Ciaran McMeeken

Photos: Amanda Ratcliffe - @amandashootsbands

Sharing the Creative Space

I used to be an opening batsmen. I travelled to India and the UK to play and I kept the bench rather toasty on the side of the footy field too. I drank rather large with my mates on Saturday nights and I smoked a lot of cannabis. I was sitting alone in a damp flat when I had epiphany. The next day I unenrolled from university and set off to pursue music. It all started off well but the world can be a heavy place for an 18 year old. I got lost and I lost myself. I moved home with mum and dad. I started writing songs. I shared those songs with the world, which changed the game.

Songwriting and the creative process for me has been an incredibly cathartic exercise. The act of innovating, expressing and sharing is therapy for me and has enabled me to pull myself out of the mud.

I moved to Auckland from Dunedin in late 2014 to take the next step in my music journey. There I met esteemed producer Greg Haver. He introduced me to the world of co-writing and encouraged me to go and write songs with other people. I took this advice and ran with it. Over the last 3 years I have written over 200 songs and I’d say for about 70% of them, I have shared the creative space with other humans.

Last week, 5 of us jumped into a corolla station wagon armed with guitars, pens and notebooks for a week of connection and collaboration. We arrived, unpacked our things, put our phones on flight mode and dove in. Typically, a session starts with what we like to call the psychology hour. An open and safe space is created for us all to talk honestly about what the hell is going on in our lives. Addiction. Spirituality. Sex. Relationships. You name it, we go there. Warts and all. We offer contributions and delve deeper into things we resonate with. Generally, we are all going through similar stuff, so we all have an abundance of ideas to throw in the mix. Within the scribbles on our 1B5s is pure gold. Filled with metaphors, chorus hooks, rhymes and juicy content. You’d be surprised how much goodness comes from expressing yourself! That then becomes the blueprint of an incredibly powerful, authentic song.

I can’t emphasize enough how special it is to be able express my most, shall we say, colourful secrets, in a safe communal environment. Where not only am I supported and accepted, but because it is a creative environment, a tangible product is born from the content, that can then be shared.

I am now a full-time professional musician and songwriter. I collaborate and connect deeply with writers several times a week. I don’t often drink (except for the odd beer and whiskey with the old man), I practice yoga, meditate daily, and I have a beautiful friend group. I’m stoked to say that I’m thriving.

What I see possible for New Zealand is a creative, collaborative culture of musicians who are connected, empowered and working together. I see tall poppy syndrome being a story of old. I see the ‘poor musician’ mantra being abolished. Mark my words, no longer will artists be asked “aww cool, soooo do you make a living from doing that?”. To be a songwriter will be as respected as being an All Black and New Zealand will be up there with Sweden and the US as big players in the music export industry.

This will be the model of the future and New Zealand will lead as an example. An absolute hub of creativity, collaboration and community. There will be no need for musicians to leave our shores in pursuit of the dream because the dream will be right here. Ingrained in our culture and being.

No more DIY. No more tall poppy bullshit. No more isolation. Let’s start a new wave of connection and write some incredible songs.

– Ciaran McMeeken

Edited by Chelsea Evans + Abby Wolfe


Songwriters Speak

NZ Songwriters have their own take on what makes songwriting a vibrant, creative practice. They talk about their views.

About us

Come inside our world

Songwriting is a craft of the imagination and we believe that the creative environment surrounding songwriters should foster, expose and celebrate these songs. 

We run songwriting competitions with lyric, Maori language, Peace Song awards and others alongside. And we record at least 40 finalists each year in professional recording studios.

Songwriting, performance, and recording are the three pivots of our music evolution.

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NZ Songwriters have their own take on what makes songwriting a vibrant, creative practice - read their fresh perspectives in our Songwriters Speak page

Songwriters Speak

2017 Play It Strange Album

Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition Finalists - songs are free to stream and download

2018 Deadlines

We've designed a poster with all key deadlines and dates for our competitions. Make sure to stick them in your calendar!

Further information about each competitions entry requirements can be found below in our "Competitions" section. 

