Max Johns - NZ music industry outsider, Blenheim

Monday, November 01, 2004

The man who led the New Zealand arm of Sony Music through a record year in 2003 is now out of a job. 51-year-old Michael Glading was, until very recently, enjoying his 26th year in the industry. Then the recent global merger of BMG and Sony cost him his job this week. Fans of irony will no doubt enjoy a smirk at the fact that Glading once hired Michael Bradshaw - the BMG boss who beat Glading to the top job in SonyBMG's New Zealand offices - to work under him at Sony Music. The merger was one of a number of recent rationalisations within the music industry (Warner, EMI and Universal have been cutting costs and shedding staff as well). These moves have been brought on by a recent downturn in music sales. This lack of sales, as we all know, has been driven by availabilty of free music. Downloading and CD burning is having the negative effect on music companies that the companies themselves told us it would. Don't act surprised.

Most people think that helping themselves to something by System of a Down or Nelly won't hurt anyone, because these guys already sell heaps of stuff, right? But money from Nelly CDs doesn't just go to Nelly. The top end of a company's artist roster is its main resource, and funds pretty much everything, including management, recruitment, and even development of lesser-known artists. Most people won't notice when the company producing and distributing their favourite CDs has to merge with another or sell itself. Most people won't notice when fewer people are employed to find new talent to promote. Most people won't notice if the cuts go beyond management and hit artist rosters, because it's the least popular artists that go first. That's why most people don't really mind accepting free music. But when the top managers are getting cut, things are serious. The musicians themselves can't be far from the axe. Those that aren't mainstream money-earners will be "rationalised" and suddenly it's the fans of artists that aren't selling overproduced crap by the shipload that start missing out.

New Zealand had such industry-led backlashes as the BRN+GTBRNT campaign and it seems that we largely got the message, at least as far as music from our own shores goes. Even though the international music industry is shrinking, we're enjoying our best days ever here. In 1998, NZ music (that is, music by NZ artists signed to NZ labels) only made up 4.33% of music sales in NZ. This year that's up to 11.94%. We put about $23 million over the counter for our local sounds last year (retail sales have doubled since 2000), and in the past seven years radio has come to the party in a big way, with kiwi music growing from 5.26% to 25.4% of playlists. Our own music is finally featuring heavily on the charts. Against all global trends, we're on one hell of a roll.

It's the support from us consumers that keeps our music industry growing at such an incredible rate. And this is made all the more amazing by the fact that we know we can almost always get what music we want without paying a cent - let alone $23m a year - for it. Campaigns like BRN+GTBRNT have hit home, at least to some degree. The Recording Industry Association (RIANZ) launched that particular high profile assault on piracy in 2001. Its success, though, is probably now cold comfort to the long-serving industry boss who was RIANZ president of that time - one Michael Glading.

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