The New York Times Magazine‘s lead story yesterday was a profile of Rick Rubin, the pop music guru who’s been handed the keys of Sony’s Columbia Records label. It’s a fascinating read for anyone who’s trying to figure out what do do with his/her life in light of the Internet. Rubin’s a very intuitive fellow indeed, and his intuition has changed music over the past 20 years. Sony’s hoping he can figure out how to save the big-music business. As the article sets the scene:

“The mighty music business is in free fall–it has lost control of radio; retail outlets like Tower Records have shut down; MTV rarely broadcasts music videos; and the once lucrative album market has been overshadowed by downloaded singles, which mainly benefits Apple.”

…lost control of radio… Did you see that? At least radio’s at the top of the woe list. Did the music business ever have total control of radio? Maybe. I’d rather think of it as a symbiotic relationship, kind of like the whale and the pilotfish. But radio let go the whale’s head and swore off new music. After about 1980 only a few stations would play a record or artist because it was new. No song got–gets–on the air unless it “researches well.”

So, Music’s loss of control over radio is at least 25 years back. Neither business has been doing all that well creatively since. I wonder if we can put a value on what radio lost by freezing time, opting out of progress. Radio’s done well, but how much more successful and profitable could it have been if it hadn’t thrown away its position as a key player in popular culture? How much better would it be faring in the face of downloading and the IPod?

Can any radio person read about Columbia and Ron Rubin without a significant loss of appetite? Any radio company looking for fresh thinking from intuitive, outside people? Huh-uh.


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