A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of conducting a public interview with Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra and Nonesuch Records. We had our conversation in front of a packed ballroom during a Canadian Music Week session at the Royal York Hotel. The best part of the experience for me was talking to him before and after the interview. Even though he’d been in the music business for over sixty years at that point, he was still very forward-thinking.
He recently gave this interview to CNET. While the whole thing is very good, this passage stood out for me.
Napster was a wonderful opportunity to build a viable singles market over time because the loading speeds at that time were embryonic. Put aside the business proposition Napster offered the labels, instead of saying no to that, somebody should have said — and I would have I think if I had been working with Warner at that time — there is something in here. Look at what we’ve got, people can trade singles back and forth, we can monetize that modestly, it all goes through a central server so we can account for it. Had a couple of record companies made overtures to it and seen how the service could be worked, that was an opportunity.I don’t know how much further you can ephemeralize beyond streaming except maybe a yearly implant some place in your body that has all the collected music and is the size of a pinkie nail. I think streaming, you may find different uses for large companies or new companies. I don’t understand, for instance, why a label like Alligator hasn’t picked up on streaming just blues music for the blues fans. The people of Alligator are very smart, I just don’t know, but that would make sense to me, that’s where labels and label name has value today: if they’re particularly good on genre music. I think that that’s probably an opportunity in streaming, but again if the streaming services are going to do this they’re going to have to get the right people there to help them do it. And I think being able to do genre music intelligently probably will bring more people, more quickly to new music than in a general service.