The Curious Case of Brendan Smyth and NZ On Air’s ‘Statement of Intent’ Inaccuracy

It started off simply as a post on a recent musician who received name suppression and then soon after received NZ On Air funding, and has since turned into a debate about the logistics of NZ On Air and a very interesting discrepancy that can be found in their ‘Statement of Intent’ for 2009-2012. If you recall, the NZoA debate came to light recently when Real Groove ran an article in their May issue questioning whether NZoA’s motives were outdated and pointed out that things needed to be changed. It quickly prompted an in-depth debate on Public Address and since then it was announced that NZoA would be reviewed and assessed, and any recommendations of change would be addressed. The forum of quickly became a discussion of NZoA’s ‘Statement of Intent,’ specifically page 32 of the document which states that the “percentage of radio singles from new artists that will achieve a top 40 airplay placing” from 2007/08 was 85% – a number which is inconsistent when looking at the past data.

The actual number is even lower than 50%, says Matt Walker who goes by the name Seka on the hip-hop forum (he’s also a local hip-hop artist and he uses the same moniker to release his music). From reading through all the posts on this particular discussion (it took me over an hour to get through it all), it seems Seka took an interest in the way NZoA processes work and began an email correspondence with Brendan Smyth. Smyth responded openly to Walker’s questioning and allowed him to post their discussions on the board as well. He asked poignant questions about NZoA’s current legislation and also followed it up with emails to Chris Finlayson from the Ministry of Arts Culture and Heritage. Another user Lopaki pointed out the highlighted discrepancy above.

Now what we’re talking about here is the amount of funded radio singles that get top 40 airplay as determined by the Radioscope charts. Walker has gone right ahead (after a gruelling process of chasing up both Smyth and Paul Kennedy of Radioscope to retrieve the stats to be able to do this) and calculated a fairly accurate number from going back and looking through the charts that were sent to him.

Smyth pointed out the process in one of his emails to Walker saying that to calculate the amount he would have to;

“a) List every song funded from 01 July 2006 to 30 June 2008;

b) Count the number of songs that had been released to radio as at 30 June 2008;

c) Count the number of those songs that had achieved a RadioScope NZ Airplay Chart Top 40 peak place as at 20 June 2008.

The % is c) over b) multiplied by 100 over 1 = xx% …”

As Walker states, “It’s just not mathematically possible for this figure to have ever been 85% at any point in time what so ever.” His generous calculations show that the actual figure is nowhere near 85% as it is stated in NZoA’s ‘Statement of Intent.’ Instead he says that in 2008 only 5 of the 22 funded songs made the top 40 chart. Furthermore:

“Now lets check the so called “actual” percentage that was calculated between july 1, 2006 and june 30, 2008. keep in mind this is stated as 85% by NZoA. And since I can’t get the 2006 records, I’m being nice to them and assuming that every single song funded between july 1, 2006 and may 29, 2007 reached the top 40.

2009 – 11/22
2008 – 5/22 – before june 30 = 2/10
2007 – 7/19 – actual calculatable = 4/19
july 1, 2006 to december, 2006 – highest possible – 11/11

17/40 = 42.5%”

It’s worth reading his whole post on how he’s calculated the stats and why it can’t possibly add up to the stated number in the ‘Statement of Intent.’ Smyth has already mentioned in one of his emails that he’s going to change the way he does the annual reports on this data. It’s a change he admits has come about through his conversation with Walker.

“From now on, for the Annual Report, I will do an annual calculation as at 30 June each year, based on the number of songs that we funded in that 12 month period … which makes sense since it is meant to be an annual report.. Then I will take the number of those songs that have been released to radio (as at 30 June less the number that have only just gone to radio in the previous week or two because it is too soon to get a reading on how those songs will perform) and then work out how many of them made the NZ Airplay Chart Top 40. And I will provide a footnote to explain how the figure was derived.”

