It’s important to note the difference between a music conference and a music festival. Festivals are fan-oriented, conferences are industry events for those who work in the music business. The lines can get blurry at times, especially when it comes to behemoth conferences such as SXSW and CMJ.
As an unsigned, independent artist, conferences are a time to network and make connections. But they also cost a lot of money to attend and many artistic types aren’t very good at networking. You can be as talented as Mozart, but you still need to get to know the right people if you want to get somewhere in the music biz. Music conferences are a good place to do that.
Whether or not they are worth the money depends on one important factor: are you picking the right conference to attend? The answer requires some research on your part. Make sure you are applying to perform at a conference suitable to your genre. If you’re part of a traditional folk/bluegrass act, CMJ isn’t for you. Likewise, an alternative indie act shouldn’t be spending money on a Folk Alliance conference. For any conference, if you don’t get picked to showcase, purchase a conference pass and make sure to attend the panels, seminars and parties, as well as the shows.
There are many music conferences to choose from. Here’s a short list of some of the more well-known, and what kinds of acts they are best suited for, to help you decide if they are worth your hard-earned money or not.
CMJ, New York City. CMJ stands for College Music Journal, and this conference is geared towards younger alternative bands looking to break into the college market. Urban music can go over well here, too.
SXSW, Austin, Texas. Mostly rock oriented, but, this being Texas, it does gravitate towards Americana. Extremely crowded and hard to get noticed among all the established acts performing.
Folk Alliance, various regional locations. Great for singer/songwriters and folk/traditional acts. If you don’t get picked for an official showcase, try the many spur-of-the-moment shows that take place in hotel rooms. High networking potential and a great way to gain new fans.
MIDEM, Cannes, France. This is a very high-end, expensive conference where you can make some great connections, but it’s in France. Not worth it unless you’re already somewhat established, or your band has unlimited funds.
TAXI Road Rally, Los Angeles. Free with TAXI membership, guests are welcome. Mainly unknown songwriters and A&R types attend this one.
ASCAP EXPO, Los Angeles. Geared to songwriters and composers, and you don’t have to be a member of ASCAP to attend.
Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter Film and TV Music Conference, Los Angeles. If you’re interested in getting your songs in movies and TV shows and have a master recording, go here to meet music supervisors.
One tip for saving money: check to see if the conference you’re interested in needs volunteers. You could get a reduced rate or even free admittance if you have the time to volunteer.