October 12, 2022

Nurturing songwriting talent through ‘Play it Strange’

If we could SEE songs, they would be luminous trails in the breath of space. And from there, they drift down to us, and we absorb them. We respond emotionally to every one we hear. That might be in the subconscious, that might be in our present mindfulness. The ones we can sense are like guardians – but they are all real. Some of them we lodge in our hearts where they reside till our last day. Those special ones serve a perfect purpose, always at hand to come into our conscious world to lift us out of the dark.

Young New Zealanders find in songs the means of expression that is like no other. Their words speak to us of love, regret, joy, loss, celebration, despair, pathos, reward, rejection, perfection. And those words, merged with the music they bring from empty space, bring songs into our sphere for us to savour and delight in. But it’s bigger than that.

Songs written by young New Zealanders forge a communal strand, a national voice, a summation of who they are and with that, it’s clear that they are telling us who we are. Listening to the hundreds of songs that we receive at ‘Play It Strange’ is like opening a window into the hearts and minds of our youth. And there is much to learn.

‘Play It Strange’ gives secondary school-aged students the chance to enter national songwriting competitions and with that the opportunity to be picked as finalists whereby they record in professional studios the song they wrote. Over the last twenty years, ‘Play It Strange’ has received more than 6,000 songs in these competitions and nearly 1,000 have been recorded. Those mastered tracks are then collated onto albums and posted online – Spotify, Amazon, Apple, Bandcamp and so on.

The songwriters own the copyright to the recordings (the masters) as well as, naturally, the copyright to the song
– the musical work. The one thing they do, hence enabling ‘Play It Strange’ to place songs online, is give ‘Play It Strange’ the right to uplift the recordings online.

In 2023 we will host three songwriting competitions. They are:

  1. the Youthtown Songwriting Competition Aotearoa for years 9 – 11, closing date 11 May 2023.
  2. the Peace Song Competition with a focus on lyrics that capture the theme of ‘peace’. All ages, closing date 16 June 2023.
  3. the Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition – for all years with no specific focus apart from – excellence!! Closing date 21 July 2023.

The Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition also brings to the fore specific awards. They are:

(i) the Junior Maioha Award for the best song in te reo Māori.

(ii) the David Richwhite Lyric Award for best lyrics.

(iii) the School of the Year for the school with the most number of finalists in a particular year.

All competitions are promoted through playitstrange.org.nz

‘Play It Strange’ as a Charitable Trust depends on funding from several entities who all see the value of songwriting as a creative pursuit. One where the imagination is paramount. They are: Lion Foundation, Trillian Trust, Foundation North, Youthtown, the Rockshop, NZ On Air, APRA/AMCOS, Soar Print and a number of generous patrons and supporters. We are very grateful to them.

Words by: Mike Chunn

BIO: Mike Chunn is well known to New Zealand musicians and music students as the bass player from Split Enz. He has also served as the General Manager of Sony Music Publishing NZ and was the Director of Operations for APRA Ltd. In 2013 Mike was awarded Companion of NZ Order of Merit for services to NZ music and Men’s Mental Health.

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