the take

Ailing Record Company Adopts a New Strategy: Magic!

A still from Rick Rubin and the Sorcerer’s Stone.Photo: Getty Images (Rubin), Courtesy of Warner Brothers (Potter)

“Can Rick Rubin Save the Music Business?” asks the cover of Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Short answer: No. Long answer: Nooooooooo. In a profile by Lynn Hirshberg, the superproducer turned industry mogul is described as a “guru,” hired as the co-head of Columbia Records to “save the company … [a]nd maybe just the record business” with the “simultaneously mystical and entirely decisive way he listens to a song.” Yes, that’s just bound to work!

Hirshberg was apparently awed by Rubin’s New Age–y lifestyle (“[He] fingers a string of lapis lazuli Buddhist prayer beads, believed to bring wisdom to the wearer”) and the trancelike state in which he listens to demo tapes (“His eyes are tightly closed and he is swaying back and forth to the beat, trying to hear what is right and wrong about the music”). “And you wonder why people don’t buy CDs anymore,” Rubin says aloud after being disappointed by one submission, even though everyone knows that iPods are the reason people don’t buy CDs anymore.

A lesser company might have hired a businessperson or someone who understands technology to run a record label in 2007, so credit the out-of-touch heads at Columbia for making the impressive decision to appoint the one guy more out of touch than they are (“Despite its popularity, Rubin has never seen American Idol, and he had never heard of Simon Cowell”). While we certainly have no problems with his status as one of the greatest producers in pop history — he is responsible for “99 Problems,” after all — he doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing running a major label. His one big idea is that the music industry should adopt a subscription model, which, for a small monthly fee, would allow people to download all the music they wanted. This maybe would have worked back in 1998 before people started downloading all the music they wanted to for free. “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,” says Rubin in the piece. We can probably expect this to happen any minute.

The Music Man [NYT]

Ailing Record Company Adopts a New Strategy: Magic!