New Music Seminar 2013 – Tuesday

Tuesday started off pretty much the same way as Monday, at the New Music Seminar, once again live from the New Yorker Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The kick off panel for the day was “Building the $100 Billion Music Business”, which featured several heavyweights in all aspects of the record business, including legal and branding, moderated by Ralph Simon (CEO, Mobilum Global). The discussion not only centered around the figure of $100 billion, but how collectively the industry can hit that number, and when. Currently the record industry is estimated to be a $23 billion a year business and expected to climb to around $30 billion by this time next year. According to the panelists, the obtuse obstacle will be managing the evolution of streaming and subscription music, essentially the concept of access over ownership for the consumer. Although the panel was fairly upbeat, one would have to wonder if behind boardrooms and shareholder meetings, there was a sense of nervousness of being left in the dark like when napster bankrupted the “industry” overnight about 13 years ago, as the streaming and subscription business still contains a bundle of unknown factors. During the panel, Axel Deezer (CEO, Dreezer) and Michael Abbattista (Spotify) led the conversation in the direction of the future, as both companies lead the charge to music access through subscription and streaming, which has taken Europe by storm and is slowing starting to become a major player here in the states.

I did skip the A&R panel, who I believe process the most powerful and influential jobs in the record business, but the panel I looked forward to the most of the entire conference,the Independent Label Movement panel, had a conflicting time slot in another room. Besides, just because A&R executives have every starving artist and manager out there begging for their attention on a daily basis, doesn’t necessarily mean they deserve mine. The Independent label panel was probably the most relevant of the entire conference, as more artists from indie labels are dominating the charts as of late, such as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Vampire Weekend, and Mumford And Sons. An interesting discovery from the independent label executives was their very functional, very tame relationship with the major record labels, as almost all the indies rely on the majors for radio exposure and promotion in a limited form. The indies’ major concern, how to maximize and stay relevant in the streaming and subscription business, which is a legitimate concern given the scenario where a very powerful manager or a larger social media fanbase could essentially make the indie record labels not needed and/ or obsolete. It is important to note, the independent hip hop industry was unrepresented on this panel.

I mistakenly attended the booking agents panel next, which was not only a snooze fest, but also a side of the business that has not changed much over the last few decades beside promotion delivery and reactionary steps to contemporary trends in music consumption. Not to say that their jobs are irrelevant or not needed in the music business, I just do not believe they are the superior talent evaluators they claim to be, but rather a middle man that can be fired at any time, as most do not hold the artists contractually connected to the agencies or promotion companies. The booking agents panel was only bearable because it had an amazingly hilarious lead in from Martin Atkins, who delivered a sermon titled “Welcome to the music business, you’re fucked”, that included props and a light-hearted plea for artists to be self- motivated and determined.

To close out the New Music Seminar was the Reasons To Be Cheerful panel, where “music label leaders plot the course for a better music industry”. Panelists included big shots Craig Kallman, who runs Atlantic Records, and Monte Lipman, who runs Republic Records. The record label executives had an understandable sense of confidence, considering the push towards music streaming and subscription means the master ownership of content has regained its value away from piracy. Although there was no new revelations in this panel, it was highly entertaining to hear their collective war stories, which included Monte Lipman’s account of the signing of Korean sensation, Psy and the development of his international hit, “Gangnam Style”.

The New Music Seminar ended shortly after the last panel, with closing remarks from executive director, Tom Silverman, who also runs Tommy Boy Records. It’s clear that this conference is starting to regain its former position, and I expect that the New Music Seminar will draw on that appeal, and be even bigger next year. Although I disagreed at times with the mostly older panelists, I believe this conference is essential and the panel formatting allows for the best way to consume and interpret information, conversation.

A full schedule with names of the panelists can be found here: