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  • Katie Hunter

If you’re not growing, you’ll rot: a philosophy on making music 

Words by Katie Hunter (she/her) 

I played the violin for years. My mum was my first violin teacher and when I was nine I started having lessons at school. I played all throughout high school, in community-run orchestras and ensembles, and even sat a few ABRSM grade exams. 

Now my violin sits in the corner of my flat, out of tune, and covered in dust. 

Why did I stop? If I’m being honest: I wasn’t happy with my progress. I’d sit in orchestra rehearsals having a personal crisis about how far behind I felt compared to the other players in my section. One day I put my violin down and didn’t pick it up again. 

Being a musician is hard. In any creative scene, there’s an underlying desire to be the best, be cheered on by a loving audience in a packed venue (or respectfully applauded for those of you in the classical scene), and  let’s be honest with ourselves  afford rent prices (thanks, cost of living crisis). Maintaining passion about something when you’re also pursuing it as a degree and a career is a juggling act. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the logistical and practical side of music that I think we neglect a crucial aspect of the art form: having fun, trying new things, and self-improvement (but in a healthy, non-competitive way). 

When I sat down to talk to up-and-coming alternative band AOSI, I was struck by how their music was grounded in self-growth and developing new skills. I came out of the conversation with a redefined idea of what musical success is, and a better appreciation of personal growth. AOSI consists of rhythm guitarist/vocalist Connor Matthew, lead guitarist Anton Parker, bassist/vocalist Dylan Jonkers, and drummer Ryan Kenton. After moving to Pōneke from different corners of Te Waipounamu to study at Massey, the members did what musicians do best  they got a jam going. What started as a thrown together performance for an O-Week talent show quickly turned into a four-piece alternative group. Their focus is to aim for growth both as individuals and, as a band, making their name fitting; AOSI stands for Acts of Self Improvement.“The name embodied what I wanted to write about and the energy I wanted us to put forth as a band,” said Connor. “I didn’t want to have a metal or hard rock band that was all gloomy and didn’t really have a greater purpose… I wanted it to be so that people could listen to it and maybe get something greater from it.” The band has strongly adhered to their name over the past year as they’ve navigated the Pōneke and Aotearoa music scene. Since their formation, they’ve played at Dig the Gig, played multiple shows around Aotearoa, and released their debut EP, Prima Materia. They acknowledged how far they’d come individually and as a band, and they’re excited about the new skills they’ve learnt. 

AOSI’s latest gig was an O-Week flat party—a lot has changed since that last-minute talent show. “That gig was the first time hearing other people sing lyrics back, which was crazy. Like, sure they’re our friends but it’s the fact they’d listened to our music and taken the time to learn our lyrics and then come and scream them back at us was so much fun,” Anton said. 

“We all bounce off each other to learn and grow. At every step of the way we’re always trying to push and learn,” Ryan said. “I quite like following the motto of life’s like an apple; if you’re not growing, you’ll rot.” For the members of AOSI, growth is closely linked with self-improvement. They push each other and the people around them to join in and try new things while having a good time. Restored, the second track on their EP, Prima Materia, features all four of the band on vocals. For Anton and Ryan, it is their first time singing on a track. During one of their recording sessions, I watched them crowd around a microphone and scream multiple takes together, Dylan and Connor dishing out encouragement and advice. When Anton recorded a particularly impressive low scream, the others were ecstatic for him. At one point Connor and Anton’s flatmate was invited to join in. I was asked if I wanted to have a try. It was collaborative and genuinely fun to be a part of. 

In any creative scene, there’s an underlying desire to be the best, and music is  no exception. It is this exact fear of being the best, however, that keeps us from trying new skills together—ones that we’d potentially love and be great at. By creating a trusting and open environment among themselves, the members are encouraged to put themselves out there. When I asked the band about their writing process, they told me they started by bringing an idea to the rest of the band. They then collaborate to write all the parts until they have a finished product. Dylan said that working with the members of AOSI has allowed him to become a more collaborative writer. “I can write what I feel is necessary for the song and have full faith in the band to bounce ideas off it.”The band has also picked up new skills when recording their music. Connor, Ryan, and Anton study Music Production or Music Industry at Massey and have used this knowledge to mix Prima Materia. Comparing their latest track to the band’s first single, One Thing Will Flow, Anton described the difference in mixing as “night and day.” He went on, “[d]efinitely with the drums we’ve changed up and experimented with a different way of recording. I feel we’ve got it to a bit of a fine art now where we know we’re going to get a quality recording out of the instrument.”

It’s easy to only focus on numerical growth in music, such as Spotify streams, or how many people turn up at your gig. But if you only measure your success this way, at some point down the line, music can stop feeling like a passion and you can lose yourself a little bit. There are so many other forms of growth that are often under-appreciated: learning and refining skills, venturing into new genres, and collaborating with others. We should be celebrating these forms of progress because even if they aren’t as clearly definable and measurable, they are still important. 

To all of the musicians out there, the next time you find yourself stressing out over how your music is performing on streaming services, think about how far your sound has come since you started out. Find people who push you to improve and to expand your boundaries, but most importantly who make you excited. Have a jam. Pick up that abandoned instrument and give it a go. Most importantly, go and support some Pōneke bands. 


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