Kiwi composers are treated as an ‘afterthought’, say critics after RNZ outsources new sounds to Australia

Composers are outraged that public broadcaster RNZ has awarded a $43,000 contract to an overseas-based music and sound design company for their recent “sonic refresh” but let’s say the case is symptomatic of broader issues with talented Kiwi songwriters who aren’t nurtured or trusted.

But RNZ said it was misleading to imply it didn’t support Aotearoa’s music.

RNZ has awarded a contract to design new sound for its Morning Report, Midday Report and Checkpoint news programs to Zu Songa company based in Australia and Singapore, specializing in advertising music and audio post-production.

“Song Zu was chosen because of his impressive portfolio of original sounds, in particular his recent imaging work with Australian multilingual and multicultural public broadcaster SBS, as well as his experience using indigenous instruments,” said RNZ communications manager John Barr.

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RNZ has been criticized for its decision to select a foreign company to create the sounds for its news program.

Monique Ford / Stuff

RNZ has been criticized for its decision to select a foreign company to create the sounds for its news program.

But local composers said it was a lost opportunity.

“It’s outrageous to even consider going overseas,” said John McKayfounding member of the Screen Music and Sound Guild with over 40 years of experience in the screen sound industry.

The case highlighted the plight of local songwriters, McKay said. They were overlooked and neglected, and increasingly had to be creative in order to earn a living, as paid business opportunities dwindled.

Many screen producers were now buying music online, which meant that composers ran out of work. “Where will the next generation survive? The irony of all this is that he [was] New Zealand Music Month.

John McKay, managing director of Wellington-based POW Studios, a post-production studio specializing in sound design and sound editorial.

Monique Ford / Stuff

John McKay, managing director of Wellington-based POW Studios, a post-production studio specializing in sound design and sound editorial.

Young composers, sound designers and editors worked for free to build a reputation and earned “less and less” when they were actually commissioned, he said. There were “very few” full-time opportunities in Aotearoa and the gig economy meant songwriters often had to take on side jobs to make ends meet.

McKay was unaware of a single guild member who had been questioned or consulted about new RNZ sounds. “It’s a kick in the teeth… [There is a] total lack of support for our region and lack of understanding of what we contribute.

There needed to be built-in incentives with NZ On Air and the Film Commission for producers to use the talents of local songwriters, otherwise skilled workers would be lost to other sectors, McKay said.

“I’m absolutely worried that the legacy will disappear. … If you turn off the sound, what do you have? It’s 50% if not more of the experience, the carrier of emotion, the engine of information in the story, it carries the tone, the texture.

Songwriter and producer Rhian Sheehan says Kiwi's songwriting talent is uncultivated.

IAN ROBERTSON

Songwriter and producer Rhian Sheehan says Kiwi’s songwriting talent is uncultivated.

Award-winning composer Rhian Sheehan said RNZ’s decision was a “wasted opportunity” and a “shame”. The niche and competitive nature of the industry meant it was difficult to survive. Composers were treated as an “afterthought” in Aotearoa.

“There’s so much talent out there that’s uncultivated…or untrusted,” Sheehan said. “We don’t have to go overseas to have a piece of music written for anything.”

ACT party leader David Seymour called RNZ’s decision “incredibly myopic”.

“The New Zealand music industry has every right to feel let down,” he said.

RNZ’s Barr said he was considering local and international options, but the preference was given to Song Zu as he had recently completed original contemporary work with a public broadcaster.

Song Zu’s Ramesh Sathiah consulted local composer Jim Hall. The final musical suite included taonga pūoro and porotiti.

RNZ focused on recording and broadcasting local music, and news about musicians and the industry, and had been recognized for it, Barr said. “RNZ is, and always has been, a strong supporter of musicians and the music industry in Aotearoa.”

ACT's David Seymour says RNZ's decision is short-sighted.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

ACT’s David Seymour says RNZ’s decision is short-sighted.

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