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Friday, May 1, 2009

New Music Seminar To Return

The premier music conference of the 80's and early 90's, the New Music Seminar, will return once again on July 21st at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. The brainchild of Tommy Boy Record's Tom Silverman, NMS was the place to be once upon a time.

Like most conferences, NMS started off really small with just a couple of hundred people, but soon became a large, must-attend event. And also like most conferences, became so large and unwieldily by the end of its 15 year run that the movers and shakers stayed home. Once the word gets out that something is cool and there's access to industry insiders, every kid that can dig up $400 is there looking for their big break. At that point the conference starts rolling down the mountain of indifference by the very people that it's built upon and it's not coming back (it seems like South By Southwest is nearing that point now).

Silverman is wisely keeping the attendance limited this time around, but tickets are only $99, which makes me think that he's doing this for the right reasons and not to make money.
According to Silverman, the new NMS will serve as a guidepost for “disenfranchised artists disheartened by the state of the industry and desperate for change.” The Seminar will be presented in association with NYU Steinhardt’s Music Business Program.

I don't know if you can ever go back to the good old days, but I'm glad that Tommy Silverman's trying. Good luck. Click here more information of the New Music Seminar.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

3 Reasons For And Against Digital Music Subscription

In doing research for my upcoming book "Music 3.0 - A Survival Guide For Making Music In The Digital Age" (published by Hal Leonard and to be released by the end of the year), virtually everyone I interviewed highly endorsed the subscription model as the ultimate solution for digital music and claimed it to be the inevitable direction that the music industry will take. Subscription means that you pay a basic fee like $10 - $15 per month and then are able to access any song you want whenever you want where ever you want.

This view has been held by those inside the industry for a long time, but I really didn't get it until last week. In helping my partner clean up the hard drive on her laptop, we were eliminating everything that was outdated, already backed up, or simply no longer needed. After much work there was still wasn't much drive space reclaimed, so I took a look at her iTunes folder. Sure enough, she had well over 20 gigs of songs! At that moment, I understood that subscription was the future of the business.

Here are the reasons that I believe it will work:

1) It's a lot more cost-effective for the consumer. As industry pundit Ted Cohen states, “For $10 a month, you can get 10 songs on iTunes or 10 million songs on Napster.”

2) Managing a lot of songs takes time and a lot of storage space for the consumer (see my story above).

3) There's potentially a lot of money to go around - much, much more than the business is generating today. The potential buying public in the US alone is 100 million. If only 50% of those subscribed at $10 a month, that's $500 million a month spread around to everyone in the business. The consumer will never be happier and the industry will grow overnight.

Here are the reasons against it:

1) It's hard for people to get over the idea of "renting" music after buying it for almost forever.

2) Most artists are afraid of subscription. Oh, they like the idea of steady income every month, but as of yet there's no way to ensure they'll actually see any of it. Most fear that the labels will take the lions share of the money and the artists will not see their fair share.

3) It's a publishing nightmare. As of now, the artist and publisher split a grand total of .18 cents (less than 1/4 of a cent!) each time a song is streamed. Most publishers claim that they now get statements that may be 5 phonebooks high of reported streams that add up to maybe $12, of which they only get to keep $3. In other words, it costs way, way more to process the paperwork than they're capable of making in it's current form. It's great that you can get the type of granular information about number of plays that publishers always hoped for, but they'll never sign off on subscription until they stop losing money on the deal.

I'm convinced that subscription digital music will eventually take over the business. Already Rhapsody has nearly 800,000 users and Napster has 700,000. The upstart Spotify has over a million subscribers in Europe alone (it's not available in the States yet due to licensing issues) and is getting rave reviews. But as our friend Ted Cohen says, "If iTunes announced subscription tomorrow, we’d be over the hump."

We keep hearing rumors that might happen. Stay tuned as the digital space continues to be the most interesting part of the music business.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Vinyl Really On The Upswing - Top 12 Retailers

In recent posts we've continually mentioned how well vinyl records are selling, now comes a couple of stories suggesting it's not a fluke.

First of all, rumor has it that Best Buy is considering allocating floor space for a display to sell a small number of vinyl records. Bear in mind that Best Buy is #12 of the top 100 retailers (according to Stores Magazine) and that giving floor space to any merchandise is a cold and calculated decision, so that means the format has some real heat for the moment. Supposedly only 200 titles will be displayed, which isn't very many, but it's a lot more than the zero that they sell now.

Also, a nice article in the LA Times yesterday (sorry, can't seem to find it online even though it was on the front page) talked about 3 new vinyl stores that recently opened in LA within the last year - Origami in Echo Park, Vacation in Los Feliz, and Little Radio in downtown LA. As owner Neil Schield said in the story, "It's the only area of the physical music business that's growing."

I know I mentioned Best Buy as #12 on the top 100 retailers list before, here are the other 11:

1. Wal-Mart (who else?)
2. Home Depot
3. CVS
4. Kroger
5. Costco
6. Target
7. Walgreen
8. Sears
9. Lowes
10. SuperValu
11. Safeway

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Prince And Tavis Smiley

While respecting his music and musicianship, I've always thought Prince to be both pompous and arrogant, so I almost didn't watch when the great Tavis Smiley interviewed the Purple One on his PBS talk show last night.

I don't know what made me give this a chance, but I'm glad I did. Prince turned out to be a lot more normal and down-to-earth than I ever thought he could be and I actually enjoyed the interview a great deal (I must admit that I enjoy most interviews that Tavis conducts though).

Perhaps my attitude comes from my only live encounter with Prince at Hollywood's famous Sunset Sound studios (where so many huge hits were cut in the last 40 years) in the mid-80's. I was recording in Studio A while Prince was camped out in Studio C. Sunset Sound has a nice enclosed basketball court, and during a break I noticed Prince out there shooting baskets by himself. I decided I go challenge him to a game, or at least shoot some hoops with him, when out of nowhere, a huge bodyguard jumped in the way just as I hit the court's entrance. "Prince don't want no company," he stated with a conviction that let me know there was no way I was getting in there, so I backed away and went back to work.

Anyway, I have a way different view of the guy now, thanks to Mr. Smiley. Here's a short 2 minute portion of the show to judge for yourself.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Frank Zappa and Radiohead On Why The Music Business Is In Sad Shape

Frank Zappa died a little more than 15 years ago but his words never seemed so relevant as he opens this video on why the music business is in such sad shape nowadays. Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenberg from Radiohead also chime in.

The first 3 or 4 minutes of the video are the best (especially Frank), but it's still an interesting commentary on today's music business regardless.


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