The InsiderOne Daily Report
Wednesday, May 23, 2001
Another One Bites The Dust (Or, The End Of MP3.com)
InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: There was once a record company called Island Records, started by a man named Chris Blackwell. Blackwell was (and remains) a smart man, with excellent taste and instincts. Early on, he signed the group Traffic and had quite a bit of success with them. But he also signed John Martyn (who you've probably never heard of), Nick Drake (who you most certainly have), John Cale and Brian Eno, and released albums by all of them. He brought reggae music to America (among Island's many, many amazing reggae albums was the soundtrack from The Harder They Come) and made an international star of Bob Marley. Then he did it all over again with African music, although he was never able to bring King Sunny Ade to the heights of Marley's crossover success. He once signed a little Irish quartet known as U2. With the exception of Mule Variations, I'd say the most adventurous and best albums of Tom Waits' career were Blackwell releases. Some years ago, Blackwell sold his company and, after differences of opinion with those who purchased it, left; these days, as far as I can tell, Island is simply one of a number of imprints (others being Geffen and Interscope) appearing on albums released by Vivendi Universal's music division. Island Records' soul and spirit is dead. Well, actually, not dead but not at Vivendi Universal. You'll find it alive and well where you'll find Chris Blackwell, now involved in some new companies. The Island Records story, the story of an independent company headed by a creative spirit, a company that dies when it's sold to the corporation, is not unique look at A & M Records, or Sire, or 415, or Slash, or Geffen, or Motown or Virgin. There are plenty of others. Independent companies are sold to corporations for a number of reasons, but usually it's about money. It better be about money, 'cause if it's not, the seller is a fool. Even the seller who believes there are more noble reasons for selling is a fool, because once you've sold your company, it's no longer your company. You are no longer the boss. You answer to others, and one day it will be their way or the highway. If you are clear, right from the start, that it's about money (which, if it's enough money, equals freedom), you know where you stand. You're turning your company over to a corporation, and they're handing you the key to freedom. You can go your separate ways immediately, or you can stick around for a few years, watching and abetting the destruction of that which you held dear, and then leave. The other day, Vivendi Universal announced its agreement to purchase MP3.com. Michael Robertson, who founded MP3.com in 1998, once hoped that his company would lead, as the May 22 San Francisco Chronicle put it, "an online revolution that could one day wrest control of music distribution from the major record labels." Now MP3.com is owned by one of the major record labels. It will not be leading any revolutions.
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Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.