Rick Rubin Profile, A Look At The State of the Industry

It’s him or Hit Song Science, apparently: The Music Man

“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.”

[…] “The Big Red focus groups were both depressing and informative, and they confirmed what I — and Rick — already knew,” DiDia told me afterward. “The kids all said that a) no one listens to the radio anymore, b) they mostly steal music, but they don’t consider it stealing, and c) they get most of their music from iTunes on their iPod. They told us that MySpace is over, it’s just not cool anymore; Facebook is still cool, but that might not last much longer; and the biggest thing in their life is word of mouth. That’s how they hear about music, bands, everything.”

[…] “Until very recently,” Rubin told me over lunch at Hugo’s, a health-conscious restaurant in Hollywood, “there were a handful of channels in the music business that the gatekeepers controlled. They were radio, Tower Records, MTV, certain mainstream press like Rolling Stone. That’s how people found out about new things. Every record company in the industry was built to work that model. There was a time when if you had something that wasn’t so good, through muscle and lack of other choices, you could push that not very good product through those channels. And that’s how the music business functioned for 50 years. Well, the world has changed. And the industry has not.”

[…] “The CD debuted at No. 4,” Rubin told me at Hugo’s, still sounding upset. “It was the highest debut of Neil [Diamond]’s career, off to a great start. But Columbia — it was some kind of corporate thing — had put spyware on the CD. That kept people from copying it, but it also somehow recorded information about whoever bought the record. The spyware became public knowledge, and people freaked out. There were some lawsuits filed, and the CD was recalled by Columbia. Literally pulled from stores. We came out on a Tuesday, by the following week the CD was not available. Columbia released it again in a month, but we never recovered. Neil was furious, and I vowed never to make another album with Columbia.”

[…] From Napster to the iPod, the music business has been wrong about how much it can dictate to its audience. “Steve Jobs understood Napster better than the record business did,” David Geffen told me. “IPods made it easy for people to share music, and Apple took a big percentage of the business that once belonged to the record companies. The subscription model is the only way to save the music business. If music is easily available at a price of five or six dollars a month, then nobody will steal it.”

For this model to be effective, all the record companies will have to agree. “It’s like getting the heads of the five families together,” said Mark DiDia, referencing “The Godfather.” “It will be very difficult, but what else are we going to do?”

Rubin sees no other solution. “Either all the record companies will get together or the industry will fall apart and someone like Microsoft will come in and buy one of the companies at wholesale and do what needs to be done,” he said. “The future technology companies will either wait for the record companies to smarten up, or they’ll let them sink until they can buy them for 10 cents on the dollar and own the whole thing.”

[…] Rubin paused. “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 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.”