The New York Times recently ran an article titled The Music Man about Rick Rubin that discusses whether he can turn around the music industry as a co-head of Columbia Records. I find this to be a very interesting topic. Few people have the success and respect within the industry that Rubin has, so few people would even be able to attempt to turn the industry around. And, the industry definitely needs some help.
In the article, David Geffen does a pretty good job of summing up the problems that are plaguing the music industry:
“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.”
I think this is indicative of the wrong focus that the major record labels have. Many musicians today are finding that they don’t necessarily need the major labels to be able to make and distribute music. In fact, this was borne primarily out of need because obtaining a major record deal was equivalent to becoming a professional sports athlete; only a small percentage of people ever accomplish the feat. Thus, musicians have had to learn how to create music on their own rather than depending on the large labels to guide the way.
Instead of focusing on how to sell music, the record labels should focus on how to develop artists and make it worthwhile to sign to a major label. Distribution is no longer a selling point that major labels can try to sell. In fact, if Rubin has his way, you will subscribe to music:
“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.”
This is an intriguing scenario, but not one that I’m ready to buy into yet. And, after the rootkit debacle of several years ago, I’m not ready to trust in any DRM that Sony (who owns Columbia Records) decides to enforce. And therein lies the problem. DRM doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t appear to be stopping the thieves from stealing music, and it makes things more difficult for those of us who have legitimately purchased the music.
I don’t know what the end result will be, but if anyone can turn the music industry around, I believe that Rick Rubin can do it.