There’s a great article from the Sunday Times magazine on music guru, Rick Rubin.  It’s nice to see that a corporation, even one as huge as Sony, is finally trying to get itself out of the corner that the music industry has painted itself into over the last decade.

It’s hard to think that one man is going to be able to get the sinking ship afloat again, but his insights are definitely refreshing, and he seems far enough out of the corporate grind to bring something unique to the party:

The Columbia job is a different kind of reclamation project, but Rubin knows that, just possibly, he could restore an entire institution to greatness. “I can imagine people coming up with brilliant, creative ideas here,” Rubin told the architects as they finished their tour of the building. “But Sony has to agree. I’m not sure they realize that they are selling art. Right now they could be selling any product. That’s why we have to move ? we’re in the art business.”

Unfortunately innovation tends to be truly unkind to businesses that can’t keep up, and music has it tougher than most content providers.  After all, there’s little or no difference between experiencing the viral nature of a pop song and owning the song itself.  You don’t “sample” a track, you get the whole thing and decide to make it part of your life.  When radio became powerful at the beginning of the modern music era you still had to go out and get the record. With an mp3 you can discover a song and add it to your library at the same time.  But you can’t control that market, and to an industry as entrenched (and often corrupt) as music, they’ve decided that they have to criminalize discovery. 

But that hasn’t stopped it from happening, so music is such a strong part of the web 3.0 phenomenon, despite most of its real successes makes the industry very upset.  But attacking the audience has always been a laughably stupid idea, and it won’t pay off here.

For a while I was preaching the idea that the product sold the packaging, and that if you could offer consumers a way to get quality music with all the bells and whistles they’d pay you for the privilege.  But the community has been ignored long enough that automated tools have come along that let you fix any files you might have that are broken.  Even iTunes let’s you search for record covers and update your track info.  They’ve missed the boat twice now, and I’m not sure it’s going to swing around for a third time.

But music itself has been around long before there was an industry, and it’ll survive it’s destruction. Rubin can see the writing on the wall:

“Either all the record companies will get together or the industry will fall apart and someone like Microsoft will come in and buy one of the companies at wholesale and do what needs to be done,” he said. “The future technology companies will either wait for the record companies to smarten up, or they’ll let them sink until they can buy them for 10 cents on the dollar and own the whole thing.”

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