After Walker pointed out the inaccuracies again to Smyth via email, he received a reply stating that Smyth is going to think about it some more and figure out where him and Walker are going wrong. Walker says that he is confirming his calculations. If Walker can prove that this number is wholly inaccurate then it could signal an even stronger need for change within NZoA. If data like this is erroneous then is it possible that other numbers within the ‘Statement of Intent’ also hold inaccuracies? We’re still watching this unfold and we’ll update the post as it happens.

UPDATE: Firstly, I’ve removed the info from the post that stated that Walker was still part of Menance records since he has got in touch with me and let me know that it is untrue. I should also point out that the review of NZ On Air that is occurring now was not prompted by the Real Groove article or Public Address post. The review was planned since 2008 and finally commissioned in March (it was originally put off due out the PPNZ vs. RBA royalty case), two months before the RG article was published.

As for the inaccuracy, Smyth has emailed me to explain how he got the 85% figure. Some of the singles from new artists do not get released immediately (and Smyth also tells me he is aware of tracks from 2008 that still haven’t been released), therefore his calculations for 2007/08 were inclusive only of the singles that had been released at the time. Since it’s impossible to recalculate the stats for that year now (in the same manner that it was done in the first place), Smyth forwarded me an example of the stats for 2009/10. He states that out of 20 singles that were funded, only seven had been released by the years end (June 30 2010). Six of those seven tracks made the NZ top 40 airplay chart, which explains such a high percentage that we get as an end result.

I emailed Smyth and asked him two things, which he quickly responded to: Firstly, would Walker’s calculations simply be an updated – yet still accurate – figure, since he’s done it two years later and without the restrictions that occurred when it was first done. By restrictions, I’m referring to the fact that two years later most of the tracks that have been funded would have been released and either succeeded or failed on the airplay chart. Secondly, I asked him if there was a time limit that artists have to abide by to use their funding.

His response was that indeed, both him and Walker are right with their calculations (although he hasn’t rechecked Walker’s stats). The way that it was calculated in the first instance by Smyth shows that his number was accurate but the way that Walker has calculated it now is just an update on that data. He also says that there is a time limit of 12 months on using the grant (at their discretion).

I’m going to recalculate Walker’s stats over the weekend and will update the post again if there are any differences. Smyth also added to his email that “This whole thing has made me think hard about how we report and measure this scheme and so we might make some (more) changes before we get it 100% right.”


  1. I don’t understand why NZOA is getting such a hard time when it seems glaringly obvious to me that the problem here is commercial radio.

    Whether the calculations are wrong or right, it’s the radio programmers that ultimately decide who will get the most airplay.

    So even if NZOA does change it’s processes, and starts to fund all the niche acts that only niche groups want to hear, radio will not change. You will only hear your favourite band on a commercial radio station if it fits their format.

    • mediagrad says:

      “You will only hear your favourite band on a commercial radio station if it fits their format.”
      This is what we are taught to believe, but commercial radio is just that: funded by advertising. Why are some songs selected and not others?
      Perhaps it has little to do with “does it fit?” and more to do with “is that label advertising with us? What’s the “payola”? What are we getting in terms of financial/material return re. free concert tickets for international acts, paid advertising, giveaways from brands that have sponsored labels and albums? What’s the financial “deal”here ? How is this band associated with the other media that we own, or are they with the competition? (Look up Mediaworks, and then look up The Radio Network….both overseas owned… this is the duopoly folks, if you haven’t heard of it already)
      So when NZOA spouts their success with particular tracks, was it their success alone, or was it simply because there was some sort of corporate payola involved with labels/distributors/corporate sponsors?
      I love the way truly independent musicians are taught to believe that there is something wrong with their music: the radio jocks tell NZOA and the musicians that there is something wrong with the production, the song, the sound, or the video, and they believe them, and the musicians try harder with the encouragement of NZOA, often to the detriment of their music, and often at their own great personal expense.
      That’s why we see repeat funding of major label artists, and major label distributed artists, and independently distributed artists who are distributed by independent distributors who try to hide the fact that they also distribute for major labels. Of course these artists are a sure thing for commercial radio.
      Where these sort of relationships are non-existent for an artist: that is when we see NZOA failing to work for them on commercial radio. I know of a musician who got $10,000 NZOA without such relationships, did the track and vid really well overseas, got told production needed fixing via radio jocks and NZOA, then spent savings on “fixing” track overseas, still no commercial radio airplay…
      This is tragic.
      Why are so many musicians still so ignorant of how the commercial radio system functions?
      I agree with Seka, and good work, Seka. YouTube is the way.

