Trent Reznor's my kind of guy. Rather that waiting for permission or holding an endless series of conference calls to determine the "right" way to make his online remix site a reality, he just went and did it.
Universal Music Group can't be blamed for balking at hosting it themselves. The copyright issues involved with fans potentially remixing NIN's work with that of other labels are a bit too thorny for a large label to risk. Let's face it, UMG stood to lose a lot more that it stood to gain by hosting it.
What’s cool about Reznor's decision to just do it himself is that unlike a lot of other label critics, he's putting his money where his mouth is. There are plenty of pundits teeing off on how the music industry needs to do this better or do that better, without any skin in the game themselves.
He could have easily shrugged his shoulders and said "Sorry, the big bad labels won't let me do it" and gotten another round of free PR by making himself out to be a martyr. But he didn't. He just did it.
We need to see more of this type of pioneering spirit from the industry at large. I'm not just talking about remix sites, but any digital initiative that shows some promise of capturing fans' attention.
As one music industry executive said at a recent conference: "The great thing about the Web is that you can fail quickly." Meaning-you can immediately determine if something is working or not based on traffic and other easily-defined metrics. If it's a bust, pull it and move on.
There was actually quite a bit of experimentation this year by not only individual artists like Trent and Radiohead, but also by the labels. Expect to see a whole lot more in the year ahead.
It doesn't take a lot of effort, guts or talent to take pot shots at record labels these days. Wired's hatchet job of a profile on Universal Music Group's Doug Morris is just the latest.
It's as if the new journalistic formula for generating web traffic these days is either a) write something trivial about the iPhone or b) call a record label clueless. Every blog in the universe will link to it and generate dozens of comments from readers gloating about how badly guys like Morris just got "pwnd."
Look, I'm no record label mouthpiece or apologist, which any review of my past stories or commentary will prove. I think the RIAA should stop its lawsuit campaign, lock-and-key DRM should be abandoned, and labels should work more in unison on their digital future rather than each going it alone cowboy-style with their own pet initiatives.
But even though the Wired article brings up a lot of valid points, it still just came across as lazy and, well, mean.
Do we really need to hear again how the labels messed up by not monetizing the original Napster, or how they gave iTunes the keys to the kingdom by not mandating a standard DRM technology? We get it. Let's move on.
Painting Morris as an indifferent dinosaur and focusing on the industry's past mistakes is much easier and less interesting than actually trying to understand what he and the other label heads are going through, and learn how they're trying to adapt. I'm much more interested in where UMG is going with Total Music and what it's trying to achieve than I am about ancient history.
But Morris and the other labels need to stop living in the past as well. They need to quit their bellyaching about how digital piracy decimated the business and start communicating the steps they're making for the future. When they look for sympathy by painting themselves as the victim, stories like the Wired article will invariably result. The industry lost the perception battle the minute the first RIAA lawsuit was filed.
There are lots of voices loudly criticizing what labels have done in the past, and few are sticking their necks out offering ideas for the future. The best idea most of these critics can come up with is for labels to simply give up, wither away, and die.
But there are plenty of labels executives, and worker bees, sticking around. They've accepted the challenge of staying on a troubled ship in hopes of fixing it, rather than taking the easy way out and jumping off.
You don't always have to agree with the course they've taken, but you should at least respect the effort. The industry would do itself a big favor by emphasizing that more.