Everybody loves a conference. It’s a chance to geek-out with a bunch of like minded individuals and an opportunity to enjoy your community or find your place within your professional community.
Ojibway Artist Nick Sherman, sings his heart out at Mundial Montreal.
The town who hosts the conference gets to share in the significant economic impact.
Conferences make money.
In my case, as A.D. of Vancouver Island MusicFest, as a musician & producer and director of the Folk Alliance Winter Music Camp, I attend my share of these events. Over the past year, I’ve been to conferences/meetings in Nashville, Ottawa, Nanaimo, Calgary, Kansas City & Vancouver. This is on top of touring, teaching at Music Camps, playing Festivals, sitting on juries and taking all-too-rare family holiday trips when I can. It makes for a life of constant travel for sure.
The genre-bending group, So Long Seven, showcase in a beautiful Church location (St John the Evangelist) at Mundial Montreal. They even had a beer & wine bar set up in the Church. Never before have I drank a beer and felt so guilty at the same time!
My most recent conference was Mundial Montreal, a mostly fabulous World or Global Music Conference.
The daily drill at a music conference is usually fairly similar:
- arrive, check into hotel, register for conference where you get your badge, schedule and usually, a ‘goodie’ bag full of paper hyping performers, CD manufactures, tourism industry people, publicists, regional music industry associations. Also in these bags you will find CDs, Magazines, ear plugs, candies and chocolates, pens and paper and other stuff.
- sit down with the schedule and make a plan of attack for the few days you are there
- these conferences consist of ‘panels’ where a bunch of industry experts talk about things to do with being in the music industry – how to tour, how to get on the radio, how to run concerts and festivals, how to dress, what to say and what not to say, how to record, etc etc.
- the conferences also consist of official ‘showcases’ and unofficial ‘showcases’ where artists get to present what they do for 15 minutes to one hour. These can happen in the host hotel or throughout the city or town the conference is held in.
- there are ‘group’ dinners where people go out as duos, trios, or huge groups to all schmooze and enjoy each other.
- many private meetings are planned before you arrive and if you wish, you can fill your entire time before you even arrive to meet with people and try to book your own gigs, book your venue or festival, get radio people interested in you, meet with publicists , agents, managers, sound guys, other musicians, etc
- there are also private meetings held with large groups (sometimes around a table of 50 or more) of Festival and Venue runners, or other like-minded groups who want to network and discuss the world folk, roots, blues and world music industries. Sometimes, the conversations are very interesting and can cover topics including everything from disaster response at big events to tax waivers and border crossings. Sometimes, it feels like we could be talking about selling vacuum cleaners (which kind of sucks) and things wouldn’t be much different. Gotta hang onto your soul… keep the music going… keep the heart alive…
Festival and venue bookers from around the world meet in Mundial to compare notes
- they are usually a lot of fun and a lot of business gets done but they can also be soul destroying, heart breaking, confidence crushing experiences depending on your expectations and attitude.
Here’s a couple of random conference observations from Montreal and beyond:
- The music industry crowd may be the worst audience you will ever get to play for. They often stand in the back of the room and talk to each other, self-importantly while someone is spilling their heart out on stage. Then, when the act they represent or play in is on stage, they get very indignant if no one is listening. They also often drink lots which makes them even more sociable. It is a horrible truth. It needs to be addressed.
- I visited the house of Leonard Cohen while in Montreal and was impressed to see a beautiful showing of respect and love for our recently departed icon. The display outside included a guitar, many flowers and candles, photos and written tributes and even a stereo system playing his music. The thought struck me that in many cities, this kind of display would have been vandalized or things would have been stolen and it left me with the impression of how much Montreal loved this great man and what respect was held for him. It also left me with the impression of what a very cool city Montreal is!
- Some of these conferences have what is called ‘speed dating’ where you sit behind a table and every 5 minutes, someone comes and talks to you about what they do. It is an amazing, effective way of meeting a large group of people one-on-one and can be lots of fun. It can also be very terrifying for the inner introvert inside us or awkward if you really don’t click with the person.
- The poor musicians have to hit the stage and don’t have time to even get warmed up. It is the most unnatural way to present your work. If you have a bad cable, or a broken string or even worse but quite common, a bad sound man , you are toast and just have to get through a horrible situation as best you can. I have seen people crumble in the situation and I have seen others shine. Not so much because of their music but because of how they handle traumatic situations on stage.
- You do become part of the family after awhile and i love that part. I have many dear friends I only see at one or two of these events a year and they are as close to me as my friends at home. The music business is a family of organically developed relationships that grow over the years if you nourish them and that’s the part I cling to.
- There are also snakes and slime balls and very desperate people at these things.
- Which makes everybody act weird at times.
Big Business Little Business Mind Your Business
One odd thought I have had is it seems there are almost more conferences than gigs at this point in time.
I hope it is obvious that I love these events and I hate them.
That is the picture I am trying to paint. The folks who put them on are usually amazing teams of people with everyone’s best interest at heart, much like those teams who produce non-profit Festivals. They are often the same people.
If you ever have the chance to attend one, you should go.
I’d love to hear what you think of these strange social situations.