MANHATTAN, NY—Every June a range of professionals, consisting of everyone from fresh new artists budding with demos in hand to CEOs, trek their way to NYC for the annual New Music Seminar exuberant to share their wealth of knowledge. With their love of music uniting them under one roof, the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel, the entire seminar was an exchange between music lovers that uniquely inspires delegates to take their love of music and change the industry for the better.
In The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide To Music Success, a panel with entertainment lawyers, delegates had a crash course on the maintenance of a band like a business. Their advice offered protection for everyone involved, the band as a single entity, the band members individually, and other instances in which legal protection will be needed. They suggested preparing a band agreement, which they described was like a prenup. A good band agreement would cover how the band’s relationship will function, addressing who will do what, who has the right to use the band name and other trademarks, and how profits and losses are dealt with, among other details. They also gave short insight into the world of record deals; they especially warned to be mindful of the term, how long the deal will last. They also touched on publishing deals for songwriting; a highlight from this portion comes in the form of the demanding quote, “Copyright yo’ shit!” A statement on choosing a manager was given to audience members with a touching sincerity: “Find a manager that has a vision that matches or is greater than your own and that is well versed in building a fan base.”
The importance of live performance was stressed to us in the panel Touring For Road Warriors, where executives gave their best insight on touring. In their encouragement, their words exaggerated the value of live performance as a developing artist. They expressed that the live show was key to building a fan base in a method they repeatedly described as “fan by fan.” Delivering quality was also an essential component: “You have to play really, really well. If not, no one will come back.” The group of touring experts shared that of all the facets of the music industry, the least amount of change has been seen in touring, further explaining that the key over time has been to connect with people. They suggest being nice to everyone, giving the example of buying the sound guy a coffee wouldn’t hurt. These exact sentiments were echoed in another panel with a different lineup of music industry veterans called Touring & Artist Development. The latter also expanded on the appropriate venue size, explaining that there should be a gradual increase in show attendance. As an example, they shared, “If a band can’t sell out a 200-person show the third time around, there is something wrong.”
In an intimate one-woman panel, we were introduced to the life and career of Holly Knight, noted for writing Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield.” Knight explained how she transitioned from classical piano player to rock musician to finally taking songwriter. It’s a story of simply doing what she felt was right. Knight is particularly passionate; she even lobbies for change in the music industry in Washington with a group. She advises to be self-propelling, simply start writing, and once you do, build a catalogue full of copyrighted material. Six others joined Knight the following day for a panel called Songwriter’s Movement. They also shared their story with the audience and advice on becoming a successful songwriter. Optimistic tidbits eased tensions when evaluating the art of pitching: “Things will find the right home if you believe in it.” When the saturated musical market due to advances in technology was brought up, the industry was described as “open mic night for the world.” Similar to Knight’s “just start writing” advice, they also suggested this: “Everyone’s got 2,000 bad songs in them, so you better start writing to find the good ones now.”
Interestingly, many claims were made across a variety of panels on the role and influence of social media on the music industry. Having a large following on social media helps garner the attention of labels. Entertainment lawyer Steve Gordon shared, “In the last [few] years, Instagram and Vine have changed the game.” To that extent, what truly matters is that those followers become fans, the industry’s most indispensible resource. Kevin Liles summed this idea up by stating, “Stop worrying about ‘likes’ and worry about believers.”
Of course, days full of insight weren’t complete without evenings full of new music. The first night of performances from some of the industry’s most budding performers was held at Webster Hall. First to the stage was YouTube sensation turned Def Jam signee, Alessia Cara, from booming beats and synths to stripped-down acoustic songs, who delivered unpredictable soulful vocals for someone so young. Cara delivered her first single “Here,” in which she powerfully sings about her apathy and it has, rightfully, since exploded. California-based Belmont Lights made their New York debut that evening, and the ethereal rock band delivered a great first impression. The soulful Grace Weber took everyone to school on vocal ability, and had a range of tunes that included upbeat dance numbers to a touching ballad. Indie pop vocalist Melanie Martinez closed the night with her signature unique style. She played fan favorites like “Dollhouse” and new songs from her upcoming record.
With a distinct kinetic energy resounding through the conference, three days with some of music’s most passionate becomes something larger than simply discussing business protocol; it evolves into a space to inspire elevation and improvement on all fronts. If that isn’t inspirational, then I don’t know what is. Providing a platform for these ideas, the New Music Seminar accomplishes what it promises its delegates.