More Rick Rubin

In  retrospect, hiring Rick Rubin to run Big Red was a massive mistake.

Yup, Rick’s running it.  From a distance.  He doesn’t go to the office, he doesn’t communicate, he dropped a ton of acts, there’s a wild cabal running the label and the worker bees have no clue what’s going on.

How did this happen?

A fuck-up this bad hasn’t been "masterminded" since David Puttnam was handed the reins at Columbia Pictures.  You don’t take an offbeat producer and put him in charge of the whole enchilada.  You don’t make Steve Saleen head of General Motors.  You give the enfant terrible a production deal, his own playground.  Or you hand him a moribund company and tell him to turn it around.  You don’t put him in charge of your MAIN DIVISION!

Rick Rubin at Columbia just insures that BMG will own this partnership.  What a screw-up.

I mean he’s gonna start from essentially zero and build a company that can compete with Clive’s?  Shit, he won’t even be able to compete with JIVE!

They didn’t give Bob Krasnow Warner Brothers.  They gave him Elektra Asylum, that had lost a ton of money, that was in jeopardy as a standalone entity.  The fact that he moved the label to the east coast and fired most of the acts didn’t matter.  The company was a tear-down.  The name and a couple of acts was all it had.  Credit the powers-that-be for recognizing this, they assessed reality and gave a personality a chance, an opportunity to build a unique company, in his own vision.

If Rick Rubin is so pissed off about Sony’s building, acts and financial structure, why didn’t Rob Stringer give him HIS OWN company, in a building of his choice, with new deals?  Would that be so hard to do?  What advantage was gained by putting him in charge of Columbia?  In what world is an absentee king a good ruler of a failing empire?  Hiring Rick Rubin is like letting the King of Greece run the U.K. because he’s done a good job in his own country.  But what about the peculiarities of the U.K?  What about the fact that people speak a different language?  The U.K. isn’t Cyprus, it’s a complicated behemoth.  Rick Rubin is running Columbia like it’s Chrysalis.  And last I checked, Chrysais NEVER ruled the music business.  Sold a ton of Tull, then Blondie, Pat Benatar and Huey Lewis, but it wasn’t a FULL SERVICE COMPANY!  Columbia is a FULL SERVICE COMPANY!

Columbia Records has pop acts.  And Tony Bennett.  It’s got to sell teen pop and hip shit and flavor of the moment ALL AT THE SAME TIME!  You don’t want someone in the studio, you want someone on the phone, surfing the Web, watching television, in touch with the ZEITGEIST.  So he can swoop down and execute miracles.  Columbia is the Yankees.  Playing 162 games a year, competing for the pennant.  Not the Segway polo team that gets a lot of press.

Sure, the music business needs to be reinvented.  But we don’t need revolution, but EVOLUTION!  Columbia needs someone to shepherd it from the past to the present to the future.  So far, Mr. Rubin doesn’t look like that guy.  Sure, files are going to overtake CDs, but not TODAY!  So, a company has to sell CDs while PREPARING for the day files take over.  You can’t be too early, and you can’t be too late.  Those in charge have been too late.  Now Rick Rubin is frustrated that the business isn’t functioning as it should in 2013.  Rick, you’ve got to BRING IT THERE!

Def Jam stood for something.  Asylum did so before it.  And I’m sure you can mention a bunch of albums you could buy by the label.  But those companies were SMALL, with very little product.  Columbia’s sole image was as a monolith.  It stood for nothing sound-wise.  Nothing wrong with that, it was in a different BUSINESS than Def Jam or Asylum.

Making Rick Rubin head of Columbia is like trying to solve Chrysler’s problems by turning it into BMW.  Sure, BMW makes great cars, but it sells NICHE PRODUCTS!  Chrysler is competing with Toyota, it’s got to offer a broad range of vehicles.  BMW is a completely different business model.  Sell high quality at premium prices to the elite.  If you want to hire Rick Rubin to do this, fine.  Have him sign the new R.E.M., the new U2, the new Johnny Cash and purvey them with an innovative business model.  Maybe a subscription to THEIR club.  You pay a lot and you get not only finished product and demos, but a t-shirt and a ticket to the monster gig in the Nevada desert.  But you can’t sell Kelly Clarkson that way.  And you can’t sell Kanye that way.  And those are what’s selling today.

Columbia needs mainstream product, TODAY!  Sure, it also needs hip, innovative product.  It needs it ALL!

Rick Rubin isn’t on the way to delivering it all, he’s on the road to destroying a major company, turning it into a shadow of itself, at most a marginally successful miniature.  And I say marginally successful because ever since Rick’s been divorced from Russell Simmons, he’s not made big money as Def American and then American Recordings.  Great record producer, great finder and signer and developer of raw talent? NO!

So now the label’s been dismantled.  They’re starting over close to ground zero.  You’d be better off with Donnie Ienner.  WHOOPS, they fired Donnie.  He lost out in a power struggle.

If  you think Rick Rubin can beat the Germans/Clive at their own game, you’re just not a student of history.

If Rob Stringer wasn’t Howard’s brother, he’d be looking for a new job soon.  This idea was good dinner table fodder, but giving Rick Rubin Columbia was pure folly.

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  1. […] and ended up parting ways with Epic amid some very negative press coverage, and Rick Rubin has come in for some criticism for his running of Columbia. But Kierszenbaum seems to have the balance right. He doesn’t […]

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  1. […] and ended up parting ways with Epic amid some very negative press coverage, and Rick Rubin has come in for some criticism for his running of Columbia. But Kierszenbaum seems to have the balance right. He doesn’t […]

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