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  The importance of panels vs. showcases

by Mark E. Waterbury

Daemon Records Label Manager Andrea White

indie and national artists CD Reviews

compiled by Sandy Serge

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Copyright 2005 by Music Morsels,
a Serge Entertainment Publication.
Editor: Sandy Serge
Contributing Columnists/Writers:
Mark E. Waterbury, Scott Turner

There are many valuable resources out there for musicians who want to study methods to better their chances for success in their music careers. Perhaps one of the foremost ways that a band can find a wealth of helpful information about the intricacies of the music industry is by attending a music conference. Music conferences can be of varying sizes, from small events targeting narrow niche markets, to massive highly regarded events like the grand poo-bah of conferences Austins South by Southwest. The size of the conference, where it takes place, or how many parties there are should be immaterial in the eyes of a musician who really wants to get the most help for his/her career. In fact, the conference itself can be immaterial if you dont attend to harness useful information and advice that you need to actually apply to your career, thus receiving the true value for your admission fee.
Atlantas Atlantis Music Conference has matured into one of the U.S.s more respected events since its initial 1997 edition. Originally leaning primarily towards rock and roll, Atlantis has now tilted into a more balanced perspective for hip-hop and R&B, mirroring the music scene in the Peach State capital. For four days in mid August, Atlantis took over the conference room/ballroom area of downtown Atlantas Sheraton Hotel for the main purpose of panel discussions and workshops. Something that Atlantis has been adept at since day one is having a wide diversity of panels that cover most general subjects helpful to a fledgling musicians career from booking and radio to producing and marketing. Nighttime was the time for parties that were great opportunities for networking amongst musicians and business people, albeit in a more festive atmosphere. Of course, nighttime also brought about the band showcases. About three hundred bands and musicians were afforded the opportunity to flaunt their wares. Atlantis in particular has virtually every top music club as well as smaller venues in downtown Atlanta involved in showcases, and they do what they can to make sure they are well-attended. Now the question arises; are the showcases or the panels more important to a musician looking to achieve some success with their career?
I would hope that everyone who did get a showcase at Atlantis, or any conference for that matter, decided to attend the panels and workshops as well. I would have to assume that unfortunately this is not the case with all bands or musicians. That letter that informs you of your showcase may be viewed by some as a ticket just waiting to be punched for that major record deal. After all, you are going to be playing in front of A&R VPs, as well as big time managers, booking agents, publishers and everyone else who is going to go nuts over your great music, right? Well, as with anything else with your music career, thinking that someone merely hearing a recording of your music or seeing you perform it live is going to entice them to have a contract in front of your noses before you can say Fiona Apple, then you are living in a dream world. Dont get me wrong. I am not suggesting you turn down a showcase by any means. It is still an opportunity and you should take every opportunity you get offered, but you cant rest on only the showcase and think just because you are performing at one that you are on your way to a record deal. You can invite industry people involved in the conference panels as well as others who you target as having possible interest in your music to come to the showcase. This would at least be better than blindly hoping someone is in the club out scouting for talent where you are playing. Even so, with all the showcases happening not to mention the social atmosphere for the business folk, you have to face the fact that no one important may see your show. The most important facet of showcasing is that since you are already at the conference, why not attend the panels and workshops? You have to learn how to survive in todays tough music market, and also face reality that you are going to probably leave the conference in the same general condition you were in when you checked in - sans record deal. The point is that the panels are more important to your career than the showcases. Plenty of people do understand this and attend the conference even if they or their band are not performing. I would also hope that if a band gets turned down for a showcase they dont decide not to attend a conference because they feel there is no point in it. These are the dreamers, hoping that someone will come along and dig their music so much that they will throw deals and six figure advances at them. Chances are their music careers are in neutral or reverse, and not liable to hit drive any time soon.
A ballroom with sliding partitions, less than comfortable hard back chairs and the drowsiness inducing drone of air conditioning units probably does not seem as glamorous a way to further your music career than kicking it loose on stage in a club. Put it this way, surgeons probably get a lot more satisfaction from hovering over someone with a scalpel, working to save or improve their life,. They still had to endure many arduous hours of lectures and classrooms to be able to do this. Whether or not you enjoy the classroom-like setting of a music conference panel should be moot point. They are primarily there for your education. While some of the panels at Atlantis had all the excitement of your average school lectures, others got a bit outrageous, including one panel that shall remain anonymous who dropped more f-bombs than your average Sopranos episode. Whatever method they used, their main focus was culling from their years of experience in their particular field of endeavor, offering tried and true tips and advice from people who live and breathe the music industry 24-7. These are the folks in the trenches; from the agent booking small indie clubs, to the record exec with top names on his roster.
No matter how many panels you attend, it still will not matter to your music career unless you pay attention, take notes, and then - most importantly - heed the advice that applies to your career. You have to look at the advice that can help you the most, and I do have to wonder if some musicians were really considering this when they decided what panels to attend. The Atlantis panel A&R - I Dont Want Your Demo featuring some top industry A&R executives was packed to the gunwales. The people attending seemed to be more the dreamers that thought despite the title of the panel and advice given to the contrary, they could still send their demo off to a major label exec who would fall in love with their music and sign them. A lot of these musicians could have been better served by the panel across the hallway titled A Band As A Business. Featuring panelists as diverse as a banker, a platinum selling musician, and business manager, the subject matter here dealt with how bands can make money in the music business. Since the chance of a major deal for a huge percentage of musicians is remote, this is important information as to how you can make a good living with your craft without a label. Even if a major deal is absolutely your main priority, this would still have been an important panel. As the majors are primarily run by bean counters, they are more likely to look at what kind of money you have made rather than the music itself,
Several other panels were not attended as well as they should have been. This is nothing against Atlantis or the fine panelists they have always seemed to amass for this event, but once again on the musicians thoughts that the more important panels were the ones that involved big names talking about how to make it big. There were two excellent booking panels; Gotta Get A Gig: Booking, Touring & Merchandising, and Getting Gigs: Its How To Give Good Phone. They were decently attended but not packed as they should have been. Performing live is still the best way to make money in the current business climate, and also the best way to build a fan base and get discovered by labels if that remains your goal. Running the gamut of club bookers, artist bookers, concert promoters and talent buyers, these panels dispensed invaluable information. Radio You Can Use was also sparsely attended, although this could be because it was the first panel on Thursday afternoon. Widespread radio airplay can be very tough to get these days, but this panel showed other ways that bands can use radio to further their careers, even if the chances of them getting played coast to coast on top stations is remote. Once again the grass roots ways were offered, even by those who did work for large stations that tend to play only major label acts. These people have seen why some bands make it and others dont, and this type of inside information is indispensable to anyone trying to survive in the music business.
Atlantis panels were not only helpful for bands and musicians, but for other business professionals as well. Two management panels Adventures In Babysitting and How Artists, Booking Agents, Managers, Lawyers and Publicists are Keeping Up With a Constantly Changing Industry seemed equally aimed at the professional and the artist. The savvy and studious music business person can glean useful information out of most of the panels at Atlantis, as they are often hearing war stories directly from their peers who lived them.
If you are expecting a lot of reviews of showcasing artists in this article, it is not going to happen. Im sure that there were numerous excellent showcases at Atlantis, and I did see some that were very entertaining. As I watched the bands shows, I wondered how many were attending the panel discussions. Not just attending, but taking notes, absorbing info, and asking questions during the Q&A sessions after the discussions. Mingling and meeting face to face some of the business people who have been dispensing their advice. Networking with other musicians for their slants on what had been said. I know of at least one band that I saw showcase who out of fairness to the other acts will remain anonymous. They put on a killer show, and I also saw their band members in almost all panel discussions that were most important to an indie artist's career. Paying attention, and absorbing what was said. This band and others who were doing the same are the bans who in absentia would receive my most favorable reviews. The people who created Atlantis and carry it out every year, along with the panelists who take time out of their busy lives to dispense advice have created a valuable opportunity for bands, musicians and professionals to find ways to make their careers more successful. It is how these individuals apply the information that really matters.

Rock Compilation
The diversity of todays rock scene mirrors that of the performers involved with the Atlantis Music Conference and the Rock Compilation CD is an excellent example of that diversity. Disc one is a collection of acoustic and pop performances with many wonderful contributions. Steve Clausens You Bring Me Back is a highly fervent acoustic rocker that puts an almost R&B vocal slant on music in a stripped down Keane/Coldplay vein. Souler kicks in an enjoyable laid back pop funk grove in Time And Space. How Many Ways is a brash hooky rocker slammed into gear by Spencer Rush while the Cathy Richardson Bands Miracle displays highly emotive vocals in a snappy American laced backdrop. Disc two fires up the plugged rock, punk and metal with furious fervor. Christie Cooks Turn unleashes a power pop hook groove with soulful vocals. Dirty Little Secret from Echovalve drives gritty guitar fueled rock and intense but harmonic vocals right into your cranium. Blankety Blanks Is This Your Pill weaves modern alt rock with a deft touch of 70s glam. Lynam infuses a pop punk edge into the melodic metal of Tanis. There is a lot of good music here, some more innovative than others, but I wouldnt be surprised to hear more from a few of the folks on these discs.

R&B/Hip-Hop Compilation
Atlantis equal time given the hip-hop/R&B scene is exemplified by the excellent music on this compilation. You Got Me from Rerene displays her uniquely soulful vocals with a playful pop backdrop and delicious harmonies. Wild Out Stomp is..well...a wild and ear opening rock sampled foot stomper by innovative girl rappers Keke Doll. Sky Hy kicks some crazy dance club hip-hop loose augmented by unique rap styles and provocative rhymes in The Yeek Song. Govt. Cheese Special Girl by Kameelah is a wonderful twisting of classic rock edged R&B and tough girl hip-hop. Another compilation that showcases a lot of acts possessing the talent to go far, one of the most refreshing aspects to this disc is that the ladies are showing more signs that they can rap with the best of the men. This is a welcome avenue to inject new life into the current hip-hop/rap scene, and there are several folks here that seemed poised to do just that

To view photos of Atlantis panelists, please click here