Gerry Kearby — co-founder of Liquid Audio, drummer, equipment designer for the Grateful Dead and others, and a man who turned down an offer from Steve Jobs to buy his company — died last week when his truck crashed into a tree in a rural area south of San Jose, California. He was 65. Details of his death can be found on the San Mateo County Times, and many friends’ memories can be seen in this memorial website, but here, Kearby is remembered in the following post by his friend and former coworker Dick Wingate, principal of DEV Advisors and Liquid Audio’s former SVP of Content Development and Label Relations.
I was deeply saddened by the death of Gerry Kearby, one of the true pioneers in digital music. Tragically, after surviving brain cancer he died in an automobile accident on August 6th when his truck veered off a rural road near his home in Pescadero, California, ending a life and career that stretched from teaching award-winning drum line performers to designing custom equipment for the Grateful Dead, founding pioneering online music company Liquid Audio and more recently, Neurotone, which specializes in audio therapy aimed at helping people with damaged hearing, such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Gerry founded Liquid Audio in Redwood City, CA in 1996. Although bandwidth was still at a crawl, Gerry and co-founders Phil Wiser and Robert Flynn devised a complete end-to-end solution for streaming, downloading and securely selling music over the internet. Liquid Audio quickly became one of the emerging online audio standards of the late ’90s. I joined Liquid as an advisor in 1997 and full time in 1998, and over the next four years we acquired the catalogs of thousands of labels, including Warner, EMI, BMG and Universal. For most of the labels it was their first complete catalog licensing deal. We spent many years convincing labels, artists, investors and partners that consumers would actually collect and listen to music on a PC.
Many of Liquid Audio’s accomplishments have been forgotten since iTunes became the standard for downloading music. With Gerry’s death, it is time to recognize Liquid Audio’s outstanding achievements and the Liquid team that created many of the core technologies that form the basis for all online music today. Milestones included the first music-software-with-integrated-purchase option (1996) and integrated promo/sponsorship window (1996), the first commercial-music sale from a major label (Duran Duran/Capitol 1997), the first live internet performance immediately published for download (Jesus & Mary Chain 1998), the first global distribution network (Liquid Music Network 1998, which grew to over 900 retailers and affiliates), the first territory-restricted downloads 1998, the first download on Amazon.com (1999), the first platinum artist syndicated to online retailers (Tori Amos 1999), the first retail shopping cart integration, enabling CDs/downloads in a single transaction (1999), the first broadcast radio online promotion (Creed, 122 stations in 1999), the first NARM Award to an online distributor (2000), and first online distributor of $0.99 downloads (Universal Music in 2002).
To represent the industry’s copyright interests, Liquid Audio, Real Networks and a number of other companies formed the Digital Media Association to negotiate copyright fees for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Gerry also testified in Washington congressional hearings on digital music.
The founders of Liquid lost control of the company in a tough fight with investors after an attempted merger with independent music distributor Alliance Entertainment. Kearby, Wiser and Flynn resigned in November 2002.
Well before that occurred, Steve Jobs had offered to buy the music startup. The price, however, was less than the roughly $100 million the company had in the bank. Kearby declined the offer, saying the board of directors would never consent to be bought for less cash then they had in hand.
Gerry was an outspoken, gun-slinging music man and visionary. He was a master of the quip and always had drumsticks in his hands, even while in meetings. The world has lost a great spirit and pioneer. I will miss him.