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					InterMixx
An Indie Music Resource Community

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How to Get the Most Out of Attending a Music Conference

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A primer for first-time attendees

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How to Get the Most Out of Attending a Music Conference
by Noel Ramos, InterMixx.com, Inc.
In this short primer, I will convey my opinions, as well as other industry members' on what works, and what is important when trying to maximize the results of attending a music conference for your band.
Attending music conferences can be extremely worthwhile for independent musicians who want to further their career. Hundreds or sometimes thousands of people from various parts of the industry are gathered together with the same goals in mind: to enjoy performances of talented musicians, promote the local and/or regional scene, increase sales, network, catch up with old friends and make new ones. However, many musicians return home from a trip to a distant city for a music conference feeling like they wasted their time and money. Candace Avery – original founder of NEMO; Louis Myers - Executive Director of LMNOP and founder of South by Southwest; Noel Ramos - Publisher of the InterMixx Webzine and Executive Director of the Independent Music Conference; and Robert Schmerler - Director of Sales and Marketing of CMJ, offer their tips on how to properly use these tools to further your career. CHOOSING A CONFERENCE There are many music conferences across the country, each targeting a slightly different audience and each offering unique reasons for attending. Do you go to a national conference like South by Southwest or CMJ, with thousands of attendees, hundreds of showcasing bands, an immense trade show, and numerous seminars and schmoozing opportunities, or to a regional show that is much smaller? I feel it depends on what level your band is currently at. If you are still trying to make a name for yourself in your home town you're going to be lost in the sea of more established talent at a national conference. At a regional show you have the chance to be the big fish in a small pond, and may attract the industry's attention accordingly. However, if you've built up a sizable fan base you might be ready for the next step. Most importantly, do NOT attend a music conference unless you’ve really done your homework and you are convinced that the event is a good match for your band and your goals. The IMC is so different from other national conferences that I actually spend a lot of time trying to dissuade musicians from attending, because the last thing I want is a disappointed attendee who came to the IMC expecting something that it is not. Research the event and make sure it fits your needs before applying or spending money on registrations. SETTING REALISTIC GOALS The most important advice I can give an indie band is to have a meeting before going to a conference and devise a plan of attack. Define what level you're at-are you well-established or just beginning? Then decide what you want to get out of this conference. If you set an unreasonable goal, like 'We want to get signed,' you're setting yourself up for disappointment. However, if your goal is to make key industry contacts, build up your fan base, and perhaps even sell a few CDs… all attainable goals, you will come away satisfied. Look over all the material the conference sends you carefully, including hotel information, the list of panels, speakers, events, and attendees, as that will help you create your plan and also help you determine what

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you can get out of the conference. Divide and conquer. Certain members of your group may be better suited to gaining the most knowledge from certain panels or workshops. Assign tasks and determine goals. At the Independent Music Conference, we focus only on the indie music industry, and our main goal is to provide an effective learning and networking environment. I tell musicians who want “to get signed” not to attend the IMC, because that is not something we work towards. It would be more accurate to say that the IMC advises against seeking a major record label deal. Choose the events that are best suited to help you reach your goals, and make sure those goals are realistic for your group and your current status. ACT FAST If you decide to attend a conference, try to take advantage of the early registration fee, this saves you money and will also make you eligible for special opportunities that the conference may be offering as incentives. Make hotel reservations early, the conference will usually have arranged a discounted price. It’s important to me that the IMC be as affordable as possible. Our registration fees are lower than any comparable national event, in some cases by hundreds of dollars! WHAT TO BRING Use a back pack or comfortable shoulder bag to carry your swag around the conference. Be VERY careful about your belongings, thieves target crowded and hectic events like these. Make sure you bring some press kits you can custom tailor for each recipient, but not too many. They will just weigh you down and you want to be very selective about who you give them to. Be sure to provide only what the recipient needs in the kit. You don't want a DJ to get the same kit as a member of the press or a booking agent. Make sure it's self-contained and will fit easily into someone's briefcase or Goodie Bag. "The quickest way to lose something to a hotel dumpster is to give someone a press kit that's hard to manage," says Louis Myers. According to Robert Schmerler, you might just want to leave your music at home. "Don't give out music at the show. Everyone is too inundated with material. You have a better chance getting your music listened to if you mail it to your new contacts with a letter to refresh their memory of who you are." Perhaps, but I feel it's important to have some press kits with you and to be very selective, as I said before. I appreciate getting press kits from bands that have carefully selected me as a recipient. Be sure to have your URL and contact info displayed on every major piece of the kit, and also remove the shrink wrap from the CD. It's a very nice courtesy that will not go unnoticed. Have LOTS of business cards, you'll give away more than you thought you would. Postcards are good too, or a well-done brochure, especially if you are showcasing. If you don't have the info in time to print it on the postcard, leave a box in which you can write the date, time and place of your showcase. Make sure your URL is on EVERYthing! Bring a digital camera if you have one! Pictures make great memory joggers later when trying to remember details, and they might be great for your website! Make sure you have pens and notepads, you might even want to bring a small recording device to record verbal notes. Bring a cel phone or phones, so you can get in touch with each other when separated. Wear your band's T-shirt when appropriate, and bring extras to give away. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing, you'll be on your feet a lot. Bring clothes for a variety of settings. The weather might be unpredictable, or you might find yourself invited to a lunch/dinner, party or schmooze that requires a bit more than jeans and a T-shirt. PERFORMING Playing a gig at a conference can be awesome for an indie band as long as it’s not the only reason for attending the event. At a conference performance there is always a potential that your audience may contain industry members that you might want to work with, but most importantly, you’ll have a great opportunity to make new fans and possibly impress the club who may want to book you again. Of course, all the other attendees are trying to capitalize on the situation as well, and there are only so many fans and industry pros to go around. You need to promote your performance as much as you can. Do NOT expect the club to have a built in draw… it won't. The clubs get involved with the conferences so that they don't HAVE to promote those nights too heavily. They rely on the event's hype and the bands' promotion to bring customers to their

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venues. Industry people know this and will be keenly interested in how well you draw at a conference packed with competition for your fans' attention. Hand out flyers in town days before the event, especially at the club you're playing, and also at the conference itself. Saturate the area with posters. Be creative; promote with more energy than for any other gig. Even if you have done all of the above, don't expect hundreds of fans and industry members to attend, there is so much going on at these events that it's very hard to get a large turnout. Respectable numbers and a great performance will go a long way towards increasing awareness about your music in the industry and in the public's eye. A sincere effort to promote the show will be obvious to the venue and could result in a new place to get some paid gigs in the future. Email your fans beforehand. Contact the other bands performing with you and cross-promote with them. Networking with other musicians can often lead to the most valuable results you get from a music conference. If your budget allows it consider advertising in the local press or the conference’s promotional publication. Try to create a co-op ad with the other bands on your bill. Co-ops will mean bigger ads for less money because your sharing the expense with the other bands that cross-promote with you. "It's important to get your fans to your gig in case industry members show up," says Candace Avery. "It certainly changes their attitude about your band if there's a lot of screaming people there." She recalls one band that actually bussed fans to their showcasing gig at NEMO - not necessarily a bad idea, especially if your venue is far away from the conference proper. Make it easy for people to get to your gig. Perhaps you can have a fan offer to shuttle people to and from the hotel. Many trade shows sell daytime showcasing slots at the hotel. Opinions on these slots vary greatly. It's easier to get people to attend, since they don't have to leave the premises, but conference gigs can often be overshadowed by the conference itself, and they often don't have a soundman, or he's there only initially and will leave to do other stages. Attendance at these gigs is usually low, so if you choose to play one of these showcases, do it only if you are comfortably certain people will be there. Promote it heavily. "If you don't get chosen to perform, you should still try to get a gig at a non-participating venue," says Myers. "Put together your own show with a couple other bands and take advantage of the ability to easily promote your gig at the trade show." Use an indie resources guide, such as the Indie Bible or the Musician's Atlas, to find some local venues and start calling them to pitch your showcase. IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT PERFORMING AT CONFERENCES: Showcases are a real gamble; and in my opinion, not worth your time if it’s the only reason you’re planning to attend a music conference. You may do all of the above and still get a lousy turn out. It's important to remain emotionally detached. It doesn't mean your band sucks, or that no one wanted to come see you. Attendees are torn in many directions at these hectic events, and they also get tired and worn out after long days of networking. Play your best show, that one lone listener in the back of an empty club might be best contact you could have made at the whole conference. Always perform as if the room is packed with screaming fans. Also, try to avoid playing in the Vendor's area. No matter how quiet you are the vendors and attendees will find it difficult to do business with the noise, and that makes a bad impression. Bottom line: performing is not where the true value is at these events, don’t put too much stock in it. Go for the right reasons, to network and learn. If all you want to do is perform, book yourself a PAID gig in the club instead! PANELS Panels are a must for non-veteran musicians and veterans alike. Assembled in one room are industry pros, and other successful indies, relating success stories, tips, advice and dos 'n don'ts… an opportunity no one should miss. Even if you think you know everything about a given topic, you should still attend the panels because not only might you learn something new, but more importantly, you will be able to network with industry people. Take notes, and be sure to write the names of the panelists down because last minute changes can make the listing in the Directory inaccurate. Take pictures! It helps you remember and recognize people later, after the hustle and bustle has subsided. You might even want to put some of them on your website. In your meeting that I described earlier, you should have read the descriptions of the panels on the conference's web site or in their promotional literature. This way you know which band member is best suited to attend each panel, and what questions you'll want to ask the panelists. An intelligent, eloquently stated question may very well make an impression on a panelist as well as give you something to jog their memory if you see them later. Don't get emotional when speaking in a Panel discussion, all it will do is make a bad impression on the industry and attendees alike, and it won't solve any problems. If you disagree or have a complaint, state it 4

calmly and intelligently. You might be surprised how well that works. Similarly, you shouldn't feel embarrassed or awkward about approaching panelists you see walking around the trade show between panels. "If they're in the convention, they're fair game," says Myers. However, outside the confines of the convention, you may want to respect their privacy. COMPILATION CDS There are many strong opinions about whether paying to have a song on a conference's compilation CD is a worthwhile investment for any musician. They can be pretty expensive: PMC charged $135 per minute, NEMO charges $300 per song. If it's a double CD, the pay-off might not be there, since you might get lost in the clutter. While people do listen to them, the general consensus is, since any artist can pay to get on them, the music isn't guaranteed to be of the highest quality. If you do decide to buy a spot on a CD, make sure you include contact information and heavily promote your appearance on it. See if you can get copies to use for your own promotional purposes. If the conference is not charging for the slots, and the bands are being chosen by a selection committee to appear on the comp, its value increases. If your song is chosen, there is a statement of quality being made, and the CD becomes an award of sorts. This type of compilation may be more worthwhile, and, ironically, probably won't cost you anything above and beyond your registration fee. THE EXHIBITION AREA Perhaps the most important part of any conference, the exhibition area is where most of the schmoozing is done. This is the "bread and butter' of any such event, where the conference organizers earn the money to pay for the event, and the sponsors expect that money to have been spent for a good turn out of potential customers. If you like a conference and want to support it, it's critical that you visit the sponsors' booths. If you go to a very large conference, you may find the exhibit area is actually a bit intimidating, however, there will be a greater variety of goods and services. Walk around the area a few times. Check out every single booth. "Meet everyone," says Avery. "Even if they don't appear to have anything to do with your act. You never know who might be able to help you out in the future." Again, split up your duties. After all, every band member has different strengths. "You want the most aggressive member to be the one roaming the exhibit area," says Schmerler. "The other members should be attending panels and even visiting local record shops to see who'll carry their material." He also adds this tip: "Don't give anything out to anyone unless you get something back - even if it's just your card." Make sure you put every single contact into a database so you can get in touch with them later. At the IMC, we’re so convinced that being a part of the trade expo is important for the bands, we only charge them $25 for a table so they can display their music and network more effectively. BUYING A BOOTH If you are an indie, you should consider your band to be an indie label or small business, and buying a booth can be one of the most effective ways to promote yourself. Depending on the size of the show, you could have hundreds of people walking past your booth, seeing your name, listening to your CD, getting on your mailing list, and perhaps even buying your merchandise. Bands can even team up and get a booth together. Try to find a common ground, whether it's a similar musical style or geographic area. "What started SXSW," says Myers, "was the city of Austin had a very successful booth and showcase at the New Music Seminar, years ago. We went to the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau to underwrite the booth and compilation CD, so anyone who was registered for the convention from Austin could utilize our booth for free. We had a dozen businesses represented there, making our booth look very important to anyone who passed by." If you decide to get a booth, make sure it looks as professional as possible. A backdrop, like a banner, goes a long way towards making your booth look top-flight. Then find ways to attract people to your table. Play music, have a contest, give away food - whatever it takes. Give away promotional items fans can't get elsewhere, like a tape of outtakes and B-sides, so people feel good for having gone to conference (but avoid giving away stickers, because hotels strictly prohibit them, so as to prevent them getting stuck all over the hotel and grounds.) Again, your motivation for getting a booth shouldn't be to get signed, but to build your fan base. If you get nothing but potential fans coming to your table, it's been a success. Likewise, business owners shouldn't expect to definitely make money from having a booth; they should be networking and even collecting

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information about their competition. Remember; add everyone who stops by to your mailing list - that is your most important marketing tool. Again, we at the IMC take this aspect of the conference so seriously that we intentionally charge bands a super low fee of only $25 to encourage them to participate as vendors. CONCLUSION The most important thing I want to stress is that you shouldn't expect to get signed to a major label record contract from attending or performing at a conference. However, if you attend enough of these events, you may get a break that comes in the form of a new Manager, or Publicist, or Producer, perhaps some soundtrack work, a slot as an opener on a major tour… You just never know what kind of opportunities might arise as the result of internetworking at these events. It's just a matter of being in enough places at enough times so you're at the right place at the right time. "Remember, all it might take is for one person to get excited about you in some manner," agrees Avery. When researching which events you want to attend, check with your own internetwork to see if the conference has gotten good marks from other musicians. InterMixx membership is a great tool for this sort of research, as we qualify all the data that we present through InterMixx.com. You'll be able to get great feedback from InterMixxers who have already attended, as well as read their ratings and comments in the members-only section of our database. The Industry members of InterMixx will also be invaluable for info on the various conferences, and their perspective is quite helpful when making a determination. Best of luck to you in your independent music career!

"Indie… it's choice."
=========================================================================== About the author: Noel Ramos has been a professional Graphic Designer and DJ since 1978. He began publishing the InterMixx Webzine in 1988 as a way to combine these two careers and also to help the struggling independent artists so often overlooked by most mainstream press. These days he spends most of his time online as Gatekeeper for the InterMixx InterNetwork, a revolutionary online indie community, and the IndieGate online independent music store, offering unprecedented support, resources, promotion and sales opportunities to musicians all over the US He is also the Executive Director of the Independent Music Conference. This revolutionary event is being built from the ground up by indie musicians just like you! http://www.IndieMusiCon.com Contact him at MixxMag@InterMixx.com or check out the website at InterMixx.com. You may also phone 1 800 MIXX MAG.  ===========================================================================

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