On Rick Rubin and the future of the music business

A couple of days ago, Shyam pointed out to me a well crafted article in the New York Times, romanticising Columbia’s appointing Rick Rubin for producing great music; it appears that he’s the savior for big music labels, that Columbia, in an act of desperation, isn’t playing the big bad music studio anymore, and Rubin is spearheading its revival. It’s one of the finer pieces of article writing I’ve read in a while…

In the article, Rubin goes ahead and suggests that the subscription model is the way to go – that one will pay for subscribing to music, like one does for TV. That’s something that I’d suggested a few months ago…it seems to be the only feasible way out, in an industry where revenues are fast evaporating. Even then, labels will struggle to survive. The way the industry works now is that the labels make the artists popular, and the artists get a little something out of it. They make their money via brand endorsements and doing shows. The problem – the label’s selection process is driven by marketing concerns, so often quality music doesn’t make it beyond the selection process. The Spice Girls is one clear example of a band that was put together after (apparently) the marketing plan had been prepared.

Now two workarounds have emerged for this problem of music label myopia: one is the talent hunts. American Idol (and indeed, Indian Idol) popularise artists who would have otherwise probably never been discovered. Their popularity makes them marketable (though not always a success), and the labels sign them on. The other avenue is digital media. Bands like Phish have put up live recordings of their music online…YouTube and MySpace provide a platform for singers like Terra Naomi: one of the YouTube. The difficulty here again is of editorial selection: the best talent even here might never be discovered if it doesn’t get passed on from person to person. Popularity is again going to influence label selection. As is obvious, the labels are hard pressed to find ways of selecting artists because of overriding marketing concerns.
But Rubin isn’t quite the saviour, says Rob Lefsetz (via PSFK), and the talk about paid subscription was just a plug:

Rubin ends up looking like a spoiled kid, frustrated that he can’t effect change. Shouldn’t that have been part of the deal? That he wouldn’t take the gig without monetized P2P?

But that’s just the point. That WAS in the article. The labels are afraid that although licensed P2P might SAVE them, it might KILL them too. That they might give away the store, kill the recorded music business. They don’t want that blood on their hands, so they won’t change, or will do so slowly…

There IS a crisis. The major labels ARE making music free. They WILL be sold to the highest bidder for a pittance if they don’t solve their problems. But the way out isn’t hiring an iconoclastic, bearded guru, but by changing the INFRASTRUCTURE! Changing how they distribute and CHARGE!

But change can’t happen. Because instead of having student interns, young people have got to WORK at the label. And the labels have fired not only the youth, but everybody who does the day to day work. All they’ve got is executives. So, Columbia has brought in someone hipper.

Fair enough: subscription isn’t the ideal way out and it seems like a plug…but then what is the solution? It’s like me saying that representative democracy isn’t the way out for India because it’s the rule of an uneducated mob, but I don’t have an alternative, do I? The labels are going down, the music business is in free fall, but what, apart from a subscription model will work for them?

The one business I see continuing to thrive amidst this shakeup is of events: I’ve seen that working for the Indian rock scene which gets only independent label support (isn’t much), and almost zero distribution support. If you go to a PlanetM in Delhi, chances are you might find an odd copy of Pentagram’s It’s Ok It’s All Good, but ask them about other Indian Rock Bands, and you’re handed fusion or the Indian classical concerts. CDs get distributed at events. Companies like Nokia, Yamaha and Levis sponsor events like the Great Indian Rock (GIR), and Independence Rock (I-Rock). At GIR this year, Hamsadwani Theatre at Pragati Maidan was packed to capacity, and the organizer said that they had to turn back as many people as they were able to allow in. People pay for live music, and sometimes they buy CDs to “support the scene”. I do.

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Rolling Stone Magazine To Be Launched In India

Well, you’re reading it here first: The Rolling Stone magazine is on its way to India, being launched in collaboration with MW.Com India Private Limited, the Mahindra backed company that publishes Man’s World Magazine.

I don’t know when Rolling Stone will be launched, or even if they will have an India specific website, or even India specific content. I know of one guy who should be writing for Rolling Stone in India – Ravi Balakrishnan – he should be the editor, really. Don’t think he’s willing to give up on his Cannes trips, though.