  2. Weird, you’d think that they wouldn’t need to mess with the stats since hardly anyone bothers to read those reports anyway. Perhaps that’s why they thought they could put whatever. I bet they just put in the figure for how many tracks get played on commercial radio. Given that “commercial radio” includes Kiwi FM, it isn’t a very high bar.

    Anyways, pity all this criticism of NZOA is happening while National is in power. If the whiny musicians aren’t careful then the govt might rip away the whole scheme. They’re certainly happy to tear apart the council, workers rights, etc.

    • Matt Walker says:

      Smyth actually threatened me with that possibility…Something along the lines of if I wasn’t careful he might decide not to fund as many independent artists in future. Looking back on his response now, I find it quite amusing that somehow “both our numbers are correct”…I can’t see how that is possible, and his calculations were never provided. I am surprised this seemed to brush by as a rational explanation. I notice Smyth stayed in the job and went on to be widely celebrated by the upper echelons of NZ music community and by award ceremonies recognizing his work. Cheers.

  3. Lani, I think you’re right but, radio is soon going to become redundant. Already more people use YouTube when they want to listen to songs that they like than they use radio for this same purpose.

    As a reflection of this, video’s should be made to market to a YouTube/internet based audience in the first instance and, television & radio in the second instance. (I’m not saying radio/tv are no longer viable avenues of promotion because they are but, the internet has already overtaken radio’s role in this position and isn’t likely to slow down).

    But even in saying this; I’m not pretending that I have all the answers because I don’t.

    All I’m pointing out is that NZoA’s current funding policies clearly aren’t having the desired effect, and providing statistics to prove it.


  4. @ G – Don’t worry, John wont make it back into office at the next election the way he’s going. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming!

  5. If the whiny musicians aren’t careful then the govt might rip away the whole scheme.

    If it means no more Smyth and less locally produced, foreign cloned crap on the radio, then go ahead and scrap it.

    Perhaps it might also force labels/artists away from the welfare dependent mindset they’ve adopted in regards to NZoA

  6. nzIndie says:

    surely the point is nz on air are publishing figures that are bollocks to make themselves look successful at what they have termed the object of their game.
    The side issues are that under Smyth’s guidance NZ on Air music has taken it upon itself to channel tax payers money to pretty much exclusively Commercial Radio interests where under the broadcasting act that guides them (and which it seems they largely ignore) their real job is to reflect NZ Culture and Identity, and work to get that on Radio.

    What Seka’s point highlights is the white wash we’re being fed in the smoke and mirrors game to detract from the task at hand. Getting more of our culture on air.

    To that end NZ on air Music is floundering and they’ve wasted a lot of time and tax payers money to NOT achieve that goal.

    If I owned a company and the manager I hired to run that company for 19 years turned in a performance like that I’d be looking for new blood to actually do the job, and shame on me for not looking 10 years earlier.

  7. Good on you Seka for exposing this incompetence. The whole policy of funding for commercial radio was wrong to begin with and has totally ignored much of what is good about NZ music culture and the alternative avenues for getting it heard. Now we are learning the policy is also a failure on NZOA’s own terms. NZOA has published statements saying things like their policy delivers maximum bang for your buck and other such spin doctorish phrases, yet now we see they are actually wasting millions and covering it up. It’s a big joke but nobody is laughing.

