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Wellington’s famed Marmalade Studios failed, owing $183,000

BusinessDesk report by Jonathan Underhill
Marmalade Audio, the Wellington music and post-production studio whose output included Dave Dobbyn’s 1986 hit with Herbs Slice of Heaven and Telecom’s Spot the Dog campaign, failed owing just $183,000, the liquidators’ first report shows.

Marmalade ceased trading in 2016 and was put into liquidation last month. Shareholder and director Sarah Taylor, who took over the business in 2007 after her father Grant Taylor died, told the liquidators that the company was unable to pay its debts after the loss of a number of key clients. A former employee recalls equipment being sold on Trade Me while a swag of framed awards – for both music and advertising – went in a skip.

Creditors include Marmalade’s landlord, the Accident Compensation Corp, ASB Bank and the Inland Revenue Department.

The liquidation brings the curtain down on one of New Zealand’s most notable studios. Set up by DJ Rocky Douche, a former NZ broadcasting Corporation technician, Marmalade Studios, as it was then known, went on to record music for Shona Laing, Sharon O’Neill, Dave Dobbyn, Shihad, Fur Patrol, Bic Runga, the Bats, Bailter Space, Netherworld Dancing Toys, Greg Johnson Set, the Holidaymakers, Margaret Urlich, Jan Hellriegel and Annie Crummer, mostly during its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.

Less well-known, except in the world of advertising, was its work making radio and TV advertisements and picking up film industry work that saw director Peter Jackson and actors including Stephen Fry, James Nesbitt, Richard Armitage and The Hobbit star Martin Freeman walk in the front door.

Taylor, who now lives in Australia, couldn’t immediately be tracked down for comment. But Paul Stent, who was senior sound designer at Marmalade between 2010 and 2015, recalls how a number of global trends conspired to erode its business.

“It was a perfect storm of the arrival of the internet and file sharing companies like Napster – record companies didn’t have any money anymore,” says Stent, who is now at Clemenger BBDO Wellington and is business development manager at its Flare content production unit. Added to that was the rise of the laptop-toting home recording artist, who was able to access what Stent calls “prosumer recording technology”.

Clemenger, a former Marmalade client, built its own studio – another trend in the industry. Stent’s studio at the firm is a fraction of the size of the facilities at Marmalade but with vastly more bandwidth.

“There’s a lot of people in my industry that were quite sad for that side of things,” Stent said, referring to the loss of Marmalade as a resource for the advertising industry. The revolution in technology means he can create an MP3 of an ad now and email it to dozens of outlets, whereas in the past the task would have involved a master tape that was then dubbed onto analogue copies that were distributed by courier.

Liquidators Colin Owens and David Vance of Deloitte said they were continuing their investigations into the Marmalade’s financial affairs using company records, according to their first report, which was released this week.

Its remaining assets consisted of “out-of-date computers”, now in storage, and microphones, which Taylor took to Australia. That’s a far cry from the early 1980s, when Riot 111 lead singer John Void recalled that Marmalade Studio’s 24 track “was the most expensive studio in Wellington at the time.”

Recalling the making of Slice of Heaven with Herbs, a number 1 hit in 1986, Dobbyn said Marmalade “was a great studio”. He told the Dominion Post in 2012 that he remembered it vividly “because we were getting filmed at the same time as recording.” Ashtrays “were scattered around the smoke-filled room, while makeup artists worked around recording.”

As late as 2013, Marmalade still appeared to be putting its best foot forward in the music industry, with recording time “at Wellington’s top studio” among the prizes for the Battle of the Bands that year. But that side of the business appears to have wound down years earlier.

In the 1990s Marmalade built a separate business to service the advertising industry and in its heydey of the 1990s it made such memorable ads as Spot the Dog, the Vince Martin ads for Beaurepaires and high-profile campaigns for clients including Lotto and Cadbury.

Stent has thrived since leaving Marmalade, helming the audio for BBDO campaigns on the TV right now for clients such as the NZ Transport Agency.

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