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Charting rise and fall of music makers

Amid New Zealand Music Month, recent changes to the local charts have left a number of the music scene’s large players reeling, while some smaller sound makers are stoked with their sudden rise in the charts.

The method of tabulating the top hits in New Zealand now takes into account whether a song or album has a ‘continuing run’ – that is, whether its popularity has continued to increase at the same rate after 18 months.

Whether it’s a move in the right direction concerning music production and promotion in the 21st century depends on whom you ask.

Pose the question to stadium-level bands such as L.A.B or Six60, and you’ll be told the new system is a case of “tall poppy syndrome from within”, as manager and label owner Michael Tucker has called it.

And the new ranking system indeed means two of the most commercially successful New Zealand bands – L.A.B and Six60 – have had their reigning albums pulled from the top charting spots.

A quick look at the official top 20 New Zealand Albums on the second of April showed Six60 occupying spots one, two, four, six, and 11.

L.A.B were equally prolific, taking up slots seven, eight, 12, 13, and 15.

Fast forward to May 12, the only evidence that these bands still exist in this chart is Six60 still sitting at number six and L.A.B still holding on to the number seven spot.

A scroll down shows they now live on in a new ‘catalogue’ chart, joining other big league New Zealand artists such as Lorde and Fat Freddy’s Drop.

In the newly updated NZ top 20 album chart, the emptied spots previously occupied by Six60 and L.A.B have been filled with lower-scale bands whose digital audience numbers differ drastically – for example, Tiny Ruins, whose album Ceremony sits at number two, have 95,519 monthly listeners on Spotify.

In terms of Spotify audience, L.A.B and Six60 both sit at about the one million mark.

This pattern and debate have been repeated in the recent past as the digital music ecosystem has rapidly evolved.

Since the late 90s, Paul Kennedy – general manager and chart compiler for trade association Recorded Music NZ – has been tweaking the New Zealand charts to try and keep up with the way in which music consumption is continuously changing.

He justifies these tweaks by noting that since streaming became the norm, it has been harder and harder for emerging artists to break into the scene as devoted listeners of already popular music will continue to listen to the same songs and therefore keep on bumping up their numbers.

All of which begs the question – what is the purpose of the charts? Are they to reflect the true listening numbers of what New Zealanders are feeding through their air pods on the commute home from work?

Or do they exist to promote different parts of the music scene and allow an opportunity for lesser-known artists to squeeze through?

In a month that’s all about celebrating the wide range of New Zealand sounds, one would hope it’s the latter.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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