Rick Rubin: Music Biz Could Be Bigger Than Ever

image from www.google.com Recorded music sales continue to struggle and the leadership at the top of Sony Music is shifting, but Rick Rubin continues to exhibit the Zen master attitude that's helped to make him a legendary force in music both as a producer and recently as co-chairman of Columbia Records. The music industry “could be a bigger business than it’s ever been,” states an optimistic Rubin.

"People…are willing to pay for music."

"People love music more than they ever have and … are willing to pay for music." The trick, Rubin recently told Billboard, is that the execs need to figure out how to get them to pay: “I think with certain artists you want to hear their album … and then there are other artists who I like where maybe it's more about the single. I don't think there is going to be one way that everything works. I think people will have many more options and choices of how to digest music, and hopefully the labels will get to the point where they are in the business of serving the audience instead of trying to hold on to an old model.” 

The goal of the label should be to diversify the way that it caters to the audience, and to do that, the old standard of the album package must be altered.  "I always felt like if we do what is best interest of the artist, in the long term it will always benefit us – always," Rubin said.

This guest post if by Mark Rutkowski.

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  1. That’s an insightful comment worthy of publishing? Wow, haven’t heard that before!

  2. I love how these guys think. It’s almost like the feel they have to trick the fan into buying. “We need to figure out how to get them to pay”. You know what, you don’t need to figure out anything. It’s easy…
    First, create good music, then charge a fair price for it. A fair price is not $10, it’s maybe $4. (i’m talking digital here).

  3. $4 for an album. I struggle to see how any artist could survive if were only willing to pay that much.

  4. I see Rick Rubin’s ideas are as bland as his production skills. Uh, could you be a little more specific, Rick?
    I also thing $4-$5 is more of a fair price for an album. It costs NOTHING to reproduce digital. NOTHING. Consider the fact that you’d still be making money from the sale of the content purchased, this doesn’t seem to be so terrible. I personally think that more people would buy music if it were more affordable. As it stands, the price is just too damn high and people have an alternative to download for free.
    Free album download at http://www.facebook.com/chancius

  5. @RobL – I’ve done very well selling my books @ 99c. John Locke, and indie author who sells his books for 99c has just crossed the million sold mark- in 5 months. That translates to $350,000 in his pocket.
    Amanda Hocking, another author, has crossed over the million dollar mark a few months back. Her books are 99c-2.99. She just signed w/ a publishers for I believe $2 million.
    Yes, these examples are authors, because I haven’t met anyone in music who is willing to do this, or has done it. Books or music, no difference.
    The reason this is working is because the thought is, “it’s only a buck, why not”. John Locke who I mentioned earlier is selling 12K books a day. How many bands, even big ones signed to a big label are doing that? When I see sales numbers for these guys, it’s more like first week sales are 22k.
    The problem with this is that there is no mechanism in place for musicians to sell at these prices, except for their website, which won’t have the same impact.
    Amazon let’s me set the price of my book, but they don’t offer that to music. Apple is the same way. You have to sell at “the standard”.
    My hope is that Amazon is still thinking about doing something with their Aime St. purchase and create a platform for musicians that exists for authors.
    Amazon, not Apple, really has the power to put Indie music on the map.

  6. Fair pricing would depend on the quality of the music. The value of music is intrinsic. It’s not about the plastic or the bytes. So for $4, I wouldn’t expect quality. If someone puts out a good album end to end, then I’ll gladly pay $20, simply b/c consistently great music is hard to write and produce.

  7. That said though, what would you think of a pricing scheme that would reflect talent? I.e. the more talented the artist, the pricier the album? Wouldn’t that be on the same level as physical goods, where pricing depends on the quality of materials and craftsmanship of the manufacturer?

  8. The solution is simple:
    – Listening & enjoying (I won’t use the word “digesting”) is easy!
    – To give back, a few bucks for enjoyment with a little thank you note is not possible.
    We are working to make giving back possible.
    In this paradigm. I am sorry to say that there is no use for “the Biz”
    Rick Rubin almost said it himself:
    “People love music more than they ever have and … are willing to pay for music,” he said. “It’s just a question of finding the best way for that to happen, without holding onto any of the past….
    I think it’s going to be a big business — a bigger business than it has ever been.”

  9. Rubin is exactly right! Major labels continue to fight their consumers instead of re-inventing music merchandising. Rick is on point as always much like his stellar production work on “99 Problems.” If you don’t see Rick’s brilliance, then YOU AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION!

  10. Alex, who decides what’s talent? There’s a lot of stuff out there that I think is talentless, but the masses disagree.
    Stop thinking about music as art (during the selling process, not the creation process), unless you don’t want to make a living at it. To people, most people, they look at it as “an album”. It’s not art, it’s a widget.
    The question is, do you want to create art, or do you want a comfortable living creating music that people enjoy and can afford to purchase?

