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Tom Silverman, Founder of Tommy Boy Records and the New Music Seminar

If the early hip-hop industry had a “village square,” an epicenter, one place where everyone had to be, it was the annual New Music Seminar in New York City.

In the wake of the music business’ post-disco crash, the New Music Seminar began in 1981 as a one-day event at a music rehearsal studio, a gathering place for young industry executives to talk about the future. The first speaker was Bob Pittman, who had just launched an obscure cable channel called “Music Television.” Ten years later, the “NMS” had become a multi-day, multi-venue affair featuring panels, performances, a week-long, citywide music festival, and a legendary MC and DJ “Battle for World Supremacy.”

It was at this battle in 1986 that an unknown DJ named Jeff Townes and his sidekick MC, Will Smith, got their first exposure outside their native Philadelphia. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were just one of countless hip-hop groups in 1980s and early 1990s that launched their careers at the New Music Seminar. De La Soul, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest are just some of the artists who broke through in part because of the NMS.

The New Music Seminar sparked many imitators like South By Southwest in Austin, Gavin in San Francisco, and the Winter Music Conference in Miami. But by the mid 1990s, the NMS had been superseded by its competitors, and fizzled out.

“We sold out to the majors and diluted ourselves,” recalled NMS co-founder Tom Silverman, who sold his interest in the Seminar, focusing instead on his other company, Tommy Boy Records.

Over a decade later, in the wake of another crash prompted by digital downloading, Silverman has decided to relaunch the venerable convention.

“I had been asked to bring back NMS at least 10 times over the last seven years,” Silverman said, “But this time was different.  I had spoken on four panels this year in Toronto, Kingston, Jamaica, New York, and San Diego and each time, the audience was filled with artists looking for someone to give them real advice and information that would make a difference in their careers. But each time the panel was charged with debating some music industry issue like digital rights management or synch placements or the future of music on mobile phones… hardly the stuff the audience wanted or needed to hear about.”

The new New Music Seminar, happening tomorrow, July 21, at New York University’s Skirball Center, will focus on what Silverman calls “four critical concepts”: 1) redefining what success is in the new industry; 2) creating a fan base in the digital age; 3) helping artists differentiate themselves from others; and 4) breaking through the “elusive 300 ticket mark” on live performances.

This years seminar will feature a panel hosted by MTV’s Sway.

Another improvement over the previous incarnation of the New Music Seminar is the price, with walk-up registration available at $150, significantly reduced from the hundreds of dollars it cost to register in years past.

Find all the details at

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