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16th Millennium Music Conference Saturday recap
February 24, 2012 - Jim Price
The 16th annual Millennium Music Conference took place last weekend (Feb. 16-19) in the Harrisburg area. This is my recap of what took place during Millennium weekend.
Saturday’s business conference at Millennium again featured a number of panels and seminars. There were more marketing-geared panels, such as “Social Media & Marketing for Independent Artists,” “Marketing Your Music for Film & TV” and “Brand The Band Part 2: Communicating Your Identity.” Improving songwriting skills and efficiency was the focus of the “Songwriting Workshop” panel; and New York-based singer, songwriter, pianist and consultant Cheryl B. Engelhardt coached musicians on how to turn goals into actions in her panel, “In The Key Of Success: The Jump Start Strategy.” The economics of sound recording took the spotlight during the “Better Sound, Smaller Budget” and “Getting CDs Made on a Budget – A Practical Workshop” panels. Career opportunities and the music industry’s future were addressed in the “Music Business Entrepreneurship” and “The Music Industry of 2012 and beyond” panels.
As in past years, the most popular panel was the annual “Smash or Trash!” panel; this has become so popular at Millennium that it has replaced the Saturday keynote speaker at the conference. Bands and artists are invited to submit unmarked demo CD’s with their best songs into a drop box throughout the day. A panel of music industry experts then randomly picks and listens to some of the song submissions and critiques them on the spot; offering thoughts on the songs’ potential for radio and music industry success, and making recommendations on how the songs and/or their production can be improved to make them more marketable. This year’s panelists included noted producer David Ivory (whose credits include Patti Labelle, Halestorm, Silvertide and others), Diane Lockner of Capitol Records in Nashville, and Dawn Botti of NBC Universal (also the lead singer of New Jersey-based rock band New Day Dawn, who showcased during the conference). The three panelists dissected several songs, analyzing each on its merits mostly relating to potential radio airplay possibilities. Some of the themes that surfaced through the critiques were the tightness of song arrangements, and that each element of the song should engage the listener and set them up for the payoff during the chorus of the song; also that the song should continually engage the listener through variations and nuances so that the song doesn’t lock into a predictable routine that bores the listener. Other aspects that were critiqued included the production quality, the mix and levels of the different elements of the song, and even ways that the lyrics could be improved to be more engaging. This panel is always interesting because musicians find themselves pondering suggestions given not just to their own creations, but other songs critiqued by the panel; and they then must mitigate their own gut feelings about their creations against the demands of the music industry for songs that fit the criteria and formulas for mainstream success. How a song eventually ends up sounding in its final form can often fall somewhere in the middle of these two visions.
Saturday also saw more musicians performing on the Pennsylvania Musician Magazine trade show acoustic stage, and again some noteworthy highlights surfaced. An early highlight as I first arrived at the trade show was Delaware-based modern pop/R&B singer Angela Sheik, who displayed a bright voice and persona on her two-song performance. Although just a solo performer this day, Jay Wiley of Pittsburgh roots-rockers The Hawkeyes gave a vibrant, eye- and ear-opening performance in the teaser for his group’s showcase performance later that night in downtown Harrisburg. Accompanied by cajon player Bill Sanders, Cleveland-based singer/songwriter Chris Volpe also gave a strong two-song teaser performance; I especially liked his witty song “Hugh Hefner’s Shoes.” (And an aspiring cajon player myself, I was amazed with Sanders’ skills on this Latin drum box instrument, making it convincingly sound like a bass and snare drum combo!) Another incredible trade show performance was Harrisburg soloist Bishop Sementi, who blazed hot blues harmonica and voice on two numbers; this man was feeling it! (He was promoting his appearance as a guest performer with Harrisburg band Crobot later this night.) Delaware’s Crossing Oceans returned for an encore performance of their strong melody-based sounds on the acoustic stage. A regular attendee of Millennium over the past few years, Columbus, Ohio-based keyboardist and singer Bill Kurzenberger dazzled with his bright melodies and ivory work. Atlanta-based twin brothers Ben and Will Martin introduced their duet Swervocity, blending folk, rock and blues elements into a catchy and distinct sound. And another frequent flyer at this conference over the past three years, New Jersey-based singer/songwriter Kelly Carvin, displayed her bright voice on two songs, including her current single, “Pain.”
