I sat down today to catch up with Tom Silverman, CEO of Tommy Boy Records and founder of the New Music Seminar. I talked to him about the Seminar last year, learning about the event’s history, and today we talked about this year’s LA event and the great, new things in store for attendees. He’s also offering our readers a 50% discount on registration, so read on for the scoop on NMS and a deal on getting in…
Leona Laurie: Tom, if you’d be willing to kick us off with a little bit of background from your career, that would be wonderful.
Tom Silverman: I got out of graduate school in environmental geology and moved to NY and started a newsletter for DJs because I wasn’t finding the jobs in water quality that I was looking for at that time. As I was running the newsletter, I decided to start a label on the side in case anyone brought interesting music, and also, with some partners, founded the New Music Seminar in 1980. I didn’t have any expectation that both of those companies would have gone to the extent that they did. NMS became, by the late 80s, the biggest music conference in the world.
LL: So this is your second year in LA since the re-launch of the New Music Seminar. One of the features I remember from last year was that you conducted a search for the best new artist and showcased a winner. Is that part of this year’s event as well?
TS: Yes it is. It’s called The Artists on the Verge Project, and it’s evolving very nicely. Every time we do it, it gets better. I’m hoping later this week to announce the list of 100 artists on the verge– these are the artists we believe are the most ready to break. They’re artists who have their ball rolling around the rim, waiting to be tipped in. They’re artists that have done the work– built a fan-base, either online or offline, and they’re making a lot of noise, and they’re ready to go. We’re really coming up with a list we’re very excited about.
We come up with the top three, and they come and perform at the Seminar, and the winner wins a package of $50,000 worth of all kinds of prizes and connections and all kinds of things to really help them explode their career.
LL: Who won at the New York Seminar last summer?
TS: The winner was Hotspur, who’s from the DC area. All of the acts that were chosen have gone on to win other accolades.
LL: Are there any new things on the docket for the LA Seminar this year?
TS: Yeah, there’s a lot– there’s a lot. Because we’re doing it for the first time in a hotel– we’re doing it at the Sheraton Universal– and we’re doing it there so we can have multiple rooms and be doing many things at the same time.
We have five “Movements” this year. I think we had four last year. One of the one’s we’re doing is The Future of A&R, and this is a conversation that no-one has ever had before. People are getting exposed to music in new ways. As people listen differently, do they wait 10 seconds into a song, or if they don’t hear what they want to hear in five seconds, do they press the forward button or the “thumbs down” button? There’s more opportunity for listeners to react instantly to what they like or don’t like than ever before, which is good and bad.
It might affect the length of songs. It might affect how soon in the song the hook should come. It might affect different elements of songs that work– how fast songs are or slow. The fact that people are listening in an environment that’s cluttered with other things to do (games, being on the phone, texting), people who listen to music are usually doing a couple of other things at the same time now. What does that mean for the kind of listening that is done? Is it cursory? Is it secondary? We’ve got an amazing group of players all talking about this issue, and the people who are conducting it are Courtney Holt, who’s the president of MySpace Music, and Jay Frank from CMT Television, who’s really a music statistics expert. He’s got a book called “FutureHit.DNA.“
And we’re doing a series of workshops we’ve never done before. We have “Fix A Band.” We’re actually going to have a band perform live in one of the workshop rooms, and Tom Jackson is actually going to take their performance apart and put it back together before our eyes and make their performance be many times more effective and memorable.
We have 22 TED-Style 18-minute intensives that are given by people at the top of their field, giving artists tips for how to make more money, how to expose themselves better, and how to move forward in their careers at an accelerated pace.
And then the three showcases will be great. The first night we’re doing it at the Henry Fonda– at The Music Box. That will be on Valentine’s Day evening at 8:00. The other two will be at 8:00 at The Roxy. Tuesday night will be the finalists from the Artists on the Verge Project.
LL: A lot of our audience are aspiring musicians, and it sounds like there’s a lot there for them.
TS: It’s mandatory. This is not something that they can “think about” going to. If they are aspiring musicians, they don’t have a choice. They have to be at this. This conference was designed for aspiring musicians. If they have any aspirations of moving their career forwards and they’re not there? That’s not going to happen. And, in fact, those people who are there are going to leapfrog over them in their careers. If you’re an aspiring musician and you don’t go, you’re not really an aspiring musician– it’s a hobby. If you’re serious about your career, you’ve got no choice.
LL: It makes sense to me for aspiring artists and members of the press and publicists to be there, but who else should be at the conference?
TS: Anybody who’s in the music business now and wonders where the music business is going and if they’re even going to have a job in a year should be there so they can see what the weather report is for the next two or three years and so they can align themselves with where the future of the business is going to be. We don’t believe this is a subtle change in the business. We believe we’re creating a brand new music business. This isn’t the record business anymore. Records will be part of it, but it won’t be built around records. I’m not saying records won’t be important, but they clearly won’t be as important as they were 10 years ago.
It’s an entrepreneur’s time. This is the time to start a business. It’s not the time to get a job at a record company. They’re cutting jobs at record companies. And it’s not that interesting there, except at some of the indie labels. The future is that a lot of the music industry is going to be outsourced. It’s not going to be these big, vertically integrated megaliths anymore– it doesn’t make sense.
This is a conference that’s convening the architects of the next music business, and we’d like everybody to contribute to that discussion.
LL: It sounds like what you’re saying is that everybody who’s going to be a part of tomorrow’s music industry is going to be together for two days and three nights in Los Angeles this month, and if you want to be a part of tomorrow’s music industry, you’d better be there, too.
TS: I’d say: Be there or be square.
The New Music Seminar happens at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles in two weeks, from February 14-16. For the complete schedule go to www.NewMusicSeminar.com and register. Save $50 when you register before Feburary 2, and use our 2 for 1 discount code by entering secret code NMSLASE2322 when you select the Partner’s Discount tab on the registration page. BestNewBands.com will be there, and we’ll report from the scene!
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