New Music Seminar: A Talk With Tom Silverman

And you see right now as being a tipping point?

There are two tipping points. The first tipping point was when people no longer needed to go to recording studios and hire musicians and engineers to make a record and GarageBand came with every Mac. That was a tipping point. Now anyone can make a record. If you don’t have a studio facility in your laptop or computer, you know somebody who does. It’s happening in every genre in rap, DJ/dance music, electronic music as well. Now it’s easier for people to make music, so there’s a glut of music coming out.

The new tipping point is for distribution. Just the way they say memory storage and bandwidth are headed toward a zero cost. You can buy a terabyte drive for under $100 now. In 10 years, it might be a thousand terabyte drive for under $100, or maybe in five years. The same thing is happening with distribution. You can go to TuneCore and for $35 you can get your music distributed with no distribution fee. Or CD Baby for nine percent or Reverb Nation. For $35, you can get it up on eight or nine sites worldwide. So distribution is now available to everyone.

The only place where there is still a bottleneck is mass exposure and marketing, which still is the bastion of radio and television. That’s why American Idol still dominates sales.

Or why people are trying to get their songs on Grey’s Anatomy.

Exactly. But that’s winning the lottery, too. My feeling is you gotta be in it to win it, like they say, but the odds of winning aren’t that high. The odds of getting signed to a major label or getting your record on radio or getting a song on an iPod ad or Grey’s Anatomy are really low, and I would say over 100,000 to one. The payoff isn’t really that great. Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t pay anything. One song on Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t launch an entire career. It’s part of something. It’s a quantum event that helps contribute to it.

I believe that if you buy a lottery ticket, not only do you have a better chance of winning, you win more when you win. So what if you get a major label deal? Doesn’t mean you’re going to get that much money, net-net. You have two years off to make it, and if you make it, great. But in most cases, the guy who signed you will probably be fired before your record comes out.

So the focus is to get people into a long-term business model, rather than short term goals of getting on a label, etc.?

While you’re waiting for that quantum event, you can still be doing things about improving your show, improving your songs. What Malcolm Gladwell talks about in the Outliers, if you really want to be great at something, it requires 10,000 hours of practice. That kind of a thing. How do you make your music stand out in the glut, how do you differentiate your product, whether it be the song, the record, the show, the look and the concept. What do you stand for, what’s the artist mean? They don’t ask those questions, they just make records.