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Rick Rubin goes digital, joins MOG board

August 12, 2008 | 12:00 am
Rick Rubin

He helped revive Johnny Cash's career and lent a hand to the Dixie Chicks in their hour of need. He worked with Metallica on its upcoming album. So why would Rick Rubin (pictured above), Zen master to musicians and producer extraordinaire, whose job at Columbia Records is to find unsigned artists, join the board of a digital music blogging site?

Unclear, until we hear back from Rubin himself. But on Tuesday the MOG Music Network is announcing that Rubin will join its board. MOG, based in Berkeley, is music blogger central, with nearly 2 million users since it launched in July 2006. Until recently, MOG never actively sold ads, although it would sometimes sell them if approached by a marketer, said David Hyman, the site's founder and chief executive. Now, MOG is revamping its site and launching an ad network for independent music bloggers. The revamp will make the site easier to navigate, dividing it into categories such as jazz, hip-hop and folk, so electronic lovers won't have to wade through world music and vice versa.

MOG has raised $6 million, including investment from major recording companies Universal Music Group and Sony BMG. Adding Rubin to the board gives MOG more credibility among music lovers. As of yet, Rubin has had no other apparent connection to outside digital music companies, although his role at Sony's Columbia Records is amorphous enough to include something digital.

Last year Rubin told the New York Times that Apple's iTunes and iPod would one day be obsolete. The future? A music subscription model could save the music industry, a view shared by others. "There would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home," he said. "You'll say, 'Today I want to listen to ... Simon and Garfunkel,' and there they are." At Columbia, he apparently has set up a "word of mouth" department to spread excitement about an artist.

And that might be why he was interested in MOG, which doesn't play music but gives music lovers a place to write and read about an artist they love. Hyman, former chief executive of Gracenote and former senior vice president of marketing at MTV Interactive, was able to woo Rubin through Michael Goldberg, MOG's editor in chief, who knows Rubin's publicist.

Isn't Rubin a little too busy these days for a digital music venture, what with reviving older artists, finding new ones and meditating, which he reportedly does for an hour a day at his home in Malibu?

Au contraire, said Hyman when I met with him recently. He flipped open his Mac to show me his e-mail inbox. There was a long list of messages from Rubin making suggestions for the revamped site. "Already, I'd hire him to be head of user interface," Hyman said.

-- Michelle Quinn

Rick Rubin photo: Los Angeles Times

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