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The Future of the Music Business

I don’t know if they care one way or the other, but the TIs at Sony (TJs?) could’ve consulted with me before they installed Rick Rubin as the fake CEO of Columbia Records, and I would’ve told them: go ahead and save your money. Because there’s no way Rick Rubin is about to “save the recording industry.”

Now, it could be the case that they just plain don’t give a shit. They figure, “What the fuck, the record business is going down the tubes anyway? Might as well bring this guy Rubin in.” And then, when the shit really starts to fall apart, they can just blame him, like, “See, we tried doing the right thing – getting a guy with an actual background in music to run a record label – and look what happened?”

Never underestimate the craftiness of one of these tall Israelis. Er, Japanese in this case. (I’m sure if you dig deep enough, the company is not actually owned by the Japanese anyway.)

The sad thing is, I think these people may be genuinely under the impression that Rick Rubin is capable of saving the record business. Or at least they feel like he’s their best bet anyway. Nothing against the guy (I still enjoy Licensed to Ill as if it was a milkshake), but nothing about his big cover story in the Times Magazine suggested to me that he’d be capable of saving a lot of money on his car insurance with Geico, let alone a major corporation.

His best idea, unless he’s got another one he’s keeping secret for the time being (again, craftiness) is some sort of box you carry around that’s got every song there ever was in it. What, like an iPod? But I guess the difference is that you don’t actually own any of the music, but rather you subscribe to it for a whopping $19.99 a month - which I suppose is at least $19.99 more than the vast majority of us would spend on music in a month otherwise. But we won’t mind, because it’s just that convenient.

A few problems with this plan:

First of all, I’m at a loss for what’s so wrong with my current method of accessing music, which is to steal as much of it as I want and listen to it whenever the fuck I want for free. (Note: I’ve never stolen anything a day in my life. I’m like a Muslim… except for the sexual hang-ups and the whole tendency towards violence. Well, maybe a few sexual hang-ups, but violence is wrong.) This plan of Rick Rubin’s would have to be pretty fucking convenient for me to even consider anything else. Like, it would have to come with a free blow job (from a woman) or something.

Also, I’m aware that Rick Rubin is a Jew (albeit one of these ones who claims he’s a Buddhist), which I’m sure makes him – in a round about way – a member of the DeBeers family, and if he had to, he could probably make a few phone calls… but how in the fuck is he going to sell me access to every song there ever was? I mean, I could be mistaken (remember, I was pre-med), but if he’s the fake CEO of Columbia Records, doesn’t that mean he only has access to their catalog and the catalogs of their subsidiaries? (Which, to be fair, I’m sure are fucking vast. You know how these corporations are these days.)

Oh, but wait. Rick Rubin’s got a plan for this as well. See, that’s why he’s the fake CEO of Columbia Records and yours truly has gotta call his day job at the BGM to see if he can get more hours next week, because he’s tired of eating lunch meat 10 and 15 times a week. Rick Rubin’s plan to cut through the industry red tape: Why not just take all of the record companies there ever was and make them one big uber-label? As crazy as it sounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually tried this one. It’d definitely be in keeping with the trend in the past 10 years or so.

The story in the Times Magazine also touches on what I think might actually be the best idea to save the record business, which is for the labels to get in on the money these artists make from touring, merchandising and what have you. Which is probably where all of the real money always was anyway, but the major labels never bothered, because they already had the ridonkulously lucrative but ultimately unsustainable business of selling records, tapes, and CDs. So now they’re in the weird position of going broke while the artists themselves are worth hundreds of million dollars because they have their own clothing lines, energy drinks and what have you.

You have to assume this has crossed Rick Rubin’s mind as well (again, craftiness), but for his part, he’s not gonna say whether that’s in his plans one way or the other. And you get the idea that this is not because he doesn’t feel like it’s a good idea business-wise, but rather because he’s afraid it might piss off the artists. For example, Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks, who has nothing but nice things to say about the guy (hmm…) bristles at the idea of having to cut a check from her touring money to the label. She’s convinced he would never even consider such a thing.

But you wonder how difficult this would be, really, to pull off. It might be a tough sell for an established artist like the Dixie Chicks, who know better and don’t really stand to benefit, but fuck them anyway. They should die in a grisly plane crash for what they did to “Landslide” alone, though I suppose they do deserve props for having the balls, if you will, to stand up to President Sieg Howdy. But what about somebody like R. Kelly, who obviously can’t read his contract anyway? How difficult could it be to slip some language in there explaining that the label gets a percentage of his tour money?

Which brings me to my point. We can go back and forth about hackneyed distribution models all day, but when it comes down to it, I think we all know that the real way these record labels make money is by finding kids in poor neigborhoods who don’t know any better and getting them to signed fucked up contracts. As long as nothing ever happens to this, the real key to making money in the music business (and something tells me it won’t), these TIs will eventually find a way to get back in the high life again, if I may reference the classic Steve Winwood record. You don’t think they came this far just to give this shit all up, do you?

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