State of the Industry Pt. 2

State of the Industry Pt. 2

This is part 2 of 2 of an interview with Tom Silverman the founder of Tommy Boy Entertainment and one of the main executives who has revived the New Music Seminar.  Please check the bottom of this post – Tom was kind enough to offer my readers a code for two for one admission to the L.A. New Music Seminar coming up on February 1st & 2nd.  If you missed part one you can read that here.

Musician Coaching:

When I was at the New York NMS I noticed that a lot of the people in attendance were those at the many companies that now provide artist services. It seems to be there are lots of artist services businesses popping up.  ReverbNation, Top Spin – there seem to be new ones every day. There are tons of services now where there never were before. I was wondering if you were fond of any of those companies and thought they had real value?


I am. I think they are replacing what labels and managers used to do or maybe never did, depending on what they’re doing. They’re also helping artists more simply bridge the gap between the online social world and search and all the things you’re talking about. It’s a complicated stew; you can be on 15 social sites, and there’s a question as to how important they are vs. the amount of time you spend, and how important the Web is to making your career go. I can’t think of many artists who owe their career to the Web.

When I think about the indie artists that are doing it themselves, like Sufjan Stevens or Bon Iver or this guy Corey Smith.. This is a guy from North Carolina who was a school teacher and about three years ago and his manager got him up to about a million dollars in revenues, then the next year he got him up to four million in revenues. Really, the game is how can you build your revenues, not how can you sell more records. You may not sell records at all. You may decide to give records away to get your revenues up. If your revenues go up, that’s what you care about. Tommy Boy is in the “how do we make more revenues” business and “how do we create a strategic plan to do that?” That’s what Tommy Boy has molted into. It’s kind of what we always did, but we just never really looked at it that way.

The New Music Seminar was created to identify what the goal is for everybody, including the ReverbNations or the TopSpins of the world.  What are they going to have to provide to artists?  When Spotify comes to America I am going to ask Daniel Ek (CEO & Founder of Spotify – who will be giving the Keynote at the NMS in L.A.) “What can Spotify do to help the developing artist?” Because the real goal of the New Music Seminar is to help developing artists so more artists can break through. We really have a big problem in our country right now in that so few artists are breaking through, with or without a label. The promise of the Internet was that all of us would be able to make great music and get it exposed. Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” article said that all you have to do is be able to get that record out, and they’ll come. But that’s not working.

Musician Coaching:

I think part of the problem is that everybody did that.


Well, that’s what he said, “Everybody would do it.” That’s why it’s called the “long tail.” But when you have 105,000 albums in 2008 released and 17,000 of those releases only sold one copy, and 80,000 of them sold under 100 copies, it’s a pretty depressing scene. You can’t just build it and they will come. You have to do more than that. I was going to say before that Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver and Corey Smith are selling a significant amount – above 10,000 units – a lot of which is at their shows, and they’re not active online. They’re not Twitterheads. They didn’t break from the Internet. They broke from touring, and they had a good story, and the good story spread like wildfire through traditional media like NPR.

Musician Coaching:  It’s funny actually, I’m friendly with Eric Garland at Big Champagne, and I interviewed him, and asked if there was any predictor to determine which kind of artist is most likely to get their music pirated, and he said, “Well, R&B crossover singles.” But he also said the biggest prediction is the more active you are online the more likely it is that your music will be pirated, which was upsetting.


