(courtesy New York Magazine)
Over Labor Day, my girlfriend Missy and I were spent the weekend Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. The weather was gorgeous, the food tremendous and the laid back atmosphere mixed with sea salt from the ocean air was a welcome respite from our busy New York City lives.
On Saturday, we rented bikes and rode over to Oak Bluffs for lunch, ice cream and a little window shopping. Later that evening, upon our return to the quaint and homey Crocker House Inn, a quiet and well kept bed & breakfast in Vineyard Haven, I found our hosts had set out the early edition of the Sunday New York Times. Keeping with my normal traditions, I dug out my favorite section, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and was surprised to find legendary producer and record man, Rick Rubin, cross-legged on the cover, looking much like the guru his peers consider him to be.
I’ve never met Rick, but over the years I’ve heard the stories. How we started Def Jam in a dorm room at NYU. His collaborations with LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, artists who transformed hip hop and rap from an underground art form into crossover music for the masses. And, his salvaging of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a group who were about to disappear from the public consciousness until Rick worked his magic and brought them back from sure obscurity to critical acclaim.
Having worked in the music industry for over 20-years, I’d heard Rick wasn’t the media type. You never heard much from him in the press. He seemed to work so quietly in the background, you’d never know he was still around. He let the music speak for itself as he quietly pulled the right strings behind the scenes that needed pulling or created opportunities out of thin air. Times have certainly changed. Rick Rubin, always a guy who identified with the anti-establishment forces in the music industry, has taken on the role of running Sony/BMG’s flagship label, Columbia Records.
With its origins tracing back to the late 1800’s, Columbia Records–once a shining star in the music industry–has been hard pressed to achieve the success it once enjoyed with superstar artists like Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Billy Joel and hundreds of others.
Recently, Rubin was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. He jumped from running his label, Def American, to head up an imprint that is one of the most recognizable brands in music today. And, this Sunday Times Magazine article has become one of the most talked about pieces of music journalism on music industry related blogs, list serves and newsgroups.
The venerable and outspoken music industry blogger, Bob Lefsetz immediately voiced his opinion on Rick’s move to Columbia Records.
Greg Coolfer from Coolfer.com also checked in on the story, and providing a general opinion on the move.
Newsgroups from sites like ProSoundWeb have hundreds, if not thousands of responses to this article.
And, of course, other news organizations have picked up on the story and are weighing in with their own articles, like this one from The Register, a U.K. news organization.
New Yorker’s have spoken up. This piece by New York Magazine Vulture editors doubts the move will lead to much of anything and predicts that Rubin is right in thinking a big new media or technology company will come in and buy a major for “10 cents on the dollar.”
I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think Rick Rubin is going to be able to save Columbia Records? He says it’s about the art, but in an era of downloading, how is he going to generate revenues for the artists he’s going to sign? As a producer, he’s got his ear on the pulse, but does he have a clue when it comes to leveraging technology to make money and keep the ship afloat?
It all remains to be seen. One thing I do agree with, is his idea to move everyone out of the 550 Madison building in NYC and the Colorado Avenue building in Santa Monica. Record labels need to think like new media companies and act like them. Find more creative digs. A loft space, an old abandoned factory. Make art again and be accesible to the street to drive creative energy and feed of the youth. Hold concerts for new bands in your backyard everyday. Record it. And, put it out on the web. Create a buzz. Make music fun again and you’ll win back your audience and your profits.