Max Johns - Briefly unemployed until I can find a way to get to Blenheim, Dunedin

Monday, October 18, 2004

Another Fighting Talker falls victim to shameless self-promotion

Okay, so I'm pretty sure that I'm no Patrick or anything, but I'm going to take this opportunity to recycle some of my old crap for y'all. You see, I'm now a writer for www.muzic.net.nz's regular newsletter, and my first editorial came out on the 17th. And let's be honest, I'm pretty crap at this whole "being a regular blogger" thing, so I figure I might as well just throw a slightly rejigged version of said editorial into this space. Enjoy.

Who is Marshall Smith and why does he matter?

Later this month, APRA is going to hold a glitzy ceremony in front of an invite-only industry crowd and give out a few awards. The APRA Silver Scroll will be decided by a secret panel of six judges and will go to 2004's best NZ songwriter. There will also be awards for those who received more airplay than anyone else this year, on both a national and international scale. For 39 years the Silver Scroll has been one of the highest local accolades available to New Zealand musicians. It's awarded solely for song-writing, and in paying no mind to commercial success retains a certain form of purity, an artist-centric feel to it. This year, there are six nominees: Scribe and P-Money for Not Many; Shayne Carter, Andy Morton and Ned Ngatae (Dimmer), for Getting What You Give; Liam Finn (betchadupa) for The Bats of Darkwell Lane; all four of Goodshirt for Fiji Baby; TrinityRoots's frontman Warren Maxwell, for Home, Land and Sea; and Marshall Smith (head of songwriter and producer collective The New Freedom) for Grey Boy.

In a way, the nominee that stands out beyond the other five in the list is Marshall Smith. Chances are that this isn't a name you've seen much of before. The New Freedom's website gives more than enough evidence that Smith has the CV of a fine songsmith, and provides downloads to prove how good he is. That APRA have considered Grey Boy alongside hits like recent number one Not Many is testament to their pursuit of NZ's finest-written song, regardless of popularity.

So it's a bit odd that the award ceremony will also present awards for the Work Most Performed Overseas and Most Performed in New Zealand. These two awards recognise exactly the sort of success - commercial popularity and airplay - that the Silver Scroll is intentionally designed to not take into consideration. What are APRA doing? The overseas award is pretty much a Neil Finn certainty for all time, given the USA chart-topping (if you count number 2 as 'chart-topping') history of 1986's Don't Dream It's Over. The national award moves around a lot more, and this year could quite possibly end up in Scribe's rapidly-overcrowding pool room. Or shudder-inducing Ben Lummis may receive a last few minutes in the spotlight before his short-lived 'career' goes the way of all the other Idols around the globe. If there were ever two people at opposite ends of a broad spectrum, they would have to be Marshall Smith, with his many years of song writing success and small amount of personal recognition, and Lummis, who shot to fame nearly overnight on the back of a reasonable voice and huge media attention, but hasn't had to have an original musical thought yet.

APRA is definitely the only group that can boast almost all of NZ's active songwriters within its membership, and it's also probably got access to more airplay and song performance data than any other outfit. This probably means that it's fair enough that they take it upon themselves to award our best-written song of 2004 as well as the producers of the year's most popular tunes. But aren't these awards almost direct opposites? Given music's rather slight relationship between quality and popularity, which award should our songwriters be aiming to win? The Silver Scroll might be nice to receive in front of NZ's most important music industry figures, but what does it signify? The 'Most Performed' awards are at least based on something measurable and definite. The Silver Scroll, meanwhile, has a proud history of passing through many amazing hands in its time (including those of Ray Columbus and Wayne Mason, and more recently Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga, Don McGlashan, Greg Johnson and Chris Knox). APRA quite rightly treats the Silver Scroll as the more important award. New Zealand's music industry is going through its best times yet, especially in a commercial sense, and there is point denying that the dollars that are out there are talking more loudly than ever. But dollars will never, ever sing.