[26 June 2012]
The New Music Festival (NMS) returned to New York City on a gorgeous June afternoon, which happened to be Father’s Day. The dark yet hallowed spaces of the Webster Hall filled with various representatives of the music business, from those who discover and distribute to those looking to be such things. As the Founder/President of Tommy Boy Records, New Music Seminar’s Executive Director Tom Silverman pulls many strings in the industry, making participation for both sides extremely worthwhile. This year’s theme, “Appetite for Destruction”, invited everyone to deconstruct the old model and “design as new music business,” as Silverman stated in his opening remarks. He laid down a few rules: no complaining, no blaming and listen with an open mind.
The first panel brought established producers to the stage to discuss, “Producing Music For a Connected Society”. They quickly acknowledged how there were so many ways to listen to music, from headphones to speakers on the go or in the homes. What sounds great in the studio might not sound so great on the laptop, so each track needed to be tested on each. This new approach also brought out the idea how there’s no such thing as a music demo anymore, everything begins with the intent that it should be of the highest quality. Other talking points that surfaced were the ongoing trend of making stems (sub mixes) available to remixers and how synchs (using a song on a commercials and film) are now part of the promotion process, “a natural fit” in a singles market.
At the Opening Night Party later, the wide variety of performances suggested that while the genres may be blurring there’s still incredible diversity in the music scene. The evening began with the flaming performance art of the Fiery Sensations and continued to the avant-garde act of Alex Sander and Yozmit, with people retreating under a huge costume skirt out in the audience. Diane Birch took to the stage next in a black wide brimmed hat, singing earnest ballads while posted behind her keyboard. She had a solid voice and backing band, but little stage presence or songwriting ‘wow’ for the gig. Julliard trained classical pianist Evan Shinners also played keyboard, conjuring Bach and Mozart over layers of synths under the unlikely guise of new music. Singer sisters of The Pierces presented a country folk rock set as veteran performers, remembering to introduce themselves and each song. Obviously the unique vocal blend owed much to genetics, but the generic songwriting offered nothing memorable. YouTube sensation Hoodie Allen followed, with his fans edging forward ready to party. (He had worked social media again with ticket freebies.) When I asked one fan how to describe Allen’s music I was told, “fun,” and with an adoring crowd in front of the stage, it certainly appeared that way. However, Allen’s hip hop approach to music uses preexisting songs and creating a rap party around it, for example Fitz and the Tantrum’s “Don’t Gotta to Work It Out”.
The next morning, Tom Silverman took the podium for some Opening Remarks wearing blinders on and a CD dangling like a carrot in front of his face. He spoke about how selling records is now morphing into sales in advertising or merchandise, along with online downloads. Although 97% of the world never buys music, Silverman believes the industry can build the music business triple in ten years. He suggested that road blocks to success could be removed with an automated online licensing and payment solution. With people listening to music so many places, “monetizing the passes is key” but it has to “feel like free.”
In a NMS Intensive, Tony van Veen of Discmakers and CD Baby reminded artists that priority number one still needed to be “write great songs.” After that, the second priority should be to “build your list” of fans with a professional email provider to communicate updates, not just spam them with offers. Fans need to be viewed as customers, with artists offering a deep product catalog of music and great swag. Also, van Veen suggests everyone to “embrace free” and treat the act of giving away music as a promotional vehicle.
Rick Goetz of Music Coaching, presented a NMS Intensive about “Everything You Need To Forget About the Music Business.” Goetz discussed how the academic notion of grit as more important than intelligence or talent as a predictor of outstanding achievement. He then offered practical tips from trademarking to marketing materials of all sorts. These include a “no apology” four song recording, bio, logo, professional photo, live video with a crowd, vanity URL and website, along with an interconnected social media network. Artists also need to remember the importance of community with other bands and to think long term, not overnight sensation.
There was also a “Live Performance Workshop” with Tom Jackson of Tom Jackson Productions. Jackson provided a witty critique of bands at the last New Music Seminar after viewing their live performance on videos, but this time around he worked directly with a band on stage. After speaking truths such as how audiences go to concerts to forget about work or school and be engaged in life changing “moments” (and then purchase the music to relive these moments), Jackson began rearranging the group Mitchell Grey like a director. By adding focal points between members and vocal flourishes, their song became a performance using Jackson’s principal of “planned spontaneity.” Using straightforward football and bedroom analogies, Jackson entertained the viewing crowd as well.
It was back to recorded music during a panel of A&R executives, where talk centered on the continual need for hit singles. Labels have diminished budgets and mounting pressure to succeed with each artist, even if the music industry is “littered with music lovers” according to Craig Kallman, Chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records. Talent can be found anywhere, so scouts on staff scour the internet as well as clubs and submissions. Monte Lipman, President and CEO of Universal Republic Records, concluded how the music business is in crisis but the music industry is thriving with the increase of synch uses. “Extraordinary music will always prevail,” he declared.
Music Blogs: Discovering the Best New Music (Panel):
(L-R): Daniel Petruzzi (President, Okayplayer) Christopher J. Kaskie (President, Pitchfork) Anthony Volodkin (CEO, Hypemachine) Matthew Perpetua (Founder, Fluxblog) Bill Werde (Editorial Director, Billboard) Photo credit: Jane Jansen Seymour
Producing Music For a Connected Society (Panel):
(L-R): Producers (left to right): Joie Manda, President, Def Jam Just Blaze, Producer, DJ & Songwriter Benny Blanco, Producer Luke Ebbin, Producer & Songwriter David Kahne, Producer, Composer, Arranger & Engineer. Photo credit: Jane Jansen Seymour
Live Performing Workshop: Making the Band with Tom Jackson:
Tom Jackson. Photo credit: Jane Jansen Seymour
Diane Birch performing at the NMS Opening Night Party. Photo credit: Jane Jansen Seymour
Andy Rourke, bass player for The Smiths, dj for the NMS Opening Night Party. Photo credit: Jane Jansen Seymour
The Fiery Sensations performing at the NMS Opening Night Party. Photo credit: Jane Jansen Seymour
Evan Shinners performing at the NMS Opening Night Party. Photo credit: Jane Jansen Seymour
Hoodie Allen performing at the NMS Opening Night Party. Photo credit: Jane Jansen Seymour