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The unexpected loss of much-loved tech figure Dave Goldberg on Friday was a tragedy on any number of levels — be it as a husband, father, son, and brother or inspirational industry figure — but here at Yahoo Music it was especially painful.
While he has rightly been described as the CEO of SurveyMonkey.com, the husband of Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, and a much-admired, very forward-looking industry figure — all true — he was something else around here. The former GM of Yahoo Music was a brilliant boss man, a great friend to all in his employ, a true friend to both individual musicians and the record industry itself (almost an unfathomable contradiction at this late date), and one of the very few true pioneers to be had in the music biz in the last two decades.
And he was right about almost everything. Maybe just a little bit too soon.
I first met Goldberg and his longtime friend and partner Bob Roback in 1994, when they were putting together an “interactive music experience” that would initially live on a CD-ROM — because modem speeds at the time were in the 14.4k-28.8k range, and what then was the internet was largely a batch of bulletin boards, ASCII files, and things you couldn’t even listen to, let alone watch.
Both Goldberg and Roback were music fans – Goldberg in fact had spent some time at Capitol Records and had a hand in getting CDs stocked at Starbucks, no small innovation — and both saw new opportunities to promote music and artists via interactive means. Which in 1994 meant not the Internet, not DVDs, but actual, and now very quaint, CD-ROMs. Which one might obtain and stick in their computer, if one had one. A computer, that is.
I came aboard on January 2, 1995, as Executive Editor of Launch Media, and my role was both functional and fascinating: We set up a bi-coastal tour of record labels and management firms, explaining the future as Goldberg and Roback quite correctly saw it: Rather than trust the whims of radio programmers and their peculiar business agendas, or music critics and their insistence that certain albums were great — that is, until you took them home and actually heard them — why not let consumers decide themselves?
The highlight of that 1995 tour, to my mind, consisted of the three of us — Goldberg, Roback, and myself — walking from label to label in Manhattan, primitive Apple computers in tow, methodically giving demonstrations to each and every record company the future as our company saw it. Ironically, and perhaps significantly, though it was already 1995, we brought the only computer to be had on the premises of Elektra Records during that time…except for one in “the accountant’s office.” A lot would be in store.
Thus came LAUNCH, an interactive CD-ROM that eventually grew into a very significant web presence. Dave Goldberg and Bob Roback were brilliant businessmen with a very clear, very directed vision that rarely took noticeable missteps. As spotters of talent they were freakishly good: The distinguished alumni who came on board and helped grow the company in its early days are all recognizable, absurdly so – and if they’re not CEOs, CFOs, or presidents of their own companies, they’re probably excessively creative, maybe to their detriment, but not ours.
As anyone who was there then knows: Dave Goldberg was truly a pioneer. Music video on the Internet? He made an investment, brought in a company, led the pack. Internet radio? LAUNCHcast was staggeringly good, in its prime massively better than today’s also-ran Pandora, and likely the best personalized radio service anyone has yet to experience. Music on demand? Well before Spotify was making headlines, when iTunes was just getting started, Goldberg introduced Yahoo Music Unlimited — and, as pioneers do, suffered the wrath of those gatekeepers at record labels and publishing companies who saw their business models threatened. That those same gatekeepers now methodically aspire to own a chunk of every business Goldberg inspired is charming and, of course, wholly predictable.
In 2001, Yahoo bought LAUNCH, and what was once LAUNCH became Yahoo Music. We were still slick, we still had our finger on the pulse, and we were still thrilled to have enlightened, very bright people like Dave Goldberg and Bob Roback at the helm. And we grew. And eventually it became obvious that the future of the music business involved money — lots of money — and margins that were unseemly at higher corporate levels.
Somewhere in there, both Dave Goldberg and Bob Roback departed and struck out on their own in 2007, creating new, very lucrative businesses elsewhere and leaving Yahoo Music to evolve as it would. Many of us still here — and to be honest, that’s really only a handful — look back at those days emotionally, with some degree of regret, wishing that they’d both stayed a bit longer or that things worked out slightly differently.
But more importantly, really, there isn’t a single person who worked here with Dave Goldberg, who watched how he would carefully and passionately explain some concept – business, technical, or personal — to a co-worker who wasn’t quite getting it, who wouldn’t marvel at his warmth, humanity and all-around good-guyness. I remember sitting at various tables with label executives on both coasts and proudly watching Dave enthuse about various new artists they’d signed, about new bright hopes he genuinely liked and wanted to do something for, and I remember that his sincerity shined through, that however astute a businessman he was, he maybe was a genuine music fan as well. Which back then was something of a rarity, and those label execs knew it.
It is that charm, that warmth, and that sense of doing the right thing that lingers when thinking about the legacy of Dave Goldberg. He was way too young to depart, he had so much to give – to his family, to the world — and he had such a massive base of fans, friends, and followers that, even if there were no such thing as social media, his presence would be deeply, deeply missed.
We will miss him here, and you will miss him there.