The manager of top singer-songwriter Bic Runga says eight of his "high-profile" and "major" New Zealand artists have been forced to take second jobs as illegal digital downloads kill the music industry.
Campbell Smith, who is also the Recording Industry Association chief executive, told Parliament's commerce select committee yesterday that the decline in CD sales had led many musicians to abandon the industry as a full-time career.
Performers listed on Mr Smith's CRS Management website include hip-hop artist Scribe, singer-songwriter Brooke Fraser and Carly Binding, a former member of the made-on-TV group TrueBliss.
Among the bands are West Auckland chart-toppers Blindspott, three-piece Breaks Co-Op and Bleeders.
"My company manages 11 high-profile major New Zealand artists," said Mr Smith. "Of those 11, eight have had to take day jobs to sustain themselves; they can't survive off music. In the mid-90s, through to the end of the 90s, every artist that I managed survived off being a full-time musician.
"That changed because it coincided exactly with this period of increased theft and unauthorised copying and downloading of our music over the past seven or eight years."
The select committee is considering amendments to copyright laws to cover new technologies.
Music industry representatives said digital downloads of songs were the future of the business and they embraced that change, but only if the artists' intellectual property rights were adequately protected.
Mr Smith cited the fate of Runga's new album as an example of the impact of illegal recordings.
"Sales of CDs in New Zealand in the past eight years have fallen by more than 22 per cent. For example, Bic Runga sold 100,000 and 160,000 copies of her first two CDs. Her third one, released at the end of 2005, critically acclaimed, album of the year, sold 50,000 copies.
"While you can allow for variance in taste and product, that's an awful decrease in sales and it coincides with this period of unauthorised copying."
All 11 tracks had been available illegally on the internet at least two days before the CD went on sale, he said.
Sony BMG managing director Micheal Bradshaw told the Herald an internet search recently turned up 920 websites on which Runga's music could be downloaded illegally.
Quantifying the cost to the local industry was difficult, but globally estimates were that illegal downloads outnumbered legal ones 42 to one.
He said CD sales in New Zealand dropped 35 per cent in the past two years, offset slightly by growth in the legal digital market.
The recording industry groups asked MPs to endorse a "notice and takedown" provision, under which internet service providers would be compelled to take down as soon as possible websites that offered illegal material. They also called for technological methods to protect copyright material to be allowed and for tight rules to cover copying of digital downloads.
However, former Split Enz member Eddie Rayner - who admitted downloading songs for personal use - told the Herald file sharing would be hard to prevent, even with new laws.
He said online databases were one of the few sources for niche or historic tracks.
"Everybody does it - they [just] don't admit it."