Tom Silverman has spent more than 30 years in the recorded music business, as the founder and chairman of Tommy Boy Records, one of the leading dance record labels.
Silverman saw a gaping hole in the music industry so in 1981, he and partners, Joel Webber and Marc Josephson created the original New Music Seminar.
It was billed as a “new kind of grassroots music industry gathering for disenfranchised music business upstarts.”
Tommy Boy has earned gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums for such artists as Everlast, Queen Latifah, Coolio, Naughty By Nature, Club Nouveau, De La Soul, Digital Underground and House of Pain.It was Silverman’s ideas about packaging, marketing and distribution of music that helped separate Tommy Boy from the pack and led to the creation of the NMS.
The seminar today is one of the biggest and most important convention in the music industry; its combination of panels, workshops and live showcases became the model for CMJ, Canadian Music Week, Winter Music Conference and SXSW, among other followers, Silverman says.
The New Music Seminar will be held this year from June 17 to 19 at Webster Hall, 125 East 11th St. in New York City
The music industry veteran spoke with TheImproper about the changes that have swept the music industry and where he sees the business of recorded music going from here.
Improper: If you’re in the music business, why should you be present at the NMS.
Silverman: This is a sea change moment in the music business. We have turned the corner and the new music business is about to erupt. The old paradigm of the record business has limited growth, but now the new business is upon us and every important leader in that new business will be there.
IM: We know some of your background, Dance Music Report; Tommy Boy Records … tell us the evolution from there to here.
Silverman: I started Dance Music Report in 1978 to report on the early days of the DJ/Dance Music phenomenon. In 1980 I was a co-founder of the New Music Seminar along with David Salidor, Scott Anderson, Danny Heaps, the late Joel Webber and Mark Josephson.
It was designed to act as a catalyst for change in a stagnant music business. It became the world’s most important music conference for over a decade. The NMS stopped operating in 1994 and I revived it in 2009 to address the critical lack of leadership needed to birth a new sustainable music business.
IM: After doing the Seminars all these years; what’s one thing you’ve consistently seen?
Silverman: The most surprising thing, after all this time, is that artists still want to get signed to labels when they have the tools to do it themselves.
IM: Tell us about the early days of the Seminar; the first one was held at SIR on West 52nd street in NYC … right?
Silverman: That is correct. The first NMS drew only 200 people for one day but ignited a revolution. It grew each year until 1989.
IM: Of all the personalities you’ve met in the business; who has struck a chord with you as being the real deal?
Silverman: My mentors are Chris Blackwell, Ahmet Ertegun, Morris Levy, Mo Ostin and Seymour Stein. They are all Gods of the music business. There were many others like James Brown who I was fortunate enough to produce and many others.
IM: Where does Tommy Boy Records stand these days?
Silverman: Innovation and new thought. TB is undergoing radical transformation to lead in the new music business.
IM: When you came into the Warner’s fold, the first time, it must have seemed like a major changing of the guard for you. What was it like?
Silverman: Mo Ostin ran a family, not a business. It was the end of an era of affluence and positivity. I believe we can see a new era that embraces those values as we partner with artists and end the historic adversarial relationship between artists and their investors/operating partners.
IM: Where is the music business headed?
Silverman: The answer to this will be given at the New Music Seminar. You won’t just learn it, you will feel it.
IM: In many ways, the music business is healthier than ever … right?
Silverman: The business is 28 percent of the size it was in 1999. Sixty-five percent of the music business jobs have been eliminated if not more. Is that healthier? I suppose if you have gangrene and you remove your arms and legs, you are healthier than you were, but it makes it a little difficult to get around.
For more information check out the New Music Seminar.