Online entry forms are now available for each competition.

Download the PDF and print it out, stick it up at school and hand it out to friends, get the word out there!

Download and Print

Different by May Zeng

Winner of the 2017 Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition 

Director/Producer: Mareea Vegas / DOP: Kent Belcher / Art dept: Alex Matthews / Editor: Zac Blair /
Post production: Henry Williamson @ Thievery Studio / Hair: Luci Hare / Makeup: Tiveshni Naidoo / Clothing: Thanks to Lela Jacobs
Special thanks to NZ On Air for their Special Tracks grant which covered the recording and film making.


Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition


The National Secondary School Songwriting Competition is the flagship programme of the Play It Strange Trust.

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Peace Song Competition


This competition seeks songs with the lyrics embodying a focus on Peace. N.B. We are unable to offer the Hiroshima Exchange prizes this year.

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Who Loves Who Competition


The Winner and all Finalists have been announced.
For all secondary school students in NZ.
The competition is judged based on the originality of the cover you choose to rearrange and sing, written and performed by a kiwi artist.
Supported by a Music Grant from Recorded Music NZ.

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Strange Art


Play It Strange presents a Cover Art competition to celebrate all creatives at New Zealand Secondary Schools. 

This competition seeks an Album Artwork for the front cover of the 2018 Play It Strange Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition.

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What we do

We do all sorts of cool projects

Play It Strange has worked for over 10 years, striving to provide secondary students with a platform they can use to pursue their musical adventures. We've held concerts, workshops and competitions, all with the intentions to provide the right environment from which students can gain confidence, self-belief and an impetus for a career path they would like to follow.

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Songwriting is now an NCEA achievement standard

Songwriting will be offered as Level 3 NCEA achievement standard beginning 2017 - a victory!

Get Involved

Strange Friends

Patrons, Strange Friend Stars and our Strange Friends are a crucial and valuable community that support us.

We would love you to come on board.
All donations are tax deductible.

If you are interested in becoming a Platinum Patron or Strange Friends Star or indeed support Play It Strange in any way please give us a call, we would love to catch up and talk.

Email Us(09) 377 7919

Songwriting at University of Waikato

University of Waikato have completed their first Songwriting paper

University of Waikato summer paper ‘Introduction To SONGWRITING’ has just finished.
Students have finalised the tracking of their two songs and the results are very cool.

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I Know This To Be True was conceived and assembled by Geoff Blackwell of PQ Blackwell, and Ric Salizzo. It is a book about truth, beauty and wisdom. "Sixty New Zealanders in the middle of interesting lives talk about what really matters, truth and beauty, and the things they hold dear to their hearts."

Royalties from the book sales will be forwarded to PLAY IT STRANGE to further their website and school programmes.

I Know This To Be True is an incredible collection of New Zealanders discussing what it is that is important to them. PQ Blackwell have generously donated all profits from book sales to Play It Strange. We cannot thank them enough for their support of Play It Strange, and we are so grateful to be part of such a rich, inspiring project.

The book is available for purchase from any good book store in New Zealand and online. Go and get one and enjoy!

Listen to more of our songs here 

The songs on our Bandcamp are free to stream and download. Go crazy. They are there for your listening.


See what our Alumni are up to

Play It Strange songwriters that have had their songs recorded for the annual CD are making cool inroads out into the world. Their career paths were fuelled from their time at school during which they sent their songs into our competitions and triumphed.

Here we have a selection of those who hit the ground running when they left school. With songwriting, performance and recording experience they were capable and poised for action.

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Happy customers and clients

CUSTOMERS: Those philanthropic institutions, individuals, grants bodies and funding agencies. We applaud their generosity in supporting us and their focus on the benefits we bring to the society around us.

CLIENTS: The songwriters and performers that bring their imaginative craft and performing skills to bear and we are all rewarded. From the secondary school songwriting competitions to the recording sessions for the top 40 songs.

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We Are One

A Concert for Autism

Watch Seven Sharp's story on our WE ARE ONE - Concert for Autism here

Photo GalleryNZ Musician Magazine Review