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New Zealand’s lovely, isn’t it? Just look at that view. And such great music. Why do people have to spoil it all by being rude and unhelpful?

Mt Taranaki

No matter where you are in the world, it seems that bullying is now so entrenched in the culture of the record industry that a simple conversation can never be the first step. You have to open with a threat.

We’ve come to expect stories of bullying tactics, legal threats and wholesale suing sprees from the major international community of recording industry associations.

But you’d think in a place as small, kind, scenic and tranquil as New Zealand, the record industry would take a more diplomatic approach to representing its stakeholders’ interests.

New Zealand broadcaster Liz Barry champions her favourite local music on the internet. She recently had a phone call from Campbell Smith — the boss of RIANZ (New Zealand’s RIAA and BPI equivalent) warning her:

Don’t play any of our music or there’ll be trouble…

She writes:

I was flabbergasted to receive a very unfriendly phone call from Mr RIANZ — Campbell Smith — when I first started my podcast shows, who warned me that action would follow if I dared include any RIANZ artists/acts in my shows.

He took another swipe at podcasts (and all digital forms of media, etc. as you probably know) in his recent report to the Parliamentary select committee just before NZ Music month.

Liz BarryThough she’s no longer on the traditional airwaves, I’ve listened to Liz on public radio for ages, and I know both how actively she supports local music, and how much the artists appreciate what she does. For some of the repertoire, I reckon she’d be the single biggest driver of sales.

When I heard that she’d had that call from RIANZ, I had to ask her for more detail.

Tell me about what you do — both on the radio and on the ‘net…

I’m net-only these days: NZ Music podcasts for www.bigpod.co.nz – NZ’s only podcast network, set up by Christchurch company The Voicebooth two years ago.

I approched them with the idea of a NZ music show – they said YES.

Why a programme about a particular country’s music?

There is a huge interest in NZ music out there – and for a small country we’ve people all over the world wanting to keep in touch with the scene.

People also want to hear some of the non-mainstream & diverse, independent material I tend to feature.

Do you tend to favour some genres over others?

No, I’m open to all genres. I have very wide ranging tastes.

Do many people listen?

I get about 3000 downloads a month – but as other overseas sites pick it up too there may be more than I know about.

What’s the main consideration when selecting music for each format? Any difference?

With radio you’re locked into timing your show to a certain length to suit the schedule and there are considerations like time of day/audience demograph etc.

The beauty of podcasts is that they can be any length really – depending on how much time I have and/or material. And you can target the show at a specific audience. For example my Night Navigator show tends towards electronic/experimental buffs. I did a show recently featuring hardcore metal from Palmerston Nth label, Slave Recordings.

My regular show ‘Fresh NZ’ focuses on new releases and sometimes I get indulgent and play my own faves in ‘Podpicks’ or feature more eclectic material in ‘Off the Beaten Track’.

What’s your opinion on podcast music licensing?
If someone was just podcasting material without permission for pure entertainment and making money from it there should definitely be a fee.

In my case I have permission from artists and labels who send me material. They see podcast shows like mine as another marketing tool to promote their music and that’s the intention of my shows.

They’re free to download, subscribe to and I am not making any money.

So — what happened with RIANZ?

I’d only just got my shows up & running last year when (RIANZ Chief Executive) Campbell Smith phoned me.

He didn’t sound too happy about my shows and warned me not to use music from RIANZ artists and told me that the industry would soon be making steps to curb the use of music in shows such as mine via a fee and new regulations etc (he didn’t say expressly what type of fee or regulations at the time).

I assured him that the intention of my shows was to promote NZ music etc & no, I don’t & wouldn’t use any music without permission.

So, I can see where he was coming from – but I don’t think he’d listened to my podcasts or knew that my shows were focused on promoting independent releases and non-mainstream material, contextualised with artist information etc.

Do you think the major recording industry misunderstands what the internet offers their business?

I appreciate their concerns about illegal downloads, pirating etc. But they have misunderstand the intention of shows such as mine and I hope that they come to see that the internet is simply another medium they can utilise to promote music.

Independent labels already understand and have been quick to use the technology to their advantage- some even making their own podcast shows eg: Loop’s Loopkasts.

Would you recommend that independent artists use podcasting as a way of promoting their music?

Yes definitely — and many already are.

In fact, with the right gear anyone can do a podcast and send it to the bigpod website themselves. Other sites also offer the chance to upload your own podcast.

Do you think that RIANZ artists or labels would be adversely affected if they were featured in your podcasts?

Not at all.

My shows are structured & mixed in such a way that make them unattractive to illegal downloaders anyway ie: there is my voice or IDs over intros/outros and between tracks. I give listeners only a ‘taste’ of what’s on a particular album – if they’re curious – hopefully they’ll go and buy the CD or order it through an online retailer.

Why do you think Campbell was so adamant that you not let people hear the music he represents?

Because he was concerned that people would just download tracks or entire albums from my podcasts. I explained to him my shows eg: Fresh NZ are promotional only and that I mainly focus on on independent releases from small labels or solo artists & bands.

To be honest I don’t think I need to feature Hayley Westenra or Bic Runga – such mainsteram artists already have enough marketing bang behind behind them. I’d sooner help out the smaller guys and that’s what my audience like to
find out about.

Were you surprised by his attitude?

Initially, yes — and a bit disappointed that he misunderstood what my shows were about. But I do understand his views and the issues involved.

I had a lot of requests for a show featuring kiwi classics – some of the hits from 70s/80s etc – I can’t really do that now as the hassle of obtaining permissions & licenses etc would just be too time consuming & costly too – but c’est la vie.

I’m happy doing what I do – helping the smaller guys get noticed – just quietly spreading the sounds.

If you were to recommend just one New Zealand record to the world right now, what would it be?

What — only one!

OK, Age Pryor’s Shank’s Pony – I have an interview with Age on Bigpod at the mo.

Oh, good call – I bought it last week from Smoke CDs and it’s really great. All right — one more quick one?

Another album I never tire of hearing is Thrashing Marlin’s Wits End…..plus I’m about to put together another showcase of Empathy Digital stuff – amazing fresh & exciting drum n bass beats from a range of artists – oh and look out for a new one this year from Module – I can’t wait!

And finally… how can people hear what you do?

Go to www.bigpod.co.nz and follow the link to NZ Music with Liz Barry.

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I’ve never had anything to do directly with Campbell Smith, but I know people who have very nice things to say about him, and he’s involved in the careers of people I know, respect and admire.

Is it possible that the job of representing the interests of an industry in the midst of massive upheaval and resolute denial can do bad things to good people? Your thoughts in the comments…