Interesting. It’s upsetting to people that are making big investments in being online. I’ll tell you the one thing that works: if you’re great live and you bust your ass on the road, that works. And it’s the one thing that has always worked and your social network is at the show. You come to the show and everyone who comes is into the band, so they all have that in common and it’s a social network. But you can actually see them and talk to them and scream with them. There’s an excitement that happens at a gig that never happens online. The online thing is great for finding out about stuff, looking things up or for making purchases; but for exposing stuff, so far it’s been disappointing. That may not be true with webcasting – Last FM, Pandora and Slacker and some of the other big webcasters as they start to invoke discovery tools and more and more sophisticated discovery tools to suggest and discover new music get better and better. Maybe we can fix some of that, but when the Web was proposed for music ten years or twelve years ago, we all thought this would be the Golden Era and that there would be an Elvis that would break every three months, or some big act. There’d be a Lady Gaga every two weeks, but it’s not happening. It’s not happening at all. And Lady Gaga didn’t break off the Web. She broke by hard, hard work touring and doing promo shows and every place she could go we saw her. There was nowhere she wasn’t. They pushed and they pushed and put posters on the street – old analog shit. I’m sure they did the online stuff too. A lot of artists think if they do a big online push that’s enough, and it’s really not enough anymore. In fact, you could probably break without any online work at all; but you can’t probably break without any offline work at all. So that’s the big myth that’s being purported. You know where the investment money’s coming from in the music business now? It’s coming from venture capitalists that are investing in businesses like Spotify or any of those artist service businesses.  There must be half a billion dollars in online investment in the music business over the two years. That’s more than all the labels in the world have spent on A&R in the last five years combined – a lot more – and probably on marketing too. That’s where the money’s coming from, so they’re leading the press. So of course everybody thinks shit is selling because of the technology, but it’s not. That’s the hope, and where the investment’s been, but that’s not the reality. We’re really not seeing any evidence that stuff is breaking off the Web.

There are a lot of groups that are breaking because of a big write-up on Pitchfork that leads to maybe a usage on a TV show like The Hills or something like that. People see something on TV or MTV or something like that or hear some song on MTV. The combination of that plus touring might work. If radio and print are moving towards the Internet and they can get enough reach and frequency, which has been the challenge for them so far, like the Huffington Post or maybe you can say Pitchfork. There are Pitchfork bands that consider themselves Pitchfork bands. They’re not going gold and platinum, but they’re getting booked and they’re starting to break that obscurity line. I think the more powerful Pitchfork gets … I mean, Oprah wasn’t Oprah in the very beginning. It took her years to build an audience. Now she can talk about a book and that book goes into the Top 10 on the Best Seller list the next week. There’s not a lot of people that have that kind of juice online. In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone that has that kind of juice online yet. There will be something that everybody watches just like they watch on television online or that they look at that will move the needle substantially right now. Right now it’s still really early days for that.

And a lot of artists are really putting all their faith in that and focusing on online, but when you look at the numbers, the artists that are doing it are the ones that are doing the grinding on the road.

At the Seminar we want to talk to artists about if there’s 120,000 albums that come out in a year, how do they differentiate themselves from all of them? Because clearly it’s tough. There’s such a glut, and how do I break through the glut? The best way to break through the glut if you’re limited in funds – and everyone is – is to differentiate yourself. So we talk about how do we differentiate ourselves in every one of the four important aspects that define an artist:

the songs

the recording

the image & concept

the live show

The concept is really big.  It means- “what do you stand for?”

That’s why Susan Boyle sold more records in six weeks than anybody else in three years, and she wasn’t even American and had no radio play or anything. She had a story, and it was a compelling story. Anybody with a compelling story that can get that compelling story told.  It is a lot easier to get exposed with a story because everyone wants to talk about and write about a compelling story.  You have to have a good story.

The Live show is important too.  Your live show has to be great, because so many artists are breaking from the stage now. You’re much more likely to get exposure and get a buzz if you have an unbelievable live show that makes people talk than if you have an unbelievable record. Records are not going to get radio play, because the radio stations that are left are hardly playing anything, and there’s nobody listening, especially in the rock area.

I taught a class at FIT and somebody asked me to come and speak. There were 40 kids in the class, and I asked them, “How do you guys find out about new music? Do you listen to the radio?” And only four or five kids listened to the radio in that whole class. All the rest of them said online they find out about it some way or word of mouth. That’s with every genre. Still, you just said that pop and urban are still breaking on the radio, and those are the ones that Eric Garland at Big Champagne said people are downloading and not paying for. The biggest radio hits are the ones that are more pirated. Everybody talks about peer-to-peer being a great way to expose new music. It’s not a great way, because 90% of the files being traded on peer-to-peer are the hits. It would be a much different ratio if it was a discovery tool. People aren’t using it as a discovery tool. They’re trying to get the songs that are already exposed.

What we’re doing at the Seminar is saying, “Where should we go to get the exposure?”

Continue on to part 3 of this interview


If you will be in the L.A. Area or willing to travel to the L.A. area you should check out the New Music Seminar on February 1st and 2nd.  Readers of can get a two for one discount by going to and entering the code “nmsla2”.

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