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Sunday, September 02, 2007


Deaf Jam

The Rick Rubin profile in the New York Times Magazine is truly eye-opening. Rubin is a very smart guy. But that only underscores what dire straits the recording industry is in. After five pages talking about Columbia's daring in hiring Rubin to save the label, we learn just how the legendary producer would do it:
Rubin has a bigger idea. To combat the devastating impact of file sharing, he, like others in the music business (Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine at Universal, for instance), says that the future of the industry is a subscription model, much like paid cable on a television set. "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."

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."

Dear God. If that's the genius idea, start building the coffin. It's hard to know for sure from the description here, but it certainly sounds to me like the industry wants to move away from the straightforward model where you buy music and own it, to one where you merely rent access to a feed (the more you pay, the more access you get), which I assume you lose all as soon as you fail to pay your monthly subscription fee. Guys, people love their iPods, and the cable TV model sucks ass. Your eagerness to destroy the former and emulate the latter shows you as devils, morons or both. Right now people either buy the tracks they like for a buck or less a pop, or they grab what they want for free. Any system that curtails the listener's possession of music, and the flexibility that provides, will be roundly rejected. Subscription only sounds like a good deal for the labels and their executives on velvet couches--and it only reveals their desperation.

Speaking of which, Rubin's co-label president Steve Barnett wants to make up lost revenue by extorting 50% of concert, online and merchandising proceeds from artists. What an awesome incentive for a band to sign.

I like Danzig II: Lucifuge as much as anybody, but I walk away from this article thinking Rubin is trying to save a system that clearly deserves to die. These people could have priced CDs at $8-$10 (given the format's lower manufacturing costs than cassettes) but instead they went for the short money and ripped everyone off for upwards of $20 a disc at the major retailers. They could have supported iTunes and its competitors. (Hey, Universal, good luck selling your own shit for $3 a track or whatever you end up charging. The NYT article refers to Apple's across-the-board 99 cent song pricing as a problem, but it's one of the precious few things associated with the music industry that shows any respect for music fans--so of course the industry wants to kill it.)

There is no easy answer to file sharing, but it's hard to see the industry go down ugly, trying to force a new model that effectively takes the music you buy away from you in order to secure their increasingly irrelevant place in the profit chain.

Eerie! My catchphrase-complaint of the last little while has been that the record industry somewhere got the idea they had a divine right to make money on every time anybody heard music, never mind buying it...and now, holy cats, turns out I was righter than I knew.

Well, pride goeth before a fall, I guess.
So, basically, radio + fees.

Yeah, this is a step up.
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