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Millennium Music Conference Recap, Day One
February 16, 2008 - Jim Price
(This is the second of a series of blog updates from the 12th annual Millennium Music Conference, happening this weekend, Feb. 14-17, in the Harrisburg area.)
Friday began the official “conference” part of the Millennium Music Conference, inside the Radisson Penn Harris Convention Center. The music industry descended upon the Convention Center, as a number of informative panels about various aspects of the music industry took place, along with a trade show, mentoring sessions (where bands and musicians could have their music critiqued and receive career advice from music industry experts), a keynote address, and more.
A special noontime concert kicked off the proceedings. Philadelphia-based public radio station WXPN sponsored the “Free at Noon” concert and live broadcast, as they presented a free public concert by Austin, Texas-based artist Ryan Bingham, who is featured in the Feb. 7 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine, and whose latest album, Mescalito, was selected in USA Today’s Top 20 albums of 2007. Bingham and his band awakened the audience with a strong set that blended rustic blue-collar country, blues, folk and rock sounds. They performed selections from the Mescalito album such as “Long Way From Georgia,” “Ghost of Travelin’ Jones” and “Hard Times,” along with other original songs. They were received well, enough so that Ryan was called back to do a two-song encore.
After this, the business sessions commenced, and activity at the Trade Show picked up in intensity. A number of performers teased their showcase performances with short acoustic sets at the Trade Show stage, sponsored by Pennsylvania Musician Magazine. During the course of the afternoon, I witnessed acoustic performances by Reading-based singer/songwriter Valerie Nicole, Annapolis, MD-based singer Jennifer Morgeson, Trinidad & Tobago-based performer Coreysan, Maryland-based rock band Count Your Blessings, Philadelphia acoustic duo Karen & Amy Jones, Tallahassee, Florida-based band The Humbell and more. Besides taking in the acoustic performances, I browsed around the Trade Show tables, checking out offerings by recording studios, instrument and equipment dealers, music publications and media outlets, internet businesses and more.
I took in one of the panel discussions as well; the “Producers/Artists Recording Deal” panel, moderated by noted producer David Ivory. Other panelists included Jordan Tishler of Boston-based Digital Bear, Matt Singleton of Charlottesville, VA-based Singleton Studios, and two others. The main topic of this discussion was recording and producing contracts, and information that bands and artists need to know before signing such a contract. The most important point made during this discussion was that the music industry has changed in many ways, and so has the business model of the recording deal. The major music industry is now a singles-driven industry where the emphasis is now on hit singles rather than on long-form albums. Musicians and bands need to seriously consider their goals in the current music world, and decide whether the holy grail of a recording deal is really worth pursuing in this day and age.
The changing climate of the music industry was also the major topic in the conference’s first of keynote addresses, presented by Jim McGuinn, afternoon host on Philadelphia’s WXPN, and program director of that station’s popular indie-music program “Y-Rock on XPN.” Jim’s address explained how technology has changed the very business models of the music industry and has how music now becomes popular. It was the advent of radio that created national and international music superstars, as radio enabled artists’ music to reach mass audiences. Now, though, the internet and modern technology has given people more choices and less consensus. A band or artist can now reach fans all over the world; but cannot necessarily reach a nextdoor neighbor or friend with their music. Jim concluded that the likelihood of ever seeing a mass appeal superstar act of the scale of Elvis or the Beatles again is gone. As such, the business models for the music business have changed, and record company contracts are not the recommended goal to pursue for aspiring bands and artists.
The keynote address closed out the first full day of conference activity; the Friday night showcases would follow.
Austin, Texas' Ryan Bingham and his band, performing during WXPN's "Free at Noon" concert.