‘I WANNA BE A DJ’ WITH P.DIGSSS, 2019. PHOTO: RAY TIDDY
So you want to be a rock’n’roll star?
IT STARTED A DECADE AGO AS A SERIES OF WORKSHOPS FOR SMOKEFREEROCKQUEST HOPEFULS. TODAY IT’S ONE OF THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES FOR KIWIS WANTING TO MAKE THEIR LIVES IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. AND IT TAKES PLACE, OF ALL PLACES, IN WĀNAKA.
The YAMI SouNZ Summit got its start in 2015, when the Queenstown Lakes District Council took an interest in the music workshops run
by then high school teacher Lynne Christie. According to Lynne, “we were already running ‘Sounz Forza’ workshops for small groups who wanted to train up for Rockquest or know how to release a song. In 2014, QLDC Mayor Vanessa van Uden approached me with the thought to run something larger in Wānaka.” A year later, the YAMI SouNZ Summit launched and literally started to make noise.
The name stands for Youth & Adults in the Music Industry, which Lynne says she settled upon after, thankfully, rejecting a few other bad acronyms, including SMAK: Sounz Music Academy for Kids.
Lynne has been a leading light in the Southern Lakes music scene since the late nineties. She had moved to Wānaka to teach Music at Mount Aspiring College, and was disappointed by the lack of live gigs. “We’d have to wait a year for someone like Midge Marsden or The Exponents to visit the village,” she remembers. In typical small-town DIY fashion, Lynne got together with 12 others, including three students, set up the not-for-profit Lake Wānaka Sounz Inc., and launched a festival. The inaugural Rippon music festival was held on Waitangi Day in 1998, with an all-Kiwi lineup including Salmonella Dub, Chris Knox, HDU and Jan Hellriegel. The festival ran for more than 20 years at Rippon Vineyard, then, more recently, as the re- branded TUKI festival, held near Glendhu Bay. It became Aotearoa’s longest-running festival, with acts like Fat Freddy’s Drop and Ladi6 playing Rippon before they broke big.
Held biennially in alternate years to Rippon and TUKI, YAMI is now in its fifth year, and is a must-attend hui for musically-inclined creatives and an honest insight into Aotearoa’s musical landscape. The summit is open to anyone who has a passion for music and wants to know more, covering genres from rock to dubstep, blues to reggae, electronica to hip hop, to country, to d&b. A majority of attendees are in their teens (76% are between the ages of 14 and 18 years), but YAMI is for everyone, with past participants ranging from 10 years old to 75!
YAMI’s core work is bringing in established professionals to mentor fresh talent. The 2021 line up has already bagged music industry heavyweights including Troy Kingi, Bella Kalolo, Seamus Johnson, Lee Prebble, Anderson Rocio, The Nomad, Martine Harding, Warren Maxwell (Trinity Roots / Little Bushman), Barnaby Weir (The Black Seeds / Fly My Pretties), Sam Trevethick and P Digsss (Shapeshifter) and Miharo Gregory (L.A.B.) and
Ned Ngatae (Fat Freddy’s Drop). Some of the 2021 tutors are back for the fifth time, because, Lynne says, “they believe in the premise and have seen the results.”
Rosie Spearing grew up in Wānaka. She first attended YAMI when she was 18 and has since been making waves nationally both as part of the indie-pop outfit Corduroy and as a solo artist under the name Alba Rose. She is also a figure on the liquid drum and bass scene; her single ‘Breathe’, with producer CSM, made the Top 20 Liquid chart in 2020. “I realised how much more is involved in being a musician and performing than just making the music. I became aware of the under-layers that go quite
unnoticed to the average person.”
She says the summit really helped her progress as both a singer and a writer. “I really loved getting some vocal tips from Bella Kalolo in one of her workshops, she’s insane!” Rosie recalls. And Julia Deans served up songwriting tips she still dips into.
“She told me that she sometimes would just write down on a page a story or a feeling, just waffle it all out, get out the message, and then take key words to help kind of shape a mood for a song. I’ve actually used that method every now and again. It’s great for making sense of what you’re trying to say, and then simplifying it enough in a way that not everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about.”
“We have parents training to be band managers and 45-year-olds honing their original songs”
There are songwriting sessions, vocal coaching sessions, DJing lessons and recording workshops at YAMI, but also a focus on other aspects of the industry, for there is more to music than just being a lead singer or solo artist. Lynne refers to the summit as an industry “crash course over one weekend”; as well as working on music creation and performance, participants can learn about marketing (including how to ‘Pimp Your Promo’) and funding from experts at APRA AMCOS, NZ on Air and Recorded Music NZ.
According to Lynne, “We have parents training to be band managers and 45-year-olds honing their original songs, so it’s a full mix. They don’t need to perform on stage unless they wish to. Many are totally behind the scenes, others are right there on stage singing with Jon Toogood,” Lynne says.
Long-time YAMI ambassador and tutor Martine Harding is another excellent case in point. She’s the lead singer of the electronic duo Arma del Amor, and recently finished a nationwide tour opening for Shapeshifter.
She speaks highly of the open discussions YAMI offers. “There is a realness and raw honesty that sits at the base of this summit. The music industry is a huge exciting terrifying beast and YAMI offers each individual invaluable insights and knowledge on how to navigate it with authenticity and passion. It doesn’t get any realer, or more fun, than YAMI.”
“Any veteran in the game will warn you, the prospect of making music a full-time job is likely to be financially unrealistic one. Only
a blessed few truly make it. But the industry professionals at YAMI offer advice about how to broaden options and dip into other avenues when making a living out of music.”
Yes, making a living, that’s the trick. “Our professional artists discuss the diverse ways they make an income,” Lynne explains. “Some are
in two bands or more. Some are also DJs. Some work with the synch industry (TV, gaming, film, online) and others collab as session musicians or produce other albums. It’s an ever-changing world, so networks and connections are vital with a broad group of creatives.”
These networks and connections have taken on a new vitality in 2021. Live music was crippled by COVID-19, and events like YAMI itself are planned in the shadow of ongoing uncertainty. But Lynne is hopeful that YAMI will go ahead this year, and has faith that the industry and its artists will bounce back.
Hurdles aside, she says, “if you’re a musician you don’t actually have much of a choice. You have to create. Otherwise it comes back to bite you on the bum when you’re a disgruntled creative grown-up doing a non- creative job.”
The 2021 YAMI Sounz Summit will be held on May 8 and 9 at the Lake Wānaka Centre. Find out more at wanakasounz.nz.