because cool kids are boring

Rick Rubin profile in NYT

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An interesting profile of Rick Rubin in the New York Times can be found here.

The article gets into various things about Rubin’s life, but is largely about his new role as co-head of Columbia Records. For someone who has been involved in creating so much great music, it is interesting to see that, to my eyes at least, he’s just as clueless about the future of the music industry as the rest.

Here’s Rick’s solution for the ailing music industry,

Rubin has a bigger idea. To combat the devastating impact of file sharing, he, like others in the music business (Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine at Universal, for instance), says that the future of the industry is a subscription model, much like paid cable on a television set. “You would subscribe to music,” Rubin explained, as he settled on the velvet couch in his library. “You’d pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you’d like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home. You’ll say, ‘Today I want to listen to … Simon and Garfunkel,’ and there they are. The service can have demos, bootlegs, concerts, whatever context the artist wants to put out. And once that model is put into place, the industry will grow 10 times the size it is now.”

Of course, from the way they talk about it, this subscription service will either only involve the majors or will be dictated by the majors. Indies will either not be allowed to take part, or will have to play by the major’s rules.

Now, I’m not saying a plan like this will fail. It could definitely work for a certain segment of the market. It will also alienate another segment of the market, pushing them farther into the indies, which is one of the underlying issues that they are facing now. That people have greater access to independent music then they have ever had before. And as a result they are less likely to give the majors money, unless they see something of value to spend their money on.

No, if handled right, this idea could work to a certain degree. I just don’t think it is what will save the industry.

Of course Rick’s idea looks like freaking gold compared to the bright idea that his counterpart at Columbia, Steve Barnett, has come up with. “Asking” (which I can’t help but read as demanding) that Columbia artists hand over as much as 50% of “touring, merchandising and online revenue.”

I’m sorry, any artist who agrees to something like that, is a fool. And any manager who lets their artist agree to something like that, needs to be fired.

The interesting thing in all this talk about “saving the industry” is that everyone assumes that the levels of money generated by the industry over the last twenty odd years is a given. No one in the article looks at the drop in sales as a market correction.

I’d love to see a major label just get really desperate and go crazy. Slash the hell out of their in house staff to drop expenses to a bare minimum. Drop any groups that haven’t been able to build up dedicated followings. And then focus on slow growth of the followings that the rest of their artists have. After renegotiating contracts with their artists that will cause the artists to think twice about jumping ship. Basically just give up on charts and hype and focus on artists who will deliver smaller returns then the big names, but deliver steady consistent returns over the long haul. Once the market has stabilized and new proven business models have become more obvious, then may be they can think about dabbling in the bright lights again.

Judging by this article, the majors seem to have forgotten that they exist at the whim of consumers. No business has a right to exist or make money. They need to accept the market as it exists today and maneuver themselves into a position where they can leverage what they do have and stop holding on to what they’ve already lost.

The article does end with a quote from Rubin that carries truth,

“That’s the magic of the business,” he said. “It’s all doom and gloom, but then you go to a Gossip show or hear Neil [Diamond] in the studio and you remember that too many people make and love music for it to ever die. It will never be over. The music will outlast us all.”

The thing is that after reading this article I wonder how many people in the majors believe that they are the industry? The majors aren’t the industry.

Music and the industry will live on, that is true. Whether the majors are part of that or not, is up to them.

Written by Matt

September 3rd, 2007 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Thoughts