By SCOTT KARA
Bic Runga gave Michael Glading, the head honcho at her record company Sony, two bottles of wine and a card the last time she saw him.
The Paris-based singer-songwriter was back for sister Pearl's wedding and took the chance to catch up with Glading for lunch. Runga told him she had songs "oozing" out of her and promised him a new album by the end of January.
Little did she know Glading would be out of a job within a week.
"I came back from lunch and I read the card and maybe she knew what was coming," he laughs. "But she wrote this amazing little note to me about how much I'd helped her and how much she'd appreciated it. A week later, I was out of a job."
After 26 years in the music industry, Glading lost his position after the international merger of record labels BMG and Sony Music - the latest downsizing in an industry suffering from a global downturn in the age of the MP3.
In New Zealand, Glading has been one of the biggest opponents of piracy, CD burning and the illegal downloading of music - the very things that lost him his job.
"If it wasn't for those things, these companies wouldn't be merging and the merger has cost me my job. It is sad but there was almost an inevitability to it, you know. There's a little part of me that says this is a good time to get out because it's not going to get any easier."
He laughs at his 15-year-old daughter's response when he told her about "getting the chop". She asked him if it was now okay to get free music from the music download website, KaZaA. "It's a classic line," he says. "But that's the environment she lives in and most of her friends are doing it. That's the mentality we're fighting."
Glading spoke to Herald at the Sony offices the day after his 51st birthday. It had been the first time he'd slept through the night after receiving the news more than a week before. "This is like an obituary but you get to read it," he jokes.
His phone rings, with the tune of Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way, and there is a problem at home. The builder doing the renovations has set the alarm off. Life goes on then.
"Life will go on," he insists. "[but] I would've loved five more years in this business."
Glading, though starting out as a number-cruncher, developed a knack for spotting talent. He has played a big part in the careers of Runga, Brooke Fraser and, most recently, Yulia.
He is also good at spotting talented staff, so good that in the late 80s he hired one Michael Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, the head of BMG NZ for the past two years, got the job of leading the amalgamated BMG Sony label over his former boss. The pair had to stake their claim before a five-person committee in Sydney.
It's fair to say Glading should have been confident walking into that boardroom in Sydney. He had a great track record.
"Last year was a record year for this company. I was obviously telling the committee about the successes we'd had in terms of financial successes, market share and in terms of our local artists. This year [for] Sony Music NZ, 20 per cent of its business will be local artists."
So why didn't he get the job? He will not go into it, simply saying: "I did my best and it was out of my control."
He is gracious and good-humoured. "My time was up, that's the bottom line. Why it was up? I don't know. It happens. I've just turned 51 and I've had a good run. I've met some really fascinating and interesting people."
He turns to the picture wall of stars he's met over the years, including everyone from crooner Tony Bennett to metallers System Of A Down and pop diva Anastacia. "There's me cuddling David Bowie," he grins.
Glading is not the first record company managing director to lose his job. James Southgate from Warner Music New Zealand was made redundant in March. There have also been staff cuts at Warner, EMI and Universal, and Warner has moved from its high-rise offices to modest surroundings in Ponsonby.
As Prince - who's now on Sony - once said: "It's a sign o' the times."
Glading has been in the record business since the day CBS records, which became Sony in the late 80s, started trading here in October 1978.
At 25, armed with a commerce degree, he went for a job as the head of finance at CBS. He had a 45-minute meeting with then managing director John McCready and got the job.
Six years later, he became a sales rep and two years after that went straight into running the record company, which soon after became Sony Music.
"So that was my dream job. I started off in my dream business but the record company was my dream job. I'll tell you what, I'm going to miss is my weekly fix of new music. I'm like a junkie."
He will also miss the interaction with musicians. When he talks about people such as Fraser or Runga, he is careful to distance himself from the creative process.
"It's really exciting selling something you've been involved in the creation of. But don't get me wrong, I'm not the artist and I hate record executives who make it sound like they are, 'cause it's bullshit. They're [the artists] the ones with talent."
In recent years, he has been in the news for his battle against music piracy. He received a lot of flak over the BRN>BRNT campaign, which sought to educate people about how burning CDs affected the artists.
He believes it was an effective campaign, but admits it mostly inspired people not to burn New Zealand albums rather than albums in general.
And yes, Glading has nothing to hide, he does own an iPod and it's bursting with more than 400 albums. "I love iTunes and I love my iPod and I wish we had iTunes in New Zealand because I would be on it every day getting tunes."
iTunes is due to be available in New Zealand early next year. But Glading says the legitimate downloading model has taken far too long to come out.
"The record companies were slow to get the legitimate download model up and running. The irony is it took something like Apple [with iTunes] to pull it together."
Now that a legal downloading model is in place and the record companies' traditional culture of extravagance is changing, Glading sees a way forward for the industry.
"Little [independent record] companies will continue to do really well. And that's where the Sony BMG merger will change things, it will make this company more viable. But it's still a declining market. That's a bit pessimistic, but I think the music business will survive."
He has no plans at the moment. Artist management is an option but, he says, "It'd be nice to pick the kids up after school, which I have never done".
One thing's for sure, the introduction of iTunes next year will keep Glading and his trusty iPod busy and bopping.
By SCOTT KARA