The new issue of Wired has a pretty illuminating profile of Universal Music Group head honcho Doug Morris, who comes off as a man kicking against the digital era–and the fact that its more diffuse structure results in him having a diminished place in the music industry–and trying to grasp at straws to retain some sort of control. (Witness his latest idea for a music-biz savior, the bundled-into-the-Internet-bill subscription program Total Music; not only will it require DRM because of its all-you-can-eat nature, Morris’ endless standoff with Apple head honcho Steve Jobs will likely result in said DRM not being compatible with the iPod. But apparently that’s OK, because Morris is more about “protecting the music” than “actually having customers buy the music.”) We’ve talked about Morris’ whiny nature before, but Seth Mnookin somehow got him to get even more sad-sack.
Discussing Universal’s various initiatives, Caraeff, an even-keeled 32-year-old in a crisply tailored suit, is explaining that it’s important to be “invigorated and challenged by the opportunities of digital music.” At this, Morris puts down his tuna fish on white, wipes some crumbs off his khakis, and clears his throat. I expect him to deliver an explanation of how he learned to stop worrying and love the MP3. Instead, he launches into a rant about a creature that resembles a misshapen bowling ball.
“There was a cartoon character years ago called the Shmoo,” he says in a raspy tenor. “It was in Li’l Abner. The Shmoo was a nice animal, a nice fella, but if you were hungry, you cut off a piece of him and put onions on it, and if you wanted to play football you just made him like a football. You could do anything to him. That’s what was happening to the music business. Everyone was treating the music business like it was a Shmoo.
“It was only a couple of years ago that we said, What’s going on here?’ Really, an album that someone worked on for two years — is that worth only $9, $10, when people pay two bucks for coffee in Starbucks?” Morris sighs. “People never really understand what’s happening to the artists. All the sharing of the music, right? Is it correct that people share their music, fill up these devices with music they haven’t paid for? If you had Coca-Cola coming through the faucet in your kitchen, how much would you be willing to pay for Coca-Cola? There you go,” he says. “That’s what happened to the record business.”
I’d argue that the average consumer’s perception of artists is different–and much less negative!–than her perception of the industry, especially its denizens who have corner offices where they can eat their tuna on white. But those sandwiches are merely fueling Morris up for more ire at the digital age!
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. The problem, he says, is that “there’s sympathy for the consumer, and the record industry is the Shmoo.”
Aw, it’s so sad, isn’t it? Although why do I seem to not remember the Shmoo having lawyers at the ready. After all, if it did, surely it would’ve sued the pants off whoever was trying to turn it into a football.