Rick Rubin in the Times Magazine

September 4, 2007


Did you read the Rick Rubin cover story of the New York Times Magazine? It makes one wonder how the music industry as it is presently constituted ever was as cool as our parents actually said it was. Even Hollywood, sometimes, seems to cower like a pimpled geek before the all-encompassing coolness of the music industry, whose disasterous business model had Courtney Love howling  aloud into the night at the turn of the milennium: How could she be broke (Exaggerated cough suggesting feigned detachment)!

Instead of flowing and vibing with the Napster business model — which was, admittedly, flawed — this soi-dissant Olympus of Cool-and-Hip took a thumoeideutic sledge-hammer by the name of Hillary Rosen to the digital music revolution.

 And that solved nothing.

Did the RIAA really think that penniless, digitally-literate and smart college students — angel-headed hipsters — could afford to spend $20 on a CD? Or, worse, $100 on 5? Music is the soundtrack of the college experience; nothing is going to stop a kid from getting his music-on. Come on now. The “cool” music industry should have caught that flavor. Did the ultra-litigious RIAA — suing a 12-year old? How “assy” was that? — truly think that students wouldn’t find some way around the outrageousness of the pricing schema. Why pay $20 for a CD where the listener only wants 3 songs.

 And so here we are. A digital music universe. This time, Steve Jobs — not Sean Fanningtrumped the music industry. And so the industry is looking to Rick Rubin (Always more of a creative type than a suit), the coolest kid in the class, to save their hash. It’s probably too late. From the NYTimes:

“‘The most important thing we have to do now is get the art right. So many of the decisions at these companies have not been about the music. They sign artists for the wrong reasons — because they think somebody else wants them or if they need to have a record out by a certain date. That old way of doing things is obsolete, but luckily, fear is making the record companies less arrogant. They’re more open to ideas. So, what’s important now is to find music that’s timeless. I still believe that if an artist gains the belief of the listener, then anything is possible.'”

With all due respect to Rick Rubin, it is not the Art, but the business model that needs tending. A college student would not pay $20 for a CD so that 11 A-&-R guys could smoke hydroponic and maybe check out a few acts and “get-back-to-you-later,” bro. The old way of running things — and it sounded like a blast — is over. In the future, musicians are going to have to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and manage their own careers — Art to Business; soup to nuts — a la music revolutionaries Ani DiFranco and Prince. Or else, if they are too lazy, hire a middleman. But a middleman is not a record label. No one needs a record label — or Rolling Stone Magazine, for that matter — in a digital universe where the listeners and the influential music blogs are the gatekeepers.

But it is never going back to the way it was.

Ron Mwangaguhunga


One Response to “Rick Rubin in the Times Magazine”

  1. […] and MTV.com can thank the bad behavior of rock stars for their ratings gains. The slow, creeping death of the music industry notwithstanding, Sumner Redstone — who, no doubt, kept a fish eye on the MTV Music Awards […]

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