  8. Thanks for your comments everyone. I’ve updated the post with Brendan Smyth’s reply.

  9. I have long since been a campaigner for change in the way NZOA Music Funding works. I have letters to broadcasting ministers dating back 3 governments. I am one of the fewer kiwi artists who has gained funding without ANY connection to a major label or ANY independent with a major distribution. I don’t for a minute have a problem with NZOA staff, who work to a criteria they have to abide by and the system of the Kiwi Hit Disc is great. I believe this criteria though is disabling to NZ owned companies, who are being starved of this allocation of taxpayers money, because the majority of the money goes to multi national overseas companies and those with distribution with multi nationals. Those thats project’s ticket is not cliped by a major are the minority of those funded.

    Additionally a small handful of artists assigned to majors or indies with major distribution get the funding over and over and over again. No matter how many times they’ve been funded ..One only needs to add up the money allocated to our biggest names. One simply needs to search and add up on the kiwi hits site .. Their are two NZ family names in NZ music who have collected close to a million dollars between them .. Those same artists then get the high rotate which gives them “radio hit status” 2 hits within a 2 year period allowing them to apply for the larger album funding. I would like to bet that most of the quota of NZ music played on mainstream commercial radio is from the same handful of artist on high rotate.. with an exceptional few.. Then their is the fact that what we fund is based on the NZ commercial radio market and this market is not indicative of the genres of commercial radio available in the large US and UK markets or for that matter Australian market. Therefore for example .. NZOA basically funds NO Country Music..(NO commercial Country Radio stations in NZ) Yet speaking to top radio pluggers in Australia, their Country Radio Market is Far stronger than their A/C Market. We have no chance of artists being helped in that market, our neighboring market .. how stupid is that .. which is potentially huge on a global basis, simply because the NZOA criteria says they can’t fund what does’nt play on commercial radio in NZ.. Then their is the fact that with the current changes in the way the public access music .. now mainly online .. one has to question the whole system and its relevance. I filled out the recent survey which I accidentally came across online .. Not that I was even sent it as an artist that’s been funded a few times and applied unsuccessfully more times than I care to remember.

    I welcome a change to the NZOA air music funding criteria..

  10. Wouldn’t it be nice to get commercial radio out of the equation?

    It seems NZonair is largely in the business of funding music on the basis that it’s likely to be played by broadcasters who quite explicitly don’t want to play interesting music.

    Is it just me or is that completely arse-backwards? It’s not like we’re short of passionate broadcasters who do actually give a shit.

  11. CHrissie says:

    Be great if only unsigned artists were eligible for funding, failing that a limit on how much funding a “signed” artist could expect, as we have the cases of signed artists receiving the bulk of NZonAir funding while new artists dip out time and time again. We have the talent here but no support of commercial radio, TV and NZonAir. It seems that personal tastes of commercial radio interests, which recording companies woo, rule the waves, well..the airwaves that is, to the detriment of a wide range of NZ Talent.
    The fact that an artist recieved NZ on Air funding after his conviction for indecent assault is appalling and should be thoroughly investigated. There needs to be integrity and transparency within this industry especially when it’s mum and dad taxpayers paying for it.

  12. “This whole thing has made me think hard about how we report and measure this scheme Brendan Smyth

    Its more than the reporting and the measuring. Its the selection process and the criteria that’s always been at fault. By forcing artists to conform and copy foreign trends in pop music that cater for the narrow format of commercial radio, ensures songs funded rarely reflect local identity and culture.

    It’s totally shameful on Brendan’s part that it took someone to independently review his stats, publically and online, to force a change in his thought process.

  13. It’s shocking how that 85% figure is shown to be so misleading in retrospect. I don’t really blame Brendan Smyth for it, but it’s clear that the number is not an accurate representation of the real situation.

    Also mortified that the Tutts got a $50K album grant to produce what will be a steaming pile of shit that will neither succeed as art or commerce.

  14. I presented the Minister with these facts, He basically told me to fuck off (in more polite words).

    Then I contacted the Ombudsmen on behalf of many artists who have been denied their right to funding by NZoA…

    They Ombudsmen gave me the same response as the Minister.

    I’m starting to think that they’re all in this together to be quite honest.

    How about genuine independent review of NZoA’s funding practices? That will never happen….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *