Five years ago, any music industry conference would feature hours of discussion about how to get your compact disc into the hands of DJs on FM radio, or tips on how to press and package a CD that wouldn’t get buried on the desk of an A&R executive at some major label. A lot has happened in five years. On Saturday, June 13 and 14, Hillsborough Community College and The Artist and Writers Group hosted the Second Annual Homemade Music Symposium in Ybor City, and in the combined 18-plus hours of discussion, commercial FM radio was not mentioned one time.
Instead, Saturday’s daytime programming included panels and workshops like “Alternative Media Promotion,” “Marketing, Touring and Band Management” and “How to Get the Most Out of a Studio Session.” Panelists included bloggers (Bryan Childs, Ninebullets.net), social networking specialists (Julia Gorzka, Brand Tampa) and local media (Lee Courtney, WMNF; Curtis Ross, Tampa Tribune; Julie Garisto, St. Pete Times as well as Creative Loafing’s Leilani Polk). Mr. Courtney was the only radio personality in attendance. (Tampa’s 88.5 FM is a community station that still allows their DJs to play CDs – they even sometimes play records.).
The Homemade Music Symposium’s goal is to educate nascent and struggling musicians in the ways and means of the music business and industry trends. It also included out-of-town industry folk and special keynote speakers – this year, it was Tunecore’s Peter Wells and Tony Michaelides, a local author from Manchester, UK, who’s colleagues and contemporaries include Factory Records’ Tony Wilson, David Bowie, U2 and The Stone Roses.
Conference attendees were mostly solo singer-songwriter types, with a sprinkling of MCs, publishers and managers as well as other local bloggers and marketers looking to get involved in the music scene or learn about new media. There was a lot of talk (maybe too much) about Twitter and Facebook, and of course the familiar geographical gripe of how Florida is difficult to tour/break out of, because there are no surrounding states (The closest top 10 market is Atlanta). A good portion of the crowd was visibly older, some dressed in flowery shirts and flip flops, and plenty of eyes glazed over when the topics inevitably circled back to “Tweeting” and social networks.
Sorely missing from the panel of experts, especially on the panel labeled “Area Record Labels and Artist Managers,” were representatives from the handful of local Tampa imprints, namely ADD, New Granada and 24 Hour Service Station (Geri X, Win Win Winter and The Beauvilles). 24 Hour owner Marshall Dickson stated that he would definitely be involved next year, but that this time around he just had “too much on his plate.” The only current label owner in attendance was Ivan Pena, who runs Mohawk Bomb Records (Soulfound, Ascending to Avalon and Rise of Saturn). Pena seemed optimistic about the Tampa Bay music scene, and about the fast-changing online industry, but insisted that artists need to tour incessantly and start treating their band like a business or risk failure.
The “Music Critics” panel, unfortunately the last session of the day, seemed to be the most pessimistic. One girl in the crowd asked for suggestions on how to become a music writer. The entire panel discouraged her. It may be in fashion for music writers to be moody and begrudging, but one would think their passion for music could somehow keep their chins up, not to mention grateful that they still have jobs in the age of Rotten Tomatoes and aggregated, user-generated reviews at Amazon.com.
As with any conference, the nighttime showcases are the payoff – a chance for attendees to party and an opportunity for the out of town industry folks to see what musical talent the surrounding area has to offer.
On Saturday night, Tampa’s New World Brewery featured performances from Rebekah Pulley, Lorna Bracewell, The Skull and Bone Band and 10th Concession. Crowbar hosted a Mohawk Bomb showcase and The Roosevelt had planned a “green” concert featuring some area hip-hop favorites like Dynasty and powered by a generator that ran on vegetable oil. Early Saturday, word had gotten out that the generator had broken during a run-through and that the Roosevelt showcase was cancelled.
Some of Sunday’s workshops included “DIY Sound Recording Techniques” at REAX Space as well as “Tips on Promotional Photography” (hint: no brick walls or train tracks) and “The State of The Scene” discussion at Tre Amici.
This talk was moderated by event organizer T. Hampton Dohrman and featured Courtney, Joel Cook (REAX) and yours truly. It began as a polite enough re-cap of the weekend and what could be done differently in years to come and escalated into a microphone free-for-all on how Tampa needs to publicize itself to become the next Austin or Seattle.
Singer-songwriter Emily Roff planted herself in front of the microphone and made a case for a large music festival that would draw thousands of people from all over the world. When some crowd members yelled, “What about [Tropical] Heatwave?” (referencing the annual music fest hosted by WMNF that typically features performers from the blues, folk, Americana and world beat genres), Roff shrugged. She’d never heard of it.
Beauvilles frontman Shawn Kyle made a spirited appearance at the discussion, only half-jokingly announcing his 2012 bid for city council and bemoaning the lack of attention the local media and concert promoters give to area college campuses (USF, UT, Eckerd, SPC, etc.).
What did come from the heated discussion was a summation of points that included the following:
1. The internet has replaced FM radio as a highly-coveted media outlet.
2. Musicians must treat their music as a business.
3. Musicians should treat Tampa and St. Petersburg as two separate markets to avoid saturation. (This point was argued)
4. Even though recording and distribution has become decentralized, quality recordings and the packaging and presentation of materials is still very important (maybe even more so).
5. Bands must tour out of market (once they have established themselves regionally), but should never hit the road without plenty of merchandise.
6. With the decline in the sale of actual recorded music, musicians must learn to diversify their content/revenue streams to include audio, video, performances, merchandise, ringtones et. al. and utilize networks and messaging to stay in touch with fans and followers. (See the content model here).
7. Music criticism is dead. (This point was not argued).