Interview: RCA/Jive’s Sean Rosenberg: Labels Are The Scapegoat For Mobile Music’s Woes

Kelly Clarkson Open Mic app

So why are mobile music — and digital music startups overall, for that matter — having such a hard time turning hype into real revenues? There’s plenty of finger-pointing: some say the carriers made it too hard to get music services on-deck in the past, others say people really just don’t want to pay for music on their phones. But there’s consensus that the labels should bear the brunt of the blame, whether it’s for charging exorbitant licensing fees for tracks, or otherwise making negotiations difficult.

And for Sean Rosenberg, VP of mobile marketing, sales and business development for Sony’s RCA/Jive division, that’s fine. “As long as our artists are successful, I’m OK with being a scapegoat,” he told me, during a pre-CTIA interview. So what’s Rosenberg’s vision of mobile music success?

Take Open Mic, the iPhone app that RCA recently launched with app developer Rain. Tied to the debut of former American Idol Kelly Clarkson’s latest album and tour, the karaoke-style app lets users pretend to be a pop star; players compete for a chance to sing with Clarkson onstage during a soundcheck at a concert in their local area. Rosenberg wouldn’t share download stats, but said the $4.99 app “consistently ranked” as one of the top-20 paid music apps in the weeks after its launch. He also sounded off on the startups and app developers that come to the labels with half-baked ideas for making money with mobile music — and then get upset when the negotiations turn sour.

Tameka Kee: So you worked with Salt Lake City-based Rain for Open Mic. Why did RCA bite on their vision for a mobile music app?

Sean Rosenberg: They didn’t come to us and say “pay us all this money to develop this app that may or may not be successful.” Rain understood that we were trying to build a platform that could be expanded to multiple artists. We knew we had to get into the iPhone app market, but it’s still so experimental that there’s no clue how much money can ultimately be made. They understood that they’d get to take a share out of the platform across the board, if it was successful.

I take it that you

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