I’m not sure how this will affect the likes of Rock Street Journal, India’s grand old Rock magazine, since that is more of an events management company than a magazine, really.

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There is still hope…and ‘Voice’

The Supreme Court seems to be the sole institution in this country that is still holding out against the misuse of power that representative democracy allows. I have no faith in the President who chose to sign the Office of Profit bill, and seems to be focused on leaving a legacy with the fantastic PR job that his team is doing. The media has its own compulsions of give and take, and they seem pick up a cause when there isn’t enough entertainment news or cricket to talk about.

Some observations made by the Supreme Court, courtesy IBNlive:

– Reservation cannot be permanent and appear to perpetrate backwardness.
– Nowhere in the world, castes queue to be branded as backward. Nowhere is there a competition to become backward.
– With this Act, the subject of the equality is unduly put under strain.
– What may have been the data in 1931 census, cannot be a determinative factor now.
– There is no explanation as to why there is no firm data for determining backwardness.
– Unless and until it is determined by the Centre who is socially and economically backward, this Act cannot really be given effect.

I believe that citizens should be treated equally under law, and while a socialist government’s job is to ensure that everyone gets equal access resources (by means of deployment of funds), forcing equalization upon a country by divisive means is not its mandate and is counter productive.
Worst comes to worst, I think every school and college that has received government funding should have 100 percent reservations, those who can pay back the government should be allowed to bail out, and schools set up with 100 percent private capital should have no reservations.

Related posts:

On CAT, Reservations and Employability
Reservations about reservations about reservations about…
Email your representative: Dear Mr. Sibal
We shouldn’t forget that…
The Importance of Numbers

While we’re on this topic, do check out the following user generated video for Voice from Pentagram’s new album “It’s Ok, It’s all good”, around the anti-reservations theme…

Some trivia: Pentagram’s manager Vijay Nair was (is?) a key member of Youth For Equality. He’s the co-founder of the label ‘Only Much Louder’.
Another one, for you limers: Vijay is Dunbarish’s brother.
Have been listening to this song all day today, and it makes it to my Indian Top 10. This is an ‘Anthem’, all right.

Download: You may download Voice by Pentagram here, courtesy Nokia.

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The Changing online music landscape: The Final Countdown?

My thoughts when I get time to think this over, but there’s a serious fightback being mounted by the record labels against declining sales because of the digitization of music which makes it easy to share and difficult to track. Not that they’ve not been at it for the last decade, but things seem to be coming to a head.

One thing to take note of is the fact that Artists mostly make money off performances and endorsements, and not record sales.

Some posts from paidcontent:

EMI’s Apparent Business Model: Slower Deals, More Returns
Steve Jobs to Music DRM: Drop Dead
@ MidemNet: Music Industry In Quandary Over DRM
@ MidemNet: Glaser: Do Away With DRM For Downloads
@ MidemNet: MPAA, RIAA, CEA Execs Clash Over DRM & Hardware Controls
Music Industry Taking Brief Break from Usual Practice to Give Customers What They Want
Yahoo Pushes Futher Into MP3; Launches Full Album With Disney Label
Yahoo Offers Unrestricted MP3 Download For $1.99; Considering More
Copyright Ruling Would Make Webcasting Much More Expensive
Once Radio, Retail, MTV Ruled—Now Record Companies Have To Go Through iTunes
ASCAP Lawsuit Seeks To Classify Music Downloads As ‘Public Performance’
Does the Record Industry Want To Kill Internet Radio?

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Whoa! Now where do I get tickets from?

On top of my boithday wishlist is a ticket to the Iron Maiden concert in Bangalore. So, if you know where I can get tickets from, please please please do let me know. Hmm…last went to B’lore nine years ago, and this is as good a reason as any.

An aside, wtf is it with Eddie and Cricket? Who’s designed this stupid poster?

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Rock ‘n Roll Is Dead: RIP James Brown; BMW Movie Series

Like Adi said, looks like the deal with the devil didn’t work out. Which deal? This one:

(if the movie doesn’t load, try this)

RIP James Brown.


(This is one of the BMW short movies, a series which apparently saw over a million downloads. How’s that for creating a buzz? The movie also stars Clive Owen and Gary Oldman, and has a guest appearance by Marilyn Manson. It was directed by Tony Scott. The critical aspect is that the content is high quality, even though it is branded. There is no BMW flashing in your face – it’s a part of the plot. High quality branded content…does such a thing even exist in India? Or even high quality content, for that matter…)

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Some Indian Rock Music Available For Download

The new stuff:

1. Menwhopause have uploaded an album for download at The Pirates Bay, here. This is similar to what TAAQ did, and I kinda hope it catches on and more bands upload their music. I’m skeptical about most Indian rock music, but if I like it – I always buy the CD.
You shouldn’t have a problem downloading the Menwhopause album cause I’ll be seeding it. Will comment on it after I hear the music.

2. Indus Creed/Rock Machine:
Sid Achrekar of long defunct band Colourblind has uploaded music by Indus Creed/Rock Machine for download, here.

Indian Rock Music available for download (some posts, some links):
Them Clones
MP3’s at RSJ Online
MP3’s at Split Magazine

Also, just noticed that the Motherjane site has switched to Flash, and have removed the demo singles. Bah. The Skinny Alley site has turned bright yellow and is being redesigned. Zero’s new site is also in Flash. Why this fascination with Flash?

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At Home with Zero (Sept 16 2006)

“Sharp! Sharp! Sharp!” was what Isheeta’s reminder for the “At Home with Zero” gig at the Garden of 5 senses said. So Adi and I rushed, and the gig started late. Now Zero’s a band that’s famous for not just their music. There’s also Warren’s guitaring that was perhaps amongst the few things noteworthy, apart from the Freak Kitchen performance at GIR earlier this year. The other thing is that they really have a lot of fun on stage, something that also spills over to the other band drummer Sid is in – Helga’s Fun Castle.

While walking to the gig, we overheard one chap suggest that the gig could be washed out. The other patted his pocket and said “Toh kya hua? Idhar seh bhi pi lenge, aur udhar se bhi.” (We’ll drink from here (booze flask in pocket), and there (sky))

The At-Home series has historically attracted a sane crowd, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. People tend to sit their asses down on the grass, and allow the band to play. A polite round of clapping follows after every song. Not. The. Kind. Of. Thing. Zero. Were. Expecting. From. Delhi.

Hence, repeated requests asking for people to get up, stand up, and come closer to the stage followed. Most were fun, and they cracked a lot of jokes. Quite a bit of mimicry, and strange accents. If you’ve heard “Thank You Come Again” by Helga’s Fun Castle, you know what I mean. Great fun, almost as much fun as the music.

The gig was fun. No Warren, I suppose he’s left the band. The new guy was good at times, slightly off tune on other occasions. Zero ended strongly, but three songs before that had all been botched up and were off tune. One was new. My grouse – they’re only carrying copies of Procrastrination, which I already have. No Hook.

Some photos, courtesy Adi:

Adi clicked more photos. The slideshow- here.

Another band that I’ve wanted to hear, TAAQ, (songs from their album Plan B available here) played at IIT Delhi Blitzkrieg. Couldn’t go because it’s for students only. It seems that the Stephens gig has been cancelled, but I wouldn’t have been able to go there anyway, even if it is next door. Would probably have sat in my garden, sipped tea and heard TAAQ.

Really hate this – I’m willing to pay for the gig, and they keep it free and students-only.

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Mayhem at TC

Naah, not what you’re thinking – Sunday’s gig at TC (Update: TC is Turquoise Cottage at Adchini…sorry Reeta :)) wasn’t called “Mayhem”. It just turned out to be the craziest f’in gig I’ve ever been to. I know, I know – I’d said that earlier about the Numero Uno Rock Out last year, but this just beat everything before it. The neckache from headbanging still persists, somewhat aggravated by yesterdays sneezefest…but, man – what a gig.

I reached TC around 9:10pm, and wasn’t let in while Levikitus was playing because – TC was full. And there were around 15 people waiting outside, and that grew to around 30 by half past nine. KK, at the door, thankfully let me and Shyam in. There was hardly any room for maneuvering inside, and we made our way close to a corner, beers in hand. Bhayanak Maut took stage, and at TC…at tiny little TC, packed to capacity, moshing began. Now, it’s a completely different scene at Hamsadwani in Pragati Maidan, where there’s enough space. In TC, something’s going to give. The speakers next to which Shyam and I were standing were the first to go. Then the speakers at the opposite end. A fight broke out later in the mosh, and was ended by the bouncers. After a couple of songs, the moshing resumed, prompted by Bhayanak Maut. I’ve moshed before, but this time, I chose to stand by the side. Given the number of people there, there was hardly any place to stand. Here’s a video, courtesy Shyam (clearer picture of moshing midway through the clip)

I’ll put up pics once they’re put up at RSJ.

Bhayanak Maut, as always, were tight – great bass, and occasionally some deep sounding lead (strange). I don’t care much for the growling (no singing), but it’s fun when heard live. The rhythm is just too powerful and bass gets you headbanging. Unfortunately, with my limited knowledge of death metal and related genres, I can’t tell you which songs were played.

The chap taking care of the speakers was a hilarious sideshow, as he struggled to keep four speakers piled on top of each other, together. The wires got pulled out, and then he struggled to get them in. He actually dozed off in the middle of a Bhayanak Maut song. Here’s a clip of him sitting on top of one set of speakers and holding on to another, during a Them Clones song.

Them Clones were on next, and I have to compliment Gucci for a stellar job on the bass, as well as Dev on drums. Prithwish seemed to lose his voice towards the end. They began with Zephyretta, and played some from their original set, and a few new songs too. Damn it, I don’t have those with me, and TC are taking too long to release their album. They played some RATM, as usual. The gig was sponsored by Yamaha – they had some bikes on display, and a projector that displayed an advert on a screen.

More gigs this month, including a big one at the end of the month at Hamsadwani that is free. Details here. I’m going for Zero this Saturday, so if you want to come along for a much much milder experience, let me know. I have one Zero album – Procrastination. Plan to buy Hook, which I’ve heard is great.

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Skinny Alley at The Garden of Five Senses

First gig in…three months, I guess. Last that I remember was the last day of GIR, waaay back in Feb. I’ve missed quite a few good gigs since then cause, well, didn’t feel like going alone, and the usual suspects no longer want to go for gigs. Went alone for the Skinny Alley gig to The Garden of Five Senses, though.

Perhaps an indication that I overdid the gigs last year is I didn’t think yesterday’s gig at was that great. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I really enjoyed an entire gig. Yesterday, I felt that Jayashree’s voice was a little off- the pitch was little high; Jefferey Menzes and Gyan were in fine form, and Amit Datta was great, as usual. In fact, in the middle Amit even donned a cowboy hat and played a nice tune on the acoustic. Fortunately (or unfortunately), he didn’t sing. 😀

Prospect (and Isheeta) had done a professional job, as always – open air, adequate seating, lovely location, and enough signboards to guide us to the gig. There was even someone stationed at the gate to tell us how to get to the gig. If I have any grouse – it is that The Garden of Five Senses is almost 30km from my house. The gig went off without a hitch. This was a part of the At Home series, which features Indian rock groups playing only/mostly original sets. I’d missed TAAQ at India Habitat Center a few months ago.

Unfortunately, though Skinny Alley have great skill their original songs aren’t as good as the covers they usually do. And I’m not just saying this because I’m familiar with the covers, and not with their originals. They mostly do Steely Dan covers, and I’ve not heard Steely Dan. Also, I’ve heard the Skinny Alley originals thrice now, and I think their songwriting isn’t up to the mark. I mean – I really don’t want to hear a song called “Child Bride”, or “Little Sister” about sibling rivalry. I can almost hear Jayashree sing ‘Child Bride’. Cringe. Their lyrics just don’t fit their sound. At the end, they played ‘Green Earring’ by Steely Dan, which rounded off an enjoyable evening…I may criticise their music, but I did like it. 🙂

Thankfully, this time they’d brought CD’s, and I picked up one. Heard it last night, and found it a little disappointing because the songs on the disk are too soft for my liking – soft particularly on the drums and lead guitars. Live, the drums and the lead guitar is much louder and audible, and Amit Datta gets more airtime with his solos. Jayashree sounds better on CD, though.

Link from the blogger formerly known as codey: K was also there and had a better time than I did.

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