Timbaland, Super-Producer and ‘Verzuz’ Mastermind, on the Future of Music
This story appears in Rolling Stone‘s 2021 Future of Music issue, a special project delving into the next era of the multibillion-dollar hitmaking business. Alongside our reporting, we invited four star artists to share their own predictions on the music industry’s wild next era. Read the other stories here.
Try to tally up Timbaland’s professional titles, and you’ll inevitably miss one or two; the 49-year-old counts artist, record executive, songwriter, producer, entertainment exec, A&R scout, and filmmaker on the tall rack of hats he’s worn. Born Timothy Zachery Mosley, he started producing rap and R&B as early as high school, working with his cousin Pharrell Williams, and has since been behind the hits of everyone from Nas to Rihanna to Madonna to Justin Timberlake.
Timbaland, who, alongside Swizz Beatz, quickly spun the hyper-popular rap-battle playground Verzuz out of nowhere last March when the pandemic hit — and has since bounced the series from Instagram over to Apple Music, striking swerving deals with the likes of with Peloton along the way — told Rolling Stone last year that the program is both curation and celebration. “It’s like musical chess,” he said. (Swizz characterized Verzuz as “a UFC frame of mind with creatives”; he and Timbaland had also previously gone head to head in their own rap duel in 2018, at a concert sponsored by New York’s Hot 97.)
In 2021, the prolific hit-, beat-, and tastemaker has not slowed down. He most recently turned his attention to co-creating Beatclub, a platform for artists, producers, and songwriters across the music industry to link up their proverbial arms and embark on new creative projects. Timbaland spoke with Rolling Stone about what’s coming next for an industry in wild flux.
What’s the single biggest disruption you expect to happen in music in the next 10 years? This can be related to technology, business models, genres, live music, music distribution — whatever you have had your eye on.
Once in a generation we see some kind of shift in the music business — the last one was from downloads to streaming. The next revolution is going to be in the creator space, where there are millions of kids making music in their bedrooms.
The industry is responding by creating platforms for music creators to share their beats, soundpacks, loops, et cetera. The next revolution will be all about that.
That’s why we formed [the newly launched music marketplace] Beatclub, which aims to be an important creative hub for the industry.
How about in the next 50 years?
Streaming has really globalized culture in such powerful ways, and I predict that music is going to reflect that. Any local musical movement has the potential to go global in the future.
Considering the speed of tech advancements, how do you expect your own music career to change in the future?
I think this year has shown that we can create music together, we can work closely together in a cohesive way, even if we’re in completely different cities.
And although there’s a certain vibe lost by not being in the same room, it’s clear to me that technology has enabled collaborators to span thousands of miles to work together in real time. And that’s already produced some beautiful music.
What’s the most overrated idea or trend in music right now? What’s the most undervalued?
You can’t overstate the importance of the song. It’s always been about a great song and it always will be.
What business advice would you give a young musician just starting out?
Learn the business. Build your copyrights! And believe in yourself — don’t give up.