Overheard at the New Music Seminar: The human side of the business


At the New Music Seminar this week,  I heard the words “revolution” and “redefine” countless times. Everyone from the founder Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records to CEO of Pandora Joe Kennedy agreed that the old way of doing business is dead, and that the music industry was “rising from the ashes” with a wealth of opportunities for new business models and artists. While sitting in the main ballroom for most of the seminar, I listened to discussion panels made up of the heads of A&R departments, artist managers, promoters, image consultants, and songwriters discuss the new ways that artists were connecting with fans without the help of major labels. Between panels, various new internet music companies gave brief speeches about the services they provided to artists, including several online organization and tracking tools for ticketing, royalties, and album sales. While these talks may seem focused on the technological side of the business, the human side of the industry was well represented by actual artists like Moby, Lisa Loeb, and Chamillionaire. The tech side was interesting, but I found the discussions on the human side perhaps more intriguing because they were brutally honest and yet strangely hopeful. No matter what everyone thought about the present or future state of the business, everyone seemed very confident that the creativity of artists would still prevail. Here are just a few things that I thought worth mentioning that seemed to apply to all artsts of all genres and styles:

1. No matter what, the music itself has to be good: the band can’t just rely on one person’s talent and a great image or marketing strategy.


2. Artists were urged to make real and lasting connections with their fans one-on-one because that was the real purpose of music, for one person to express something to another. I think Tom Silverman said it best with the statement “Music is not a product, it is a vehicle for emotion.”

3. All of the panelists that were artists urged fledgling bands and solo artists to explore themselves and create a vision while branding their image. What do they stand for? How do they express that through their music and interaction with fans?

4. Further expanding on that thought, Moby, mentioned that he had never been successful when he was trying to be; rather, he found success came to him when he was being himself and making music that he loved and hoping that it connected with people. He also suggested looking to older artists for influence rather than being influenced by one’s peers, leading to an inevitably similar sound.

5 .In an exponentially expanding musical universe, it’s getting harder and harder for a band to get attention, let alone traction, let alone maintain that momentum. Bands should get creative in their marketing and fan base management strategies, and give fans a tangible reason to come back, whether it be creating VIP parties for fans, offering ticket contests, or even free downloads in exchange for an email address for a mailing list.

The New Music Seminar was founded in 1980 in New York, and since then has been host to a huge number of great artists as guests and performers. Check out this interview with Madonna from 1984, where she discusses her upcoming single “Like a Virgin“: