Making New Zealand’s Pop Renaissance: State, Markets, Musicians

Michael Scott
Books, Cultural Policy, Music Business
Farnham, England: Ashgate 2013, 185 Pages
ISBN 9781409443353
Reviewed by , August 1st, 2014

As a “small, isolated, commodity dependent” trading nation, New Zealand is a difficult place to maintain a career in music. This was particularly the case during the 1990s when the country was undergoing some fairly strong  “neo-liberal” reforms under the Bolger-Shipley National  Government. The election of Helen Clarke’s Labour Government in 1999 produced a range of new policies that saw a big increase in the share of record sales, radio airplay and concert attendance enjoyed by local musicians.

In Making New Zealand’s Pop Renaissance, Michael Scott provides an insight into the policies that led to these new opportunities, and using a range of sociological approaches, offers a way to frame their function. Scott completed this research during his doctoral studies at the University of Auckland, undertaking in-depth interviews with twenty-six music industry participants (composers, performers, record label owners, band managers, music sector managers) to understand their experiences with these new policy approaches.

Lorde at the 2014 Sydney Laneways Festival

Lorde at the 2014 Sydney Laneways Festival

The book is organised into two broad sections, the first looking at state and market relationships under Clark’s Labour government, the second using Bourdieu’s work to investigate micro-scale practices of DIY cultural production in this informal economy.

Through a combination of NZ on Air (NZOA) funding, radio playlist “shaping” and a voluntary local content code, the radio share enjoyed by domestic artists increased from 15% to 20% between 2002 and 2007. NZOA funding aimed to promote and reward commercial success, with government policy driven by economic rather than cultural considerations. This understandably led to criticism, with public funding directed at musicians on the basis of their potential commercial success rather than excellence or innovation. The focus was business development, not performance development.

Neil Finn

Neil Finn

Scott brings a strongly theoretical approach to this pop renaissance, probably limiting the book’s use outside the academy. In the chapter “Popular Music as Social Policy”, we learn that “Sennett’s (2006) commentary on Weber’s interlocution of Bismarck’s nineteenth-century bureaucratic hierarchies offers further insights into the hierarchical features of New Zealand’s music policy as social policy.”  Theory provides Scott with a lens to consider the state support provided to 1,000 recording artists and 750 video grant applicants, reframing these schemes as politically circumscribed supply-side interventions in the labour market.

Making New Zealand’s Pop Renaissance does not discuss popular music production and consumption in detail. Rather, Scott’s critical sociological approach provides a range of state-centric and society-centric interpretations that enable a new reading of these state-driven music economy interventions.


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