rick rubin makes columbia records less irrelevant September 2, 2007Posted by KG in arts/culture, music, news.
photo courtesy of mtv
from nytimes magazine:
Rubin, wearing his usual uniform of loose khaki pants and billowing white T-shirt, his sunglasses in his pocket, his feet bare, fingers a string of lapis lazuli Buddhist prayer beads, believed to bring wisdom to the wearer. Since Rubin’s beard and hair nearly cover his face, his voice, which is soft and reassuring, becomes that much more vivid. He seems to be one with the room, which is lined in floor-to-ceiling books, most of which are of a spiritual nature, whether about Buddhism, the Bible or New Age quests for enlightenment. The library and the house are filled with religious iconography mixed with mementos from the world of pop. A massive brass Buddha is flanked by equally enormous speakers; vintage cardboard cutouts of John, Paul, George and Ringo circa “Help!” are placed around a multiarmed statue of Vishnu. On a low table, there are crystals and an old RadioShack cassette recorder that Rubin uses to listen to demo tapes; a framed photo of Jim Morrison stares at a crystal ball. In Rubin’s world, music and spirituality collide.
In addition to his “never wearing a suit, never traveling, never going to an office” demands, Rubin also suggested (strongly) that Columbia become the first major record company to go green and abolish plastic jewel boxes for all its CDs. “They thought about it and agreed,” Rubin said. “And that made me think they would listen to me. It was also a turning point in terms of how big my reach could be. In the past, I would not normally have access to that kind of sweeping change. At Columbia, I’m able to operate on a much larger scale.”
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.”
For this model to be effective, all the record companies will have to agree. “It’s like getting the heads of the five families together,” said Mark DiDia, referencing “The Godfather.” “It will be very difficult, but what else are we going to do?”
Rubin sees no other solution. “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.”
Rubin, who was wearing, as usual, khaki cargo pants and a white T-shirt, was trailed by two architects who had flown in from Manhattan for this meeting. He discovered these architects, Dominic Kozerski and Enrico Bonetti, when he saw a chair they designed in a magazine layout. Rubin loves research. He’s always on a quest to find just the right thing, whether it be a book or a building. Recently, he hunted down the brand of water that claims to have the greatest level of purity (Ice Age); he pored over architectural manuals to determine what kind of hinge would have been used in 1923 (for his house); and when Johnny Cash was ailing, Rubin discovered a kinesiologist whom Cash credited with extending his life. And so on. Rubin has always been passionate, even compulsive, about his interests.