RISING STAR: VISIT PONSONBY Road Lounge Bar, the Pig and Whistle Pub or Ambrosia Restaurant, and you may catch the soulful sounds of Stella Maris on acoustic guitar.
The Rotorua native has been performing since she can remember in school plays, kapa haka, school bands and choir. She says her biggest achievement to date was winning the silver medal at the World Championships of Performing Arts in Los Angeles last year.
"It was incredible to be recognised not just as a vocalist, but as a singer songwriter," she says.
"I love song writing. It's a unique way of keeping a diary of your life . . . it's almost like a time capsule."
The 21-year-old quit working in hospitality and retail last September and has been supporting herself as a musician ever since.
"The run-in to summer has been really good. There's been lots of demand for live music, lots of weddings on, lots of opportunities to perform, so it's been amazing."
Stella's gig list also includes local festivals and markets, though her ambitions are global. "I want to go overseas and get a residency . . . it would be the time to really grow and hone my craft."
BANDS ON THE RUN: Another touring band is Rotorua-bred Strangely Arousing. Their upbeat sound, which they describe as ska, reggae, funk, rock and roots has earned them fans nationwide in places like Auckland, Paihia and closer to home at the Okere Falls store (they played a sold-out show at the 400-person venue earlier this year).
Trumpet and keyboards player Forrest Thorp says the five members met at Western Heights High School in Rotorua. Two members just finished a year of studying jazz performance at Massey University.
"They took a break because we were getting full on gigs; we thought we'd give the band a full-time go."
Forrest says the band has done four tours, two of which were national. They also played an expats Kiwi ball in Dubai last November. Forrest says,
"I'm 19; the others are 20. We're still learning about gigs and the music industry and how to plan ahead. When you get everything right-posters, media exposure . . . you can make quite a lot of money. If you mess up, that may not be the case."
Forrest says the band started out playing covers and still play weddings, though they prefer originals.
"We can't pour our heart and soul into it when we're not playing our own material." The band plans to run an online campaign later this year to fundraise for their next album.
Swamp Thing, featuring Welcome Bay's Grant Haua and Rotorua's Michael Barker, also gains new fans by touring. The band plays a mixture of blues, funk and rock. While 46-year-old Grant has kept his roofing job, 49-year-old Michael says he's been a professional musician since age 16. He plays drums and percussion, runs a recording studio and also teaches children music after school.
"Playing in Swamp Thing is not a full-time job. The hours are fulltime, but the pay is not. I spend a great deal of time with no immediate remuneration, working as a writer, recording engineer, band manager, singer . . . it's a passion-driven pursuit I love to do."
The band was sponsored last year to spend a month performing in Louisiana.
"You have to be willing to travel if you're an original artist," says Michael. " . . . and that's part of the excitement and taking your music to a new audience."
Michael says the group plays about a half-dozen local gigs per year, and plans an April show in Tauranga.
"We have some really great fans in the Bay of Plenty; that's the strongest area for our fan base ... they're energised by what we do and are very supportive.
SEASONED SONGBIRDS: KELLY MAKIHA divides her time between jobs as a singer, head of news with the Rotorua Daily Post, and mum to three girls- 15-month-old twins and a 5-year-old.
Kelly says she started performing as a preschooler alongside her mum and has graduated to be lead singer of long-time Rotorua cover band Count Me In as well as performing solo and in an acoustic duo.
The 38-year-old, who has been playing music in Rotorua for 20 years, says she's been doing two to three gigs each week since about November at conferences, bars, weddings and private functions.
"What's been great to see in Rotorua is the live music scene has picked up. You can walk down the street and have a choice of live music venues to go to, and that wasn't the case
Kelly says she has the best of both worlds, working in journalism and music.
"As long as I can fit both of them in, I'll keep doing it."
Lloyd Akroyd also balances family, a fulltime day job as an architectural technician and his band called Gravel Road. The 41-year-old lives with his wife and 3-year-old daughter in Hamurana. While he'd like to write music, play guitar and sing fulltime, Lloyd says it's not realistic with a young family. ". . . because it takes up so much time.
New Zealand being so small is another reason. To make a decent living from it, you have to put so much work into it." He says he's been playing three gigs per week this summer, including weddings, festivals and bars.
"It's a passion and something I can't stop doing. I can't not do it."
YOU COULD spend every day in summer listening to live music in the Bay of Plenty. Which is why, on Friday night, I hit Mount Maunganui's Gourmet Night Market.
Here, before a sea of people on blankets, Joseph Thompson and Maia Potier sing an original song, Take Me Back to Sorrento, from their latest album. They tell the crowd they're leaving soon for another European tour. Later, Joseph tells me by phone he and Maia had so much fun busking, playing house concerts and bars in Europe last year, they're keen to do it again.
"We bought one-way tickets over there and played 130 shows during eight months away. We'd meet someone on a Tuesday afternoon and they'd say come tomorrow evening for a house concert. We played on a rooftop in Zurich . . . when you put yourself out there, people's generosity is amazing."
Employment: Musicians in the Bay of Plenty:
- The 2013 census lists 54 fulltime musicians in the Bay of Plenty. Another 120 musicians worked part-time. The same census figures show 1419 fulltime musicians in New Zealand, and another 2685 part-time music professionals nationwide.
Source: Statistics New Zealand. Figures are for Western Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Whakatane, Kawerau and Opotiki Districts, plus Tauranga City
- Facebook: Strangely Arousing, Swamp Thing and Lloyd Akroyd Music