While the music industry struggles with downloaders, digital retail and the demise of the album, savvy artists are taking control of their own careers. And it’s changing the way musicians collaborate and create and market their work.
That self-control sits comfortably with European-based Kiwi Monique Rhodes. She's played all over the world, toured with Chuck Berry, worked with Peter Gabriel's band, written music for the producers of The Secret, presented a private concert for the Dutch royal family and performed for the Dalai Lama and Carla Bruni (though not at the same time). Rhodes manages herself, runs her own tours and sells her music over the Internet.
So when she decided to highlight New Zealand’s "absolutely embarrassing" record on child abuse and raise money to help combat it, it was natural to turn to other artists to help. Rhodes contacted Hollie Smith, the Jordan Luck band, Shona Laing, Kirsten Morrell, Jackie Clarke, Annie Crummer, Opshop and others to join her in recording an album with all profits to go to Plunket.
It sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare—navigating agents, managers, publishers, record labels and competing egos—and more than one industry expert predicted failure. She hadn’t been in New Zealand long enough, she needed a big name to plug the album, other artists would refuse to work with her. “I even had one producer write to me a full page letter telling me why I was making a huge mistake. It made me so determined that I was going to do it,” says Rhodes. “Everybody said no-one has done an album like this in New Zealand before, it's too hard. Give me the too hard—I'll do it.”
Her fellow artists were keen to do it, too. It’s an example of the power that musicians now hold; they’re less constrained by labels and management, more experienced at handling their own affairs and more likely to pursue their own interests.
So why would they choose to collaborate on that most derided of music industry inventions—the Christmas album? Simple, says Rhodes: Christmas is the best time to highlight the issue of child abuse, and these Kiwi musos will do a proper job. “I did things slightly differently for a number of reasons. I don’t actually like Christmas albums, so I wanted to make a Christmas album that wasn't cheesy,” she says. The album, Merry Christmas Baby, features songs that aren’t restricted to Christmas listening, with many tracks having only a small reference to Christmas or children. And of the 11 performers featured, eight have recorded original tracks so the publishing rights are simple and more money gets to Plunket. Rock on.