Tom Silverman on the 2014 New Music Seminar: 'Who Needs Another Music Convention?'

(Kyle Reinford)

“There’s really no reason for another conference, there's enough out there,” says Tom Silverman who is three days out from the 23rd iteration of his New Music Seminar, which starts this Sunday, June 8 at New York's Wyndham New Yorker Hotel. “If you're not doing something no one else is doing, what’s the point?" For Silverman the point is to figure out how to engender growth in a music business where, according to an RIAA report he cites, the music business is down 51% since 2000 (with inflation considered, the business is down 64%*). "We’re really trying to help the music business grow and give more opportunities to artists, that’s our purpose,” he says.

Strategizing for the future of the music industry is a passion for Silverman, the founder of the eponymous Tommy Boy Records. His original NMS lasted from 1980 to 1994 and restarted again in 2009 because of what Silverman says was "frustration with a record business in denial about the end of the record business." He says the industry wasn't spending any time, effort or money in forming a brain trust to figure out what the music industry should like. “We’re gonna let [Spotify's] Daniel Ek or Steve Jobs make that decision? Everyone on the outside was making the decisions and we weren’t even having the conversation.”

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The music industry vet whose says he's done every job in the business and has sat on a number of boards (including at different times the RIAA, A2IM, SoundExchange, NARM, Merlin and others) spends an inordinate amount of time examining business trends, studying data, asking questions and setting ambitious goals.

In 2013, Silverman proposed a bold initiative to build a $100 billion dollar industry. "We have to set meaningful goals as an industry,” he says, “like having our man on the moon like Kennedy said and have everybody rally behind it.” He compares the music business' potential to the sports industry which he says has grown ten-fold in the last 30 years. He also believes it is possible for the music industry to have 100 million music streaming subscribers—the same amount of subscribers cable TV has—in four years.

Silverman notes that when he released Afrika Bambaataa's “Planet Rock” in 1982 he had only two employees and was selling 50,000 twelve-inch singles a week. “We didn’t know what we were doing and we had no money and practically no staff, but the music was breaking through more naturally than it does today with the web and all this great technology.” This he says in reaction to the unfulfilled promise of the long tail theory which was supposed to bring success to more artists but never did. "All these theories are fine," he says, "but they aren’t working and no one’s talking about why they aren’t."

Silverman recites a sort of eight-point manifesto off the top of his head that in effect forms the crux of this year's NMS.  He calls them “breakthrough topics that nobody is discussing at any other conference.”

Streaming is first among these topics and one he calls the “future.” "We need to know how to measure, monetize and maximize” music streaming and subscription services' potential. It's a conversation no one talks about or understands. The business is no longer about an album going gold and selling 500,000 units but rather about understanding that streaming is an attention business.” Metrics like ARPU (average revenue per user), daily average users, time spent listening and the lifetime value of a streaming consumer, Silverman says, are pivotal to figuring out what success will look like in music streaming.

Silverman's other points for 2014's NMS include the globalization of the music business; the reinvention of the artist-label deal; the growth of the independent sector; the evolution of music distribution; the growing importance of music video; the rebirth of high resolution audio after a 25 year decline; and a look at how radio continues to dominate music sales at a time when digital was to have changed that.

The seminar is a manifestation of all that occupies Silverman's music business-oriented mind and the respect he's earned from peers throughout the music industry over the course of his 33 years in the business. Among the confab's nearly 180 panelists are some of the industry's most powerful and knowledgeable executives who show up in large part because of the respect they have for Tom Silverman and the importance of the event he's created.

This year icons like Seymour Stein (Sire), Al Bell (Stax) and Kenny Gamble (Philly Int'l) will rub shoulders with a swath of Billboard Power 100 regulars: Craig Kallman and Julie Greenwald (Atlantic), Monte and Avery Lipman (Republic); Cameron Strang (WBR and Warner/Chapell), Tom Corson (RCA) David Massey (Island), Julie Swidler (Sony), Frank Cooper (Pepsi), Scott Greenstein (SiriusXM), Daniel Glass (Glassnote), Dan Mason (CBS). There are also leading digital lights Will Page (Spotify), Tommy Page (Pandora), Michal Huppe (SoundExchange) and Alex White (Next Big Sound); indie leaders like Darius Van Arman (Secretly Canadian), Michael Goldstone (Mom + Pop), Patrick Moxey (Ultra) and Kris Gillespie (Domino); music chieftans like Mike Carren (WMG A&R); Mike Jbara (ADA) and Peter Asher (Mgmt) as well as artists like Nile Rogers and Theophilus London.  (As well as Billboard touring guru Ray Waddell who is leading a panel on the live music business and emerging artists)

“I believe in getting people together and looking at what should be the next music business,” Silverman says.

While BMI and SoundExchange appear on the NMS web site, Silverman says he's not making any money off the convention but for him it's not about that. "We're looking at what's next and trying to identify trends everyone else is missing and nobody else is talking about—otherwise nobody needs another convention."

*This story previously cited an MIDiA study that recorded music had contracted by some 24% since 2000, but that was only as a percentage of total music sales which dropped from 60% in 2000 to 36% in 2013, which Mr. Silverman pointed out. 


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