  11. I think there’s one song that makes me a believer in Rick Rubin as a producer and that is a song he did with Jay Z, who I’m not a big fan of, cuz I don’t like rap very much, but there was something about that song that made me like it, and a big part of it was in the production. Then the records he did with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond were just awesome, simple and capturing the essence of the artists soul. There’s a reason almost everything he touches turns to gold, he’s striking a chord, big time. As far as business, yeah this little article was lacking in more information, but illustrates maybe a beginning to getting the major labels to change. Whatever… just typing the first thing that came to my head after I read this and some comments… stream of consciousness brothers and sisters, that’s all it is.

  12. I fail to see how those two are mutually exclusive, unless we choose to shift the music industry into deeper fascism instead of towards the free-market.
    The lower you price an album, the creators will want to increase throughput, and to increase throughput, they will decrease quality. And since it’s “subjective”, they will get away with it. That’s what I’m wary of. Setting the wrong global trend so that it favors those who can play the numbers game (the guys wearing suits) at the expense of quality.
    Looking at some of your comments below, I agree the market should allow more experimentation with the prices. Then we could have some more data on how $1 albums compare to $5 albums or to $10 albums, both for indies and for major label acts. It’d be nice to have some data on rigid prices vs ones that allow an instant “donation” too.

  13. The problem is, price is only one piece of the puzzle. Remember, this is a business, and you can price your record for 50c, but if nobody know it exists, it wont sell.
    My point is, having reasonable pricing is a part of that. If your fans think $8.99, then great, if they don’t, well there’s always the day job.
    There is no standard, there is no data. Each band/aritst will have to make it by working with their fans, not just throwing out stuff and see what sticks.

  14. Does anyone think about what it costs to record an album anymore? A good sounding record is not cheap. While a band can stomach to loose some money on their first album by giving it away for free (and on their first tours), you cant continue to price albums below the cost of creation. I think its a great idea to work with your fans and not standardize pricing. Music is not expensive. Artists pour way more blood sweat and tears into their craft today and get paid less for it. I think most just want to make a living. Its important for us not to devalue music and the intrinsic costs of creation.

  15. @WG, no they don’t think about it. Do you think what goes into making the device you used to post your comment? Do you think about the work involved making the pizza you just ordered?
    Your fans don’t care that you spent $5K recording your album. They just care about listening to good music, just like you just care about eating good pizza.
    Again, if you want to sell art, it will be nothing but a hobby, because people don’t look at it like art. Art is painting, sculptures, you know the stuff in museums. Art isn’t the new Lady Gaga album. You and I know that music is an art, but it’s not perceived that way, so you shouldn’t try to sell it that way.
    I don’t buy into the argument that lower prices devalue the record.
    Think about this. If you sell your next record for $4.99. And you sell a bunch of copies because people are willing to give it a chance because it’s cheap. They like it, they talk about, you sell more records, and before you know it, you made 30 or 40K on the deal, isn’t that better than making a few thousand selling them at 9.99. Tell me how your art is devalued in that? It’s actually worth more.
    There are artists out there making livings doing music, and they aren’t on labels. It’s entirely possible, but you need to have an open mind and be willing to look at from the fan perspective.
    You don’t control pricing, the fan does. You can create the illusion that you are better by pricing your stuff at $10, but ultimately the fan only has so much money to spend.
    Let’s not forget how easy it is to listen to music for free- youtube, pandora…

  16. So it costs ‘nothing’ to reproduce a digital? I think legitimate distributors like Amazon and iTunes would disagree. It requires servers and websites and people to run them, and lawyers and accountants and designers, all of which cost ‘something’, not ‘nothing’.
    But granted that the cost of ‘reproduction’ is relatively small, what is relevant to the fairness of the price is the total cost of production, which in the case of records involves studios and equipment and computers and software and musical instruments (which are often very expensive – a concert grand piano can cost $70,000)and producers and engineers and (sometimes) session musicians. Oh, and the artists themselves need to eat.
    Of course the cost of production varies enormously with the type of artist and record. Someone like Seasick Steve can probably go into a studio with his guitar and make a record very quickly and cheaply (I don’t know if he does), whereas recording with a full orchestra at Abbey Road is going to cost a fortune. And some artists do a lot of their own production and technical work.
    So it is really impossible to generalise about what is ‘fair’, even if by this you just mean a price that covers the cost of production and distribution plus a reasonable payment to the artist for their time, experience, and talent.

  17. That actually doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. A creator of music has a variety of fixed costs they deserve to recover once they sell their product (assuming it’s a good product that will sell): cost of equipment, studio time, recording costs, attorneys fees, other advisors, managers….everyone seems to forget that though it is art, as with any business or industry, there are component costs in the creation of the product which the creator deserves to recover (assuming it is a product that will sell in the first instance). So low-balling costs on the basis of “it’s digital” or on the basis of some impossible to measure metric such as the level of talent, strike me as ridiculous, highly offensive proposals.

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