The New Music Seminar is about "seeing the music business and your opportunities a new way". The event was originally held from 1980 - 1995, and after a long hiatus, was revived this July in New York, featuring speakers and panelists from a variety of music companies, websites, institutions and backgrounds.
The Chicago event on October 6th was attended by artists, managers, label owners, and other individuals wanting to learn about the new evolving industry, and hoping to hear advice from inventive young music companies and long-time veterans who can acknowledge the recent changes and struggles of emerging artists and indie labels. Contributors such as Lou Plaia, the co-founder of Reverbnation, Michael Spiegelman, head of Yahoo! Music, Paul Resnikoff, founder and editor of Digital Music News, and Martin Atkins, author of Tour:Smart. Certainly enough interesting people and ideas for me to attend and report back here for our Music Jobs members.
Founder Tommy Silverman started the day with some shocking statistics. Although, he did point out that they should only concern you if you are on the board at one of the majors. The fact that only 110 albums released in 2008 sold over 250,000 copies that year is not an issue for a new independent artist. What it does enforce is something I've tried to help people with for some time, and that is re-evaluating your idea of success. You are not going to get scooped up by a label and go platinum. You CAN work hard and earn a living form your music, and if we are all in it for the love of the art, shouldn't that be a more than reasonable level to consider success?
However, one statistic that you should pay attention to, is that of the 105,575 albums released in 2008, only 5945 sold more than 1,000 copies that year. This is the line of obscurity that you want to vault over. With a good strategy and understanding of the new music industry, you will sell enough albums and earn many valuable fans for you to reach this newly defined success.
Michael Spiegelman delivered a keynote focused on the tools that Yahoo and other services can provide to help an artist publish, market, engage, sell and monetise effectively. He emphasised the need to find relevant tools and fans, and how you can pull this information from the internet via different traffic sources, and how to act upon it using analytics. When asked by the audience what he saw as the latest in disruptive technologies, he replied that the cycle has moved from the initial surge of new ideas to a 'maturity' time, where we figure out what is sustainable and build a business model on top of that. In other words, the abundance of new websites and technologies over the last few years will slow, and some lesser ones will be brushed aside, as stronger ideas are built upon and emerge into a key part of the future industry.
The fist panel session was probably my favourite, for the fact that they shared some great advice, stayed focused on the topics at hand and made sure what they were saying was relevant given the audience. Emily White, of Whitesmith Entertainment pointed out the importance of communicating directly with your fans, and how you can do that with the help of Google Alerts and social networking tools such as Twitter. I couldn't agree more with this, and Lou Plaia backed this up by saying that the more you do now and try to generate your own attention the more power you have further down the line - not just for bargaining with labels but the awareness of how this all works is healthy and will help propel you further by maximising any opportunities you come across.
The panel discussed the idea that 1000 "super fans" are something of a milestone to aim for, as these super fans are the people who are likely to spend around $100 a year on your work. This would give you a total income of $100,000 per year, and lead you to making a living from your music.
David Hazan, Chief Marketing Officer at The Bizmo encouraged artists to be creative in terms of merchandise offerings, as one ticket, one T-shirt and one album doesn’t equal $100 bucks. He offered that one band had handwritten lyrics and notes, which they uploaded as PDF, and their "super fans" paid for access to that premium content. This idea had the added bonus of no distribution costs, therefore earning the band good money.
To be honest, the next two panels lost the vibe a bit, as a result of lacking direction. Several long rants from panel members about their own achievements did not help. Some of the saviors were Ariel Hyatt of Cyber PR and Corey Denis of Reapandsow, both sharing great advice on social networking for musicians. DJ veterans Steve 'Silk' Hurley and Bad Boy Bill had some interesting points, sharing a different angle having been in electronic music, and therefore seen a different market for singles, EPs and mixtapes over the years. If only they could have fit in more comments instead of a majorly ill-fitting (and misguided) panel member spouting not only incredulous ideas, but contradicting himself, often within the same poorly structured sentence.
The final session was where Martin Atkins stole the show. Impervious and humble advice, shared with clear and concise translations for the entire audience, and demonstrated with a sense of humour produced great effect. I'm a Martin Atkins fan anyway, and if you ever choose to buy any music industry book at all (which you should), it should be his Tour:Smart masterpiece.
Overall, the seminar was interesting, and it was great for me to hear some speakers that I respect for the first time, but overall it was lacking something. I would prefer a closer connection with the industry experts, more interaction from them with the audience, and a working Wi-Fi network ;-)
I look forward to the event evolving in the future.
(Cross-posted at US Music Jobs, the premier online community for US music industry professionals and jobs in the music industry)
Seminar photos (c) Lee Jarvis 2009.