The upshot of this year's New Music Seminar could probably be summed up with Tuesday's exuberantly titled panel, "The Music Business Isn't Over…Press the Reset Button and Start All Over. It's a New Game and The Good News Is You Can Win." The panel itself was a reset: It originally was to be called "Everything You Know is Wrong."
"I think we've turned a corner and we're going to see a positive impact on musicians of all shapes and sizes," said panelist Jay Frank, Sr. VP of music strategies for CMT and author of the book "FutureHit.DNA".
"It's really apparent that things are growing, but against the backdrop of something that's falling through the floor," added Eric Garland, the founder of Big Champagne media measurement, referring to the traditional record and radio-centered music industry. "We're going to hear a lot of catastrophic news about the music industry and we're going to be shrugging it off and building our businesses."
Moderator Michael Doernberg, founder of the music marketing platform ReverbNation, led a discussion that touched on the new wave of cloud-based music companies, effective fan base building through Tweeting, and other components of an entrepreneurial digital music world where artists profit from repeat plays rather than one-time purchases. The panelists listed YouTube, licensing, sponsorship and endorsements, ad revenue and songwriting as the key emerging revenue channels for artists.
"Artists need to redefine success in order to be successful in this new era," said Liz Leahy of digital marketing company Section 101.
Panelists recommended building a business that relies more on marketing to a very specific audience instead of trying to land a label deal for an artist. The session's biggest message was for musicians to focus on finding a niche and standing out, whether by forming something unique -- an indie-pop handclap band was one suggestion -- making hand-screened band t-shirts or developing close relationships with fans by Tweeting for hours after each gig. Though they shied away from the word "gimmick", all agreed that artists need to consciously make an effort to stand out from the pack.
"Lady Gaga is the biggest artist in the world and she still needed to come out in an egg [at the Grammys]," said Frank.
The New Music Seminar took place Monday through Wednesday this week and featured an "After Grammy Jammy" concert headlined by the Little Death, a singer/rapper workshop, a panel on the importance of image co-presented by RuPaul, one-on-one mentoring, and a series of 18-minute intensive tutorials on current technology and business skills for independent artists.