This deadpan faux interview in Wired is probably the best parody of a cigar-chomping old-school record executive I've ever seen. It hits all the essential notes -- curmudgeonliness, arrogance, transparently self-serving self-righteousness, withering contempt for the consumer, a habitual sense of entitlement built from years of easy profits, absolute short-term ruthlessness coupled with an almost quaintly naive technophobia, and utter like-I-give-a-fuck indifference to how he's coming across. This is a character who thinks the drinks at Starbucks cost a mere $2, and who asks, rhetorically, how much you'd be willing to pay for Coca-Cola if it came out of the tap in your kitchen, ignoring that Coca-Cola sells $800 million worth of tap water every year. Hell, at one point he even tries to pass off Morgan Freeman's Shmoo monologue from Lucky Number Slevin as his own bit -- repurposed as a parable of the fundamental wrongness of intellectual property theft. That is some seriously brilliant satirical writing.
A few more choice excerpts:
There's no one in the record company that's a technologist," Morris explains. "That's a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn't. They just didn't know what to do. It's like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?"
Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn't an option. "We didn't know who to hire," he says, becoming more agitated. "I wouldn't be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me."
When I suggest to Morris that the labels gave Jobs license to create what was in effect an Apple Walkman that played only Apple cassettes, it's Caraeff who answers. "Looking back, the best thing we could have done would have been to mandate one format," he says. So why didn't that happen? Morris is happy to field this one. "It never crossed anyone's mind!" he exclaims. "We were just grateful that someone was selling online. The problem is, he became a gatekeeper. We make a lot of money from him, and suddenly you're wearing golden handcuffs. We would hate to give up that income."
Back in his dining room, Morris is incredulous. He's once again talking about how his job should simply be finding and breaking new acts.
This stereotype of the dinosaur-like record exec who hasn't noticed that the asteroid has already struck the earth was probably never exactly true in the first place, but in addition to being a fun read, this piece does make for a convenient shorthand sketch of everything the industry is now desperately trying to distance themselves from, by hiring people like Rick Rubin and...
... whoa, whoa, hold up. You're telling me that is a real interview with Doug Morris, who is, in fact, the CEO of Universal Music Group?
[PS Howie Klein's response is also a must-read.]
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