By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (www.WendyDay.com)
These days, it seems like everyone is doing a conference and/or awards show in hip hop. What is up with that? I guess people see one or two people do it, and they think they have the proper connections, knowledge, and opinions to do it their damn selves. The problem is, most fail. It’s also not a money maker and most people seem to think it’s a quick come up. It’s really not. Ask anyone who has done a real conference or awards show.
I believe strongly in knowledge, so in the past three years, I have attended every seminar, conference, and summit that seemed worthy, and that fit into my schedule. This kept me on the road, speaking live, for at least 10 days a month in the past few years. I now have enough frequent flyer flight miles to go to Hong Kong in the Summer. That’s a lot of conventions and seminars, and yet only a handful were worthwhile. I have attended so many bullshit events, that I am now officially burned out on seminars, award shows, and conferences.
Most of the events lacked the proper funding to advertise and promote the event properly, so numerous times I ended up with other high profile panelists, speaking to rooms with less than 50 people. Almost all of the events were done in nightclubs, which confused the attendees when they were told to shut up and listen to the folks on stage speaking. As you can guess, most didn’t shut up, so we ended up speaking to ourselves and the first 10 feet of attendees with the dull hum of voices in the background to thoroughly distract and insult us.
And at almost every conference, I ended up speaking along side of people who were more interested in self-promoting their company or crew, or who gave wrong information to the attendees. My favorite was a local lawyer who told the crowd that artists didn’t need to copyright their music. Idiot!! I’ve sat next to “managers” and “label owners” with artists I’ve never heard of before or since, and who weren’t qualified to flip burgers at McDonalds, let alone speak to folks about creating success in this industry.
Somebody, somewhere, must be telling folks in our industry that they can put on a conference or award show with no upfront money (wrong!), without advertising or promoting it, and without having panelists that people would be willing to pay $100 or more to hear speak. Seems more than a few of the conventions trick folks into coming by offering showcase spots (for $500 to $2,000 a spot), telling the artists that they will get to perform in front of industry folks (yeah, folks like me who wouldn’t stay for a showcase even with a gun to my head) who could sign them and make all of their dreams come true. Very often the people advertised don’t even show up.
These suckers who pay for showcase spots are obviously the people who are talking through the panels in the back of the room because the majority of panelists actually tell artists exactly how to get signed to a record deal (if you were listening, you’d know too). Hell, I spoke over 60 times in the past 2 years, and at every event I talked about how to get a deal and how ineffective it is to hand out demos. At the end of every panel, I was bombarded with demos. I also skipped every showcase (while it’s important for artists to practice their craft and perform, doing so in front of the industry with the intention of getting signed to a major label is a waste—doing so in front of consumers who will buy a CD is a better move; more strategic, and the sales are more likely to attract a label to sign you).
The importance of a local seminar in smaller towns and cities that don’t have access to a music industry, is its ability to bring together like-minded people. A seminar brings together local radio people, DJs, retailers, artists, etc, into one place so they can network and interact with each other. It’s a great way for new people to get to know who is who, and an even better way to plan to work together on projects and build relationships. This is a who-you-know, relationship business. In a perfect world, these events may even bring in national or regional folks from the music industry who are proven successful and willing to share their secrets of success. At least share them with the folks who aren’t standing around rudely talking to each other in the back of the room.
I built my career at conferences and seminars that matter—that’s how