Saturday night again found me having to decide which Millennium showcase performance to attend in the Harrisburg vicinity. I ended up splitting time between two showcase venues, starting with a nearby venue only five minutes from the Radisson, the Drinkin’ Bone in Wormleysburg (Harrisburg’s western shore, directly across the river from the Capitol). Kicking off this showcase was a band whose teaser performance caught my attention just hours earlier at the trade show, Annville-based Small Town Titans. This quintet delivered bracing, hard-nosed modern rock with strong melodies, intensity and swagger. This group was led by an impressive frontman, Phil Freeman, who exuded fearless confidence and a powerful, far-ranging voice.
Next was another band I eagerly anticipated seeing for the first time, Chambersburg-based trio LoveHateThing. Their song “Exit Game” off their debut CD “The Disco Killer” has been one of my favorite tracks to play on my “Homegrown Rocker” radio program in recent months, and LoveHateThing launched their set with that number, setting the tone for their set of abrasive, hook-laden modern rock. Lead singer/guitarist Sean Clever, bassist/singer Ryan Eshelman and drummer/singer Matt Cole introduced a number of new songs from their forthcoming sophomore CD, showing more intriguing melodies and song arrangements and whetting my appetite for that album’s eventual arrival.
I stuck around for a portion of the next band’s performance. Pittsburgh fivesome Identity X delivered an agitated modern rock flavor that infused elements of punk, emo, industrial and hip-hop. This group was hard-charging and go-for-broke, providing constant movement and excitement as they fired through their original song set list.
I departed the Drinkin’ Bone midway through Identity X’s set, and headed five miles south to Coakley’s Irish Pub in New Cumberland, where two different showcases – acoustic and full band electric – were taking place. I arrived at the acoustic showcase first, where I instantly found an empty booth directly adjacent to the stage where local songstress Mycenea Worley was performing. A talented singer and friend I look forward to seeing every year at this conference, Mycenea again displayed elegance, clarity and emotional power as she performed her mostly original song selection. I just happened to arrive moments before she introduced my personal favorite original song of hers, the emotion-wrought “Low.” Switching between 6-string and 12-string acoustic guitars, Mycenea performed old and new original song selections, along with her own fiery version of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and a folksy interpretation of Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time.”
Another reason I came to Coakley’s this night was to catch my first look at local performers The Goat Ropin’ Bastards. Unfortunately for me, I discovered that after another band cancelled out of this night’s showcase, the Goat Ropin’ Bastards’ start time was moved up an hour, and I entered the band showcase room just as the group was starting into their final song of the night. But that song was at least enough to give me an idea of what this group was about, as Goat Ropin’ Bastards perform a raw, rebellious brand of redneck-themed country. Mix elements of David Allan Coe and Toby Keith with the lyrical sass of Ron White and Larry The Cable Guy, and you might get a rough idea of what this group delivers on the live stage. Hopefully I’ll have another opportunity to catch a more complete look at this group down the road.
With this showcase finishing early, I had enough time to return to the Drinkin’ Bone and see the final band of that venue’s showcase, Williamsport’s 44Mag. Having seen this quintet several times before, I expected to experience blistering heavy metal sounds from 44 Mag, and the group answered those expectations convincingly. With roots firmly planted in the traditions of Metallica, Pantera, Slayer and Black Sabbath, 44 Mag showcased numerous scathing original songs from their arsenal. Their emphasis was on newer material, including the songs “50 Miles” and “Heroes of the New Aeon” from their most recent 3-song EP, and compositions from their forthcoming release such as “D.U.I.” and “Overdose.” 44Mag’s intense and brutal set appropriately slammed the lid on my 16th Millennium Music Conference experience.
Columbus, Ohio-based performer Bill Kurzenberger performs during Saturday's Millennium Music Conference trade show.