NZOA funding.

    1. I’m opening commenting again. I’m still not even remotely interested in this page being used for venting grievances about NZOA and I will not hesitate to delete comments that displease me. Lolz.

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