Tomorrow’s NYTimes magazine includes “The Music Man,” (free registration may be required) an in-depth look at Rick Rubin’s new role as co-head of Columbia Records.
I take Columbia’s move to bring Rubin on board as good news. If anyone can make something interesting out of the recording industry, it might be him.
Columbia [doesn’t] want Rubin to punch a clock. It wanted him to save the company. And just maybe the record business.
What that means, most of all, is that the company wants him to listen. It is Columbia’s belief that Rubin will hear the answers in the music — that he will find the solution to its ever-increasing woes. The mighty music business is in free fall — it has lost control of radio; retail outlets like Tower Records have shut down; MTV rarely broadcasts music videos; and the once lucrative album market has been overshadowed by downloaded singles, which mainly benefits Apple.
“The music business, as a whole, has lost its faith in content,” David Geffen, the legendary music mogul, told me recently. “Only 10 years ago, companies wanted to make records, presumably good records, and see if they sold. But panic has set in, and now it’s no longer about making music, it’s all about how to sell music. And there’s no clear answer about how to fix that problem. But I still believe that the top priority at any record company has to be coming up with great music. And for that reason, Sony was very smart to hire Rick.”
Are answers really in the music? There is a wealth of great music being made right now. We don’t lack good art. The problem is at the interface between good art and business, and I think Rubin digs that; it may be the old guard at Columbia, and/or perhaps Lynn Hirschberg (who wrote the Times Magazine article) who think the answers are “in the music.”
With so much music flooding the interwebs and everywhere else, there is a business role – i.e. money to be made – for a company that can build a reputation for finding great musicians, making recordings, and delivering their music to listeners in ways that listeners want. Rubin has impeccable taste for the finding and making. It’s the delivery that’s both satisfying to listeners and profitable to the artist and company that no one has figured out.
From the article, Rubin seems convinced that a universal subscription model is inevitable. As a customer, I don’t immediately feel good about that. That may be because my listening is still mostly tied to plastic discs; I haven’t even joined the iPod iRevolution iYet, which tends to change listening habits considerably. I have been pretty excited about the subscription-based “Netflix-for-books” services out there, though. And the fee would have to be less than I currently spend on music. So logically, it would seem I should be all for it.
Rubin’s co-head of Columbia isn’t convinced of the subscription plan. But I agree with Rick that it will take a shift of that order and magnitude to transform the recording industry into something positive for both art and commerce.
I spent one night at Matt’s for 5*C this week, and we laid down a really rad new jam and started messing with “Silver Yellow Girl” (I want to do a new version from the ground up, sounding similar to the “v2” on myspace but cleaner, starting over with those ideas in mind). We played last night at the Brick with Aubrey and Distance to Empty (went well) and Joel said he’s stoked to hear what we’ve been cooking up.
I also talked to a couple people about Sally Ride’s upcoming …Boots this week; Katy Lindhart, who will sing a role TBD, Jill Gillespie, who had an excellent casting idea for the character of the Teacher, and Jody Wright, who expressed interest in staging the whole mess (dream come true if it happens). -h