What NOT to do at a Music Conference

What NOT to do at a Music Conference

The New Music Seminar begins this evening a 6pm.  Music conferences have always seemed very strange to me and I’ve come to view them very differently over the years.  Below are my experiences at my first music conference and let them serve as  perfect examples of what NOT to do.

When NYU’s Independent Music Festival rolled around in 1994 I was amazingly excited…and amazingly clueless.  At the time I was a member of an eight piece funk band, an NYU student and someone who believed whole heartedly that I would be able to “make it” as a musician even though I had never defined what “making it” would entail – I just knew it sounded better than getting a real job.  I sat in the audience for a few of the panels (which ironically was in the student center at NYU – the exact site of last year’s New Music Seminar), I signed up for some demo critiques with independent label A&R people and was generally bewildered that there could be so many musicians in the world.

You see that last part was important for my perspective.  Sure – I knew a ton of musicians but it always felt like we were a very small subset of the population when I was starting out.  The first time I saw a thousand musicians milling around I was… speechless.  These people all look lost!  I remember thinking “Oh, this is why everyone assumes I’m stoned when I mention that I’m a bass player…”   At the time there were other reasons for that assumption but that will come up again later.

I began to see the telltale signs of different groups of musicians.

  • The guy with the Zildjian shirt – drummer
  • Long hair, hightop sneakers and acid wash jeans –metal band (usually NJ or Long Island)
  • The collared shirt tucked into belted jeans with tennis shoes – horn player.

For all of our creativity and originality it’s funny how many of us choose to wear a uniform.

Here are some things I didn’t do-

Find like-minded peers:

Often the real value of these conferences is that you meet like-minded people in the audience and form relationships with them which can be as important if not more important than getting relationships with the speakers at a conference.  I spoke to no other musicians but made a note that I had never seen so many black Zildjian tee-shirts.  Oddly enough – other musicians who are doing well tend to know a hell of a lot more practical and ground level contacts and advice than executives do.

Make sure you and your product present well:

I made a dash for the independent label demo critiques.  I had a hot off the tape deck 2nd generation dub of 4 of the best songs from my band’s last live show.  I quickly hand wrote my contact info on the cover and included the names of the songs.  It didn’t occur to me (How could it?) that as quickly as two years later I would be getting demos sent to me as a major label employee and ignoring the ones that were presented this poorly.

I don’t recall 100% but I believe that:

  • I was wearing one of the two pairs of pants I owned at the time that were stapled together where they had ripped (Yes- stapled)
  • I was wearing a baseball jersey with the words “Junkie Coach” stenciled across the front of it (Oh sweet, sweet irony)
  • I was either intoxicated or hung over

Needless to say that was how I presented my band and I to a potential independent label partner.  I can only imagine that looking into my red-rimmed eyes that the label executive must have thought “This kid is more likely to make progress eating a bale of Twinkies than making progress in the music business…”

Have a plan

  • I had no clue about just how many musicians there were
  • I spoke to no other musicians at the conference
  • I dressed like I was an extra in a Cheech and Chong movie
  • I handed out a sloppy, hand labeled cassette tape

Apparently that was my four-point plan in 1994.  Please make better use of your conference time than I did!  Look me up if you are at NMS – I’ll be sober, dressed well (albeit casually) and talking to people.


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