Last week nz On Air announced some significant changes to its music funding schemes, which for the past five years have been known as Making Tracks.

The changes boil down to a few key points: there will now be two different schemes - one that funds singles and videos (up to $8000, with $2000 invested by the artist), and the other funding projects (from $7500 to $30,000, with co-investment of at least 40 per cent); there will be flexibility for artists to allocate some of their funding for promotion of their songs; and there will be fewer funding rounds each year.

These changes have been put in place by David Ridler, who became NZ on Air's Head of Music and Radio in February after long-serving stalwart Brendan Smythe retired, and were the result of feedback from the local industry, as well as a simple desire to keep up with the rapid changes in the music business.

"When I started in February, I was looking at Making Tracks, and I went, holy shit, by June, that model will be five years old, and although it's been tweaked in that time, it hasn't fundamentally changed, and looking at the industry, it has changed drastically.


"Spotify wasn't even really around when Making Tracks was developed, let alone the fact that streaming is now the number one source of revenue in the recorded music industry. So things have changed a lot, and it was probably overdue for a revision."

Ridler made it his mission in his first six weeks on the job to speak with around 60 key people in the industry, and find out what they thought was working right, what elements were frustrating, and what had changed for them in the last five years.

Those discussions highlighted the fact that a one size fits all funding model potentially wasn't the best option, and that some flexibility needed to be introduced.

"We know that one size does not fit all, because music is wonderfully diverse and every single act and song has its own unique aspects that will mean it connects with an audience in a different way. So we've been thinking about finding a way to support that and enable that without being too restrictive.

"There's also the new aspect of increased diversity in what you do with songs once they're created - it's not just about getting your song on the radio and putting your music video on YouTube, it's all the other various platforms which people engage with, working out which best fits your music and style, and working out different ways to present your music in a visual form."

So instead of putting the majority of resources into funding music video production, the new scheme allows each artist to present an individual plan for how they would like to divide the funds, between recording the songs, creating some sort of visual representation for their work (perhaps a traditional video or some alternative), and figuring out a way to connect their art with their fans through a well thought out story and campaign, via mainstream media, social media, behind the scenes content, radio, streaming, playlists, and so on.

"Now it's not just about recording the song, but also exploring more creative ways to expose your music across many platforms" Ridler explains.

Basically it's all very well to record a great song and make a cool video, but it's getting harder and harder to get people's attention, so investing a little into figuring out how to reach people is important.

Ridler readily admits that it's hard for Kiwi artists to get a song on the radio these days, partly due to the volume of music made, but also partly because New Zealand has a highly competitive radio market.

"I think New Zealand is one of the few markets in the world where each radio station has a direct competitor essentially, you know ZM has The Edge, Mai FM has Flava, The Hits has More FM, Hauraki has The Rock, and so on.

"And that makes life really difficult for unknown or unfamiliar New Zealand artists to get onto those playlists, because those stations are so fiercely competitive, and from a programming perspective, every song they play is a risk of people tuning out.

"So it's becoming very important to be able to give radio a reason to be interested, through all those other platforms - YouTube, Spotify, Shazam charts, social media. The better the story you can present, and the more you can prove you have a fan base, then you get a bit of a snowball effect."

Feedback from managers, labels, and artists has been overwhelmingly positive, with people applauding the adaptability and flexibility of the two different models, and also in agreement with the criteria that requires investment from the artists or partnering with professional music companies that can be co-investors, which proves commitment to making the most of the funding.

Of course, there are some notable acts who have eschewed the need for NZ on Air funding over the years - Lorde and Fat Freddy's Drop spring to mind - while other artists have been very grateful for funding early on in their career but now feel they no longer require it (current singles from acts like Broods, Ladyhawke, and Six60 for example, did not require funding), and Ridler is more than happy with this scenario.

"I'm really glad acts can make it without funding, because I would say to any artist you should never count on funding from anyone. That shouldn't be your only plan.

"We just want to help create a healthy local industry where local artists can break through, whether they're funded or not. And I think part of our overall feeling with these changes, is that we want to give artists a bit more creative space" Ridler explains.

"We want to encourage them to think about using infrastructure and support that already exists, so they have more time to write and play and come up with that genius song.

"That would be a great outcome."