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New Music Seminar recap: Make more choices for fans

Tom Silverman, chief executive of Tommy Boy Records

Tom Silverman, chief executive of Tommy Boy Records and executive director of New Music Seminar, speaks during the convention's keynote address at the New Yorker hotel in Manhattan. (June 10, 2013) (Credit: Roger Kisby)

For years, the buzz in the music industry – and pretty much every other consumer-driven industry – was about “leaning forward,” as customers took control of their listening experiences and picked exactly what they wanted to hear when they exactly wanted to hear it. People wanted customization, the prognosticators said, they wanted millions of choices and the chance to personalize everything.

That actually turned out not to be the case for most people, industry leaders said at the New Music Seminar keynote address Monday at The New Yorker hotel. It turns out that most people want to “lean back” when it comes to entertainment.

“After a long day, the biggest decision you want to make is when you’re opening your beer,” said Tom Silverman, founder and chief executive of Tommy Boy Records and executive director of New Music Seminar, which combines discussions about the industry’s future and the New York Music Festival, where up-and-coming bands play at clubs across the city.

When the ability to make choices arrived through the Internet, there was a “period of turbulence,” said Frank Cooper, PepsiCo’s chief marketing officer for consumer engagement. However, now that things are settling into more predictable patterns again, it seems most music fans don’t want to do all the leg work of finding new music.

John Sykes, president of Clear Channel, said people want curation. “They want the work done for them,” he said. Sykes said that curators, including his radio stations, need to put in the work to discover new fan favorites. “It’s like R&D at a company,” he said. “You have to develop your future artists . . . It’s good for the artist community and good for business.”

Major industry players like Clear Channel and Vevo are looking to create a variety of music fan experiences, including ones where fans do nothing but listen and watch. Vevo chief executive Rio Caraeff said that when his company first started, he and many others believed fans wanted lots of interactivity with the videos – the chance to remix them, choose the camera angles, create their own personalized versions of the videos. “What most people want,” Caraeff said, “is to watch the videos.”

That explains why there are so many new video shows on Vevo, where you start one video and a whole bunch of similar videos follow automatically.

“Music has hit a few speed bumps in the past decade,” Sykes said. “But one thing’s for sure, the future of music is alive and well.”

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