by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Capitalism & amp; Kubler-Ross & r & & r & Industries behave like people. We're used to considering them cold, functional mechanisms put in place to generate money. That's the aim, certainly, but the powerhouse of each little cog in the production chain is a thumpy little human heart. Dispassion doesn't come easy to human hearts, and despite those little cogs' best efforts to apply business principles with remove and resolve, emotion always gets in the way. Especially when the industry's in the shitter.
Sure enough, in the subtext of reports detailing round after round of "redundancies" (firings, in the measured language of Britain) at EMI and in long magazine pieces about how a rap producer turned swami hopes to save Columbia Records, we find an industry so far gone that its constituent members are halfway through those five stages of loss grieving it.
Nearly a decade into the industry's (and their own) consumptive winnowing away, each of the big four labels is past denial ("mp3s will never replace physical media"), anger ("file sharing is theft! Theffffft!") and bargaining ("Give us your lunch money, Junior, or we're going to court."), and on to depression. That's the lull in lawsuits and moralizing and the lack of talk of change. It's the stubborn shuffle forward. Only two companies -- the conglomerate EMI and Columbia Records, a Sony-BMG subsidiary -- have reached the acceptance phase, and seem to have the right mindset to embrace life post-industry.
Since this time last year, Columbia's been helmed by producer-swami Rick Rubin, who wants to right the label by getting back to the music. EMI -- or rather its new owner, Guy Hands, a venture capitalist -- doesn't seem to care much about the music, but he's trying to right the company financially by laying off scads of workers.
I think they're both grasping at part of the solution. Hands wants solvency and Rubin wants a return to music. I don't think you can have either, though, without the other. Rubin won't see Columbia's culture turn back to music until the company doesn't look like a corporation anymore. Likewise, slashing the hell out of jobs is useless without the love of music.
It'll be interesting to see who realizes this first, the capitalist or the guru.