In our Meet the Board series we invite you to sit down and learn more about each SOUNZ board member. Today we introduce Board member Brendan Smyth.
Give a brief introduction about yourself and tell us what you do outside of your work at SOUNZ?
My name is Brendan Smyth. I retired recently after 36 years in arts admin, mostly in music. First I did 10 years (1979-1989) at the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council (now Creative New Zealand) where I managed the music portfolio. Then I moved to a new funding agency called the Broadcasting Commission (aka NZ On Air) which had just been set up as part of the Government’s broadcasting reforms of the late ‘80s. NZ On Air was like the “Arts Council of the Airwaves” and I was there for the next 26 years.
I was employed to manage NZ On Air’s radio portfolio which included funding for RNZ National and RNZ Concert as well as community access radio and Maori radio in the early days before Te Māngai Paho. But part of the NZ On Air radio job involved doing what we could to get more New Zealand music played on the radio and so I found myself back in music. From 2000 until I retired in 2016, I was exclusively focused on NZ On Air’s music work and somebody else looked after the radio portfolio.
The strategic focus of NZ On Air’s music work was on infiltrating commercial radio and so that meant that we were mostly involved with what you might call “commercial music” rather than the “art music” of my Arts Council days. That was because commercial radio, back in the 1990s, was pretty much a New Zealand music desert. Less than 2% of New Zealand music according to APRA figures. We made it our mission to change that dismal situation. It took a while but by 2005, New Zealand music got to 20%.
The music industry was my life for those 26 NZ On Air years and I was privileged to work with some of New Zealand’s best and most successful artists … from Shihad through Bic Runga and Brooke Fraser through Marlon Williams and countless more. In 2011 I was honoured to get an MNZM for my work in the music industry.
Now that I am retired and living in Martinborough, I don’t have much to do with the music industry any more … except as a fan! But … I have found myself a new music outlet … I am part of a group of locals who inaugurated an annual chamber music festival in the town three years ago. It has been a great success … fabulous music and full houses…!
What is one of your earliest musical memories?
I am not a musician, unfortunately. I can’t play an instrument … unless you count the lagerphone in the Ten Percent Supermarket Discount Jug Band in Hastings in the late 1960s…! It’s a regret but … I guess I contribute in other ways, creating opportunities for musicians to make music.
I have always been a big music fan however. The Beatles came to New Zealand in 1964 when I was 14 and so I grew up with The Beatles and that was it for me. I never looked back. I do remember a debate between my brother and me about which 7-inch single we should spend our pooled pocket money on … Howard Morrison’s George (The Wilder New Zealand Boy) or The Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand. I’m not saying who won …
I have always been a big believer in SOUNZ as a vehicle for promoting New Zealand composers’ works to music presenters and through music presenters, to audiences, locally and ideally, internationally.
The idea of a Centre for New Zealand Music was on the agenda when I was in my last months at the Arts Council as a result of lobbying by the likes of CANZ and I did a bit of work on it before I left for NZ On Air and handed the brief over to my successor who was … Elizabeth Kerr…!
I lost touch a bit with SOUNZ in my NZ On Air days due to the focus on commercial music and commercial radio although I remember we did fund a series of SOUNZ sampler discs … a kind of SOUNZ version of NZ On Air’s Kiwi Hit Disc radio promo tools … for promoting New Zealand composers’ works internationally. NZ On Air funded and SOUNZ curated.
But SOUNZ really came back into my orbit with Resound. I did all the work from NZ On Air’s end to set up the Resound partnership with SOUNZ and RNZ. Originally, it was a tactic to help increase airplay of New Zealand-composed works on Concert FM by freeing up the rebroadcast rights to fabulous recordings languishing in RNZ’s basement on The Terrace in Wellington but with the blossoming of the internet as a means of connecting music with audiences, it is now an end in itself … a way of capturing and disseminating performances of New Zealand works and making them widely and freely available to audiences, both here and internationally.
I am still a great believer in the power of radio. If a work is played on RNZ Concert, it will reach something like 10,000 people across New Zealand. That’s like filling the Michael Fowler Centre four or five times over! And with Resound and Sounz Online, the potential is international and infinite.
Why is music important to New Zealand culture?
Music goes to our heart and soul. It’s a cliché but … music is truly the soundtrack to our lives … whether it’s pop or it’s chamber music or whatever music. To see a packed Queens Wharf Centre singing every word of a band’s hit song or see the tears on the faces of the audience after a wonderful performance of the Brahms Piano Quartet in C at the last concert of the 2018 Martinborough Music Festival … you just *know* how important music is to our lives and our culture.
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