- "The music business, as a whole, has lost its faith in content," David Geffen, the legendary music mogul, told me recently. "Only 10 years ago, companies wanted to make records, presumably good records, and see if they sold. But panic has set in, and now it's no longer about making music, it's all about how to sell music. Of course, the music business hasn't been about making music for decades now. Its primary focus had been on manufacturing and distributing aluminum disks coated with plastic, regardless of what was on them. The major rift between producers and consumers that Napster demonstrated - and that the music industry failed to realize - was that the industry was focused on selling a product which, to the consumers, was essentially a waste by-product of what they actually wanted.
- "Everything I do," Rubin told me earlier, "whether it's producing, or signing an artist, always starts with the songs. When I'm listening, I'm looking for a balance that you could see in anything. Whether it's a great painting or a building or a sunset. There's just a natural human element to a great song that feels immediately satisfying." ... "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 That old way of doing things is obsolete, but luckily, fear is making the record companies less arrogant.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." Although this view may defy conventional, albeit cynical, wisdom among many industry executives, it is born out by the amazing success of Paul Potts in Britain's Got Talent.
- "The Big Red focus groups were both depressing and informative... The kids all said that a) no one listens to the radio anymore, b) they mostly steal music, but they don't consider it stealing, and c) they get most of their music from iTunes on their iPod. They told us that MySpace is over, it's just not cool anymore; Facebook is still cool, but that might not last much longer; and the biggest thing in their life is word of mouth. That's how they hear about music, bands, everything." Of course, the importance of word of mouth, and it's electronic counterpart, word of mouse, is a direct effect of our UCaPP world.
- Seemingly overnight, the entire industry is collapsing. Sales figures on top-selling CDs are about 30 percent lower than they were a year ago, and the usual remedies aren't available. Since radio is no longer a place to push a single, record companies have turned to television and movies. ... songs that are heard on popular shows like "Grey's Anatomy" become instantly desirable. When the Columbia artist Brandi Carlile's song "The Story" was featured on the ABC show, it posted a 15 percent jump in sales and was downloaded 19,000 times in one week. Before being heard on the show, the song had been available for nearly two months without any notable interest. This makes sense. Since music has, for the most part, become environmental - devices like iPods enabling its users to create the soundtrack for their personal environment - advertising and promoting music should likely follow suit and become environmental.
- "Until very recently," Rubin told me over lunch at Hugo's, a health-conscious restaurant in Hollywood, "there were a handful of channels in the music business that the gatekeepers controlled. They were radio, Tower Records, MTV, certain mainstream press like Rolling Stone. That's how people found out about new things. Every record company in the industry was built to work that model. There was a time when if you had something that wasn't so good, through muscle and lack of other choices, you could push that not very good product through those channels. And that's how the music business functioned for 50 years. Well, the world has changed. And the industry has not."
In keeping with the word of mouth promotion, Rubin's excitement with Britain's Got Talent winner, Paul Potts (now signed with Columbia) comes through in the article. Naturally, I had never heard of this amazing, undiscovered opera singer, but several millions of YouTube viewers now have. Here's his first, remarkable audition for the show, and his final, winning performance. What is surprising and telling about the Potts phenomenon, is how his chosen genre - opera - would be dismissed or marginalized by conventional pop record producers - witness the BGT judges' initial reactions in his audition video. But, as Rubin notes, "There's just a natural human element to a great song that feels immediately satisfying." ... "The most important thing we have to do now is get the art right."
The entire article is worth reading for Rubin's refreshing insights on how the music industry can retrieve its roots.
[Technorati tags: rick rubin | music industry | columbia records | paul potts | britain's got talent]