I don’t usually get too personal in this blogspace– but I thought this week I’d offer up a quick excerpt from Chapter One of the Eric Beall biography for which absolutely no one is waiting (and which happily, no one is actually writing).
The story begins just before I graduated from Berklee College of Music, when, like most graduates everywhere, I was searching out possible job opportunities with a mixture of anticipation, excitement, ignorance and desperation. While I didn’t know much about what I was doing, at least I knew enough to be reading Billboard regularly, and that was where I happened on an article about a young whiz-kid named Tom Silverman, who was the founder of Tommy Boy Records, one of the seminal record labels in the history of hip-hop.
Riding high off the success of “Planet Rock” at Tommy Boy, Tom was quickly emerging as an industry leader, having also co-founded the New Music Seminar. Based in NYC, this conference was at the epicenter of a wave of new music taking shape in the early 1980s, it was where new wave and punk rock, hip-hop and electronic dance music all met and mingled, with hundreds of new artists, indie label owners, A&R people, press and other entrepreneurs plotting out their path into the industry.
The article I read about Tom Silverman concerned his plans to launch an industry group called “The Independent Label Coalition”, which was intended to be a trade group controlled by independent labels from across genres. The hope was that by working together to improve the business environment in the independent music world, the ILC could increase the ability of these smaller companies to compete with the major labels that dominated the industry. At the end of the Billboard interview, Tom pointedly mentioned that he was looking for volunteers– and I quickly reached out to be in contact.
To me, The Independent Label Coalition seemed like an ideal opportunity to meet people in the music business, learn about the industry, and hopefully build relationships that would result in gainful employment. To Tom, my willingness to volunteer undoubtedly confirmed yet again one of his pet theories, that in the music business, there was always a young kid who would work for free just for the chance to be involved. Happily, I did manage to meet Tom shortly thereafter, and was given a small role in the Independent Label Coalition.
I moved to New York from Boston in the middle of July, 1984, dropped my still-packed boxes in my tiny apartment, and immediately reported for duty at the New Music Seminar, where the Independent Label Coalition was officially being launched. I helped to check people in for the conference; I stood for endless hours at the ILC booth in the exhibit hall; I worked the door at Studio 54, where the Independent Label Coalition had a kick-off party. I was yelled at by Bob Krasnow (the head of Elektra Records); I screwed up most of what I touched; I tried to network in rooms of hundreds of people where I didn’t know a soul. But I also met dozens of new entrants in the music business sweepstakes, saw early performances from artists that ranged from the Beastie Boys to Run DMC to RuPaul to Madonna (check out the video below), and sat in dozens of panels where I learned the realities of how our industry is structured. Thanks to Tom Silverman and the New Music Seminar, I suddenly entered the music business, and I’ve been fortunate enough to remain there ever since.
The Independent Label Coalition didn’t actually work out very well– the idea of coordinating activities among indie record labels, made up of some of the most defiantly “independent” personalities in the world, proved to be a little Utopian for the real world. To me, it didn’t much matter. The ILC did exactly what I needed it to do, which was to give me my first network of friends, supporters and mentors in the music industry. In fact, many of those people I still maintain relationships with today, more than twenty years later. One of the leaders of the ILC was David Renzer, who at the time was a successful songwriter and producer. David went on to become the head of Zomba Music Publishing, where he wound up signing me to my first publishing deal. Now, David is the worldwide president of Universal Music Publishing. Another early compatriot from the ILC days was Duncan Hutchison, who became the president of Caroline Records, and is now the Chief Content Officer of RightsFlow, the licensing organization.
The ILC also introduced me to to a wide group of record industry entrepreneurs, including Eddie O’Loughlin at Next Plateau Records, who continues to be a colleague and mentor to me, Sergio Cossa, for whom Shapiro Bernstein, the company where I work now, administers the Emergency Music catalog, and of course, the illustrious Tom Silverman.
To bring this story to a well-crafted and slightly ironic conclusion, it turns out that Tom Silverman, along with my friend David Lory, one of the industry’s most creative and forward-looking executives, has now relaunched the New Music Seminar. After concluding in 1995, the New Music Seminar was brought back to life in 2009.
As it turns out, I’ll be participating in NMS 2010, being held July 19-21st in New York. I’ll be promoting my books, “Making Music Make Money” and “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”, as well as my new consulting service, “Ask The Music Business Weasel”. If you can be in or around New York during this time, I strongly urge you to be a part of this conference, which is all about uncovering new paradigms and business models for success in today’s music business. And if you’re there, please find me and say hello. I’m looking forward to signing some books, chatting a bit, and being part of an event that played a key role in my own development as a songwriter, producer and executive.
Contrary to what many believe, the music business is not really such a tough thing to break into. There are no entrance exams, no licenses to obtain, and far less financial commitment than in almost any other business (have you ever thought what it would cost you to get into the restaurant business, or steel-manufacturing?).
Even better, there are hundreds of organizations, societies, conferences, and trade groups to help you start your network. The New Music Seminar is one of many such points of entry. All you have to do is show up, start learning how the industry works, and make some friends. It worked for me. I’ll hope to see you there…