Kōrero: Recording companies and studios

Whārangi 4. The digital era, 1990 to 2000s

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Southside and Tangata

In 1990 Murray Cammick, editor of the music magazine Rip it Up, formed the Auckland-based label Southside. It specialised in dance music and soul, and recorded the Hallelujah Picassos and Māori artists such as Ngaire, Moana and the Moa Hunters and Upper Hutt Posse.

With the aim of promoting and recording music by Māori and Polynesian artists, musician Neil Cruickshank and producer George Hubbard set up the Tangata label in 1991. It outlasted Southside, and some Southside artists later transferred to Tangata.

‘How bizarre’

Alan Jansson founded Uptown Studios (originally Voxpop) in Auckland in the late 1980s and began producing young Polynesian hip hop and R&B acts, mostly from South Auckland. A number of these recordings were collected on the 1994 compilation Proud, released on Simon Grigg’s local label, Huh! Proud’s payoff came in 1996 when Jansson produced the single ‘How bizarre’ by OMC (Pauly Fuemana). The song reached number one in many territories, including Canada, Ireland and the US.

Digital recording

The recording industry worldwide was transformed by the proliferation in the 1990s of digital recording equipment. Digital compact discs (CDs) provided higher-quality reproduction than cassette tapes, although some aficionados continued to favour vinyl (records) over both newer formats. Later, CDs were replaced by newer digital formats such as MP3 that could be downloaded directly to playing devices such as iPods.

Do it yourself

For New Zealand studios, digital recording could dramatically reduce the cost of recording and distributing music. This enabled small independent labels to compete more effectively with multinationals. Auckland band the Mutton Birds won Best Album in the 1993 New Zealand Music Awards although they had no record label at all. Their self-titled album was digitally recorded in their practice room.

Dawn Raid Music

Dawn Raid Music was formed in 1996 by former school friends Brotha D and Andy Murnane. Its name harks back to police dawn raids on Pacific Islands immigrants in the 1970s. Dawn Raid planned to record previously undiscovered hip hop artists, especially from South Auckland. To raise funds they produced T-shirts for sale at South Auckland fleamarkets. Their first compilation album, Southside story, appeared in 2000. Its record label, Dawn Raid, also formed a clothing label, retail stores and publishing, film and television projects.

Kog Transmissions

Kog Transmissions was formed in 1997 as an outlet for the enthusiasts creating electronic dance music on computers and keyboards in their bedrooms and home studios. It helped to launch acts such as P-Money, Scribe and Shapeshifter. In 2014 it operated from a studio in West Auckland specialising in mastering (finalising recorded music), particularly for release on the internet platform iTunes.

Rattle Records

Tim Gummer and Steve Garden developed their Auckland recording studio into the label Rattle Records to showcase contemporary instrumental music. In 1994 they recorded Te ku te whe, a ground-breaking album of music for traditional Māori instruments, played by Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne. It became a ‘gold record’ (representing sales of at least 7,500) in 2002, and influenced an entire generation of New Zealand musicians.

Rattle has also produced award-winning albums by classical musicians such as Jack Body, Dan Poynton and John Psathas, and launched a jazz series in 2009.

Lorde and Little

Producer and musician Joel Little set up his Golden Age studio in Auckland’s Morningside in 2011. The following year he began working with 15-year-old Devonport schoolgirl Ella Yelich-O’Connor. Performing as Lorde, her song ‘Royals’ became a New Zealand number-one hit in March 2013. In August 2013 it went to number one in the US, making Lorde the first New Zealand solo artist to top the US Hot 100, and the youngest artist to hold the US number one spot in more than 25 years.

Recording industry associations

The NZ Federation of Phonographic Industries, formed in 1956, was renamed the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand in 1972. In 2013 it merged with PPNZ Music Licensing to become Recorded Music NZ (RMNZ). RMNZ represented the record producers, distributors and artists selling recorded music in New Zealand. In 2013 it was dominated by four large multinational companies, including EMI.

Independent Music New Zealand (IMNZ), formed in 2001, represented independent record labels and distributors, and in 2013 had over 90 members. Both RMNZ and IMNZ lobbied on behalf of their members on issues such as parallel importing of recorded music, music copyright and online licensing.

A steep decline in record sales prompted major record companies to consolidate and reduce their numbers. In 2014 New Zealand continued to support a number of active independent labels, but their focus had shifted from physical to digital music sales.


The Archive of New Zealand Music in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, collects scores and sound recordings of music composed and performed by New Zealanders. In 2014 it held over 36,000 discs, tapes and cassettes.

Radio New Zealand's Sound Archives was responsible for preserving and providing access to New Zealand's recorded radio heritage, and in 2014 merged with the New Zealand Film Archive to form Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision. Its collection includes early lacquer discs, analogue and digital tape cassettes and over 20,000 open reel tapes. Ngā Taonga Kōrero (the Treasures of Speech) is a separate collection of Māori recordings dating from the early 1960s. The Archive of Māori and Pacific Music, held at the University of Auckland, is the world’s largest archive of Polynesian sounds.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Mark Derby, 'Recording companies and studios - The digital era, 1990 to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/recording-companies-and-studios/page-4 (accessed 2 October 2022)

He kōrero nā Mark Derby, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014