To say that Columbia Records Co-Chairman Rick Rubin is an unorthodox label head is an understatement of epic proportions. Currently enjoying the success of Adele's "21" - which is not only a Columbia release, but includes five tracks that he produced- he's also deep into upcoming albums by Metallica, Linkin Park, the Avett Brothers and possibly ZZ Top and Kid Rock, and he just completed work on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' forthcoming "I'm With You." During the course of an interview about his recent projects, he agreed to answer a couple of business questions. As he said in part one of his interview with Billboard.biz, Rubin considers his role at Columbia to be a "creative" one not dissimilar to his job as a producer - and as he does as a producer, even when considering the label side, he puts himself in the position of the listener.
"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 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. Ultimately if they do service the audience, I think it's going to be a big business -- a bigger business than it has ever been."
That service, he explains, needs "to focus on the user experience [and] think less about how it affects the company in the short term and more about how you can provide a service that people can't live without." He has his ideas of what that should entail, of course, but also feels that, "I can make suggestions, but ultimately it's not in my hands at all.
"My job is the same as it is when I'm in the studio producing a record -- to share my opinions, be honest and truthful," he explained. "Ultimately it is like the role of a coach. The artist ultimately, at the end of the day, gets to do what they want to do. And in the case of the company, the company at the end of the day gets to do what they want to do. I try to be the voice of reason and positive creativity and sometimes other people have other ideas, and it's all cool."
His hope, meanwhile, is that his colleagues will ultimately realize that creation and commerce need to more than co-exist but actually need to complement each other if the label industry is to be effectively rebooted.
"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. "And I think there's always been an attitude at labels of them versus the artist, and I think it's an obsolete idea -- and I'm not speaking about Columbia in particular. I'm speaking about all the labels, because ... I do get to work for all the labels as a producer, so I get to interact with all of them and see what's going on."