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Sad Song from Tommy Boy June 13, 2007

Posted by David Card in Media.

Tommy Boy Music founder and ceo Tom Silverman gave what he called a Keynote Question at the inaugural In The City of New York conference today. It was a bit wistful, even sad. No luddite, Silverman wonders, since we have Internet distribution, low-cost production tools, social networks, and vibrant indie labels, where the heck are the breakout new artists? “Wouldn’t the cream have risen?” Good question.

Silverman suggested:

– Pro Tools, while lowering the cost and expertise to produce a quality recording, makes it too easy, and fundamentally relies on a cut & paste approach. “The difference between Art and craft.”

– The Internet and iPods encourage you to tune out, acting as a filter that prevents serendipity. Boom boxes and, gawd forbid, terrestrial radio “expose you to music you’re not interested in.” In a good way.

– He maintained that even in the face of piratical downloading, if there were a 5M-unit hit, there’d be a 1M paid-for following. “If a hit blows up, monetization isn’t a problem.” I tend to agree.

So he’s not looking for the technology to solve interoperability, or package singles and ring tones, or deliver digital add-on goodies, or make singles viable. No, he’s looking for the technology — wait, make that the “business model” — that makes hits again.

Hits are hard. But they’re worth it, for all the long-tail mythology. I’m thinking these days that digital music is more and more about enabling rather than creating hits. Taking the costs out of marketing & distributing ’em, once they happen, by whatever magic that takes.

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