"Welcome to the Music Business..."
The Weekend: Day Two (9/10/13)
I had turned in early after a nightcap and woke up even earlier. I waited until I could see some daylight then went out for a morning run, which I find more effective than caffeine for charging up my system.
I had no trouble finding the host site, SAE Institute of Chicago, and registered at the front desk. The first person I met at breakfast gave a preview of the kind of diverse backgrounds I would encounter throughout the next two days. Attractive but nerdy looking, she was born in Montana, where she grew up on a stead diet of country and bluegrass music. While attending college, she got into hip-hop and is currently a performer in that genre and has been living and working in Chicago for the past two years. She was a disciple of Atkins, having come away from previous lectures of his feeling “energized and like I could take on the world.” It remains to be seen if she will. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.
As I waited in the auditorium, I took note of the numbers and types of attendees. There were almost as many of each. There were about 40 or so artists of varying styles, producers, promoters, executives, just about everything but a recently out-of-work teacher who was there just for the experience (lucky I was in the room!).
As of 9:07AM, the 8:30 keynote address had not yet begun. I wondered if the Midwest was on a different schedule. When the festivities did begin, the days became a series of micro-blasts. Information came screaming out of each presenter’s mouth, body language and AV support. In the 30 years of attending educational conferences, I had no idea what I had been missing. The energy, humor, vulgarity, and pure usefulness of the talks exhilarated and exhausted this reporter. The symposium organizer, a mad scientist of a post-punk drummer and no-holds-barred entrepreneur, started things right off with advice about how to promote yourself in one-to-one conversations about your latest CD release:
1. Don’t open your conversation with it;
2. don’t keep mentioning it;
3. share credit;
4. be thankful;
5. be humble.
He moved on to talk about the cyclical nature of the entertainment business, starting with the notion that we are on the brink of rediscovering the cassette tape, and using Robert DeNiro as an example of how celebrities start as objects, move to weird/new, then are adopted, achieve iconic status, become lame and discarded, later become hip memory prompts as they settle into once again being objects. It made a lot of sense!
Just a sample of other takeaways:
1. “Free is the new black” (saying that big money can be made by giving stuff away, Atkins contended that it’s not a problem if 2,000 people illegally download your music, rather it’s a problem if they don’t).
2. You have 13 seconds to make an impression on YouTube.
3. Always be nice to everyone, especially to those who can do the least for you in that moment.
4. Packaging sells—make it cheap and unique (more on this later when I talk about the artist Moldover’s hand-made and fully functional CD package, shown below).
There was also a panel discussion detailing such concepts as how a band needs to promote itself (and be resigned to the fact that it is the soul architect of its promotion), how bands need to work with the owners of clubs and other venues, and how social media, blogs, and podcasts are essential ingredients to promotion.
Perhaps the afternoon’s most interesting session was devoted to Kickstarter, the online community for raising monies to fund productions and start-up businesses of all types. It was a Kickstarter project that secured funding for “Dust Radio,” a movie about Chris Whitley that has yet to be released after three years of supposed post-production.
Day one ended with a presentation by Wendy Day, a pioneer in the recording industry for both her gender and race. Day the founder and CEO of The Rap Coalition and is another “in-your-face” entrepreneur who seems to fear nothing.
The day ended with a gathering of attendees to sample Wisconsin microbrews and listen to the man who’s web site informed me about the event—Chris Connelly. It was nice to talk with him about his career and the interesting turns it has taken. If you ever have the chance to hear the “Shipwreck” CD, I highly recommend it.
Postscript: At the time of this posting, Moldover is in the early stages of his own Kickstarter campaign for the production of his second release. It is even more creative than the above-mentioned packaging. Check out the video here!
(Next week: ”The Weekend: Day Three)