Rugby, cricket and netball have long attracted the big money in the New Zealand sponsorship stakes. More recently, fashion events have made inroads into the patronage dollar.

Now sponsorship cash is stretching from frock to rock and it's Kiwi music that's attracting the interest of national and international brands.

The 2004 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards - held last night - represent a premium sponsorship property. The fact the awards have for the first time in their 39-year history gained a naming rights sponsor is testimony to the new economic force of local music.

Growing professionalism, local music quotas on radio and local pride are all influences that are seeing Kiwi tunes regularly dominate the Recording Industry Association's official chart.

Last night, scenes of rock music glamour, flashing cameras and cat-calling fans outside the Auckland Town Hall greeted local tunesmiths as they gathered for their annual bash.

The awards this year attracted a record 11 sponsors; last year there were only four.

Kiwi musicians have never been more in demand from the fans and from the brands.

So what is causing this huge increase in popularity for home-grown melodies?

Adam Holt - the convenor of the awards who is also managing director of Universal Music in New Zealand, says there are several factors, not least of which is the talent base.

New Zealand musicians are getting better and they are getting better across a wider range of musical genres.

But there are other factors.

Dedication from the musicians themselves, an arts-friendly political environment, a booming economy and music company encouragement all appear to be contributing to the industry's growth.

Holt says music also represents an ancient and a modern way of communicating with people.

It's a bit of a contradiction really.

On one hand, music is almost as old as language as a method of communication.

Now we have marketers rediscovering its power in the modern age. They are on to the growing role music plays in the psyche of all New Zealanders and its power of association in broadcasting a message.

The sponsor line-up for the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand's annual awards night read a bit like a New Zealand brands who's who.

In the five years Vodafone has been in New Zealand, the mobile phone network has been a big supporter of sports teams and events but this year's awards is its first backing of music.

Then there are the core youth brands like Export Gold, L&P and PlayStation.

Export Gold is almost in the greatest hits category when it comes to supporting New Zealand music.

The DB brand has staunchly supported New Zealand music for more than five years. It has poured in more than $1 million of sponsorship to the industry every year, backing events such as the Big Day Out, bFM Summer Series, NZ Music Month and numerous local gigs.

L&P is a bit of a golden oldie, too. One of its most recognisable initiatives was the release of Heatwave, a number one hit written for an L&P ad in 1985.

The unique soft drink brand continued its support of New Zealand music with the launch of the L&P Busking campaign in 1990.

The campaign gave four bands the opportunity to become the centre of their own L&P TV commercial and one has gone on to become truly world famous in New Zealand - King Kapisi.

PlayStation has a long-standing relationship with New Zealand artists and events.

Its sponsorship of local radio and television shows, its work with touring artists such as Fat Freddy's Drop and its role as key sponsor of the other music awards with the bNet have helped bring the finest New Zealand music to audiences around the country.

Perhaps less associated with youth but more with New Zealand excellence is first-time music awards sponsor New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.

Its role is to increase the export success of New Zealand music, helping to make the connection between our world-class talent and key international players.

Trade & Enterprise says the international growth of the music industry will contribute to New Zealand's economic growth - and an internationally successful music industry will help to shape perceptions of New Zealand as a creative, innovative country.

Then there are the really new fans on the music sponsorship block.

Supporting sponsors for this year's awards include make-up specialist Mac, Vidal Wines, L'Oreal Professionnel, Auckland City, The Edge, which runs the awards venue in the Aotea Centre, and the Hilton Auckland, which provided venue support for a pre-event party.

These are new names and a huge new business. Expect New Zealand music to only get better with this kind of support from business.

* Deborah Pead is the principal of Pead PR, sponsorship director of the Vodafone 2004 New Zealand Music Awards.

* The Pitch is a forum for those working in advertising, marketing, public relations and communications. We welcome lively and topical 500-word contributions.
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