Rick Rubin and the celestial jukebox

Sony/Columbia has brought in music guru Rick Rubin to try and turn the ailing label around. He's a big fan of what has been called the "celestial jukebox"--the idea that the future of music will be subscription-based, anytime-anywhere access to all songs

Rick Rubin is obviously a guru--just look at the beard! But seriously, this is the guy who oversaw the crossover that took hip-hop to mainstream America (Run DMC, meet Aerosmith; world, meet the Beastie Boys), introduced Johnny Cash to indie-rock hipsters, and produced Danzig, Slayer, and...um...the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (Nobody bats 1.000.)

This week's New York Times Magazine has alengthy article on Sony/Columbia hiring Rick Rubin to help turn the label around. The whole article's an interesting read, but one point that stuck out to me: Mr. Rubin is a big proponent of the celestial jukebox.

That's the idea that for a monthly subscription, users would have access to all music, any time, anywhere, on any device. Got the Beach Boys stuck in your head? Call it up on your car stereo. Want to check out that band everybody's been telling you about before they come to play your favorite club? Listen to the album on your home stereo. This idea's been around for years--I think I first read about it in Salon back in 2000. But it's never been implemented, mainly because it would require a major business model rethink by all the participants in the music industry. Most important, there'd have to be a way to track song plays so that royalties could be split appropriately. Watermarking technology could help on the technology end, but the real struggle would be over how the royalties are split--just look at the ongoing debate over Internet radio.

Nonetheless, here's hoping that Mr. Rubin gives Sony a push in the right direction.

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