Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Too Late to Save the Record Industry

The NYTimes Magazine had a profile of Rick Rubin this weekend, the man anointed by Columbia Records to save the industry. It's no secret that the record industry has been languishing in the last few years. So what's the new strategy?

"Everything I do," Rubin told me earlier, "whether it's producing, or signing an artist, always starts with the songs. When I'm listening, I'm looking for a balance that you could see in anything. Whether it's a great painting or a building or a sunset. There's just a natural human element to a great song that feels immediately satisfying. I like the song to create a mood."

So the record industry will save itself by--drumroll, please--listening to music. Brilliant. They're also not going to make Rubin punch a clock or have a desk. This is supposed to be a revolutionary tactic?

What the record industry doesn't seem to get is that the future of music has already passed them by. People don't want big record executive dictating what will be popular. They want to figure it out for themselves. This is why, for better or worse, things like Pitchfork are so popular. In the age of digital sharing, it's far better for bands just to have their music heard than to get signed with a label.

It seems that the record industry wants ownership over the intellectual product of music, even if it's not in the best interest of the creator. Rubin talked of a way the industry screwed up with Neil Diamond:

"The CD debuted at No. 4," Rubin told me at Hugo's, still sounding upset. "It was the highest debut of Neil'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."

It doesn't seem that they're getting it right. What they don't seem to get is that the advantage to creativity is that it inspires others. By letting go a little on protections, we can create a richer culture.

Cross-posted on campusprogress.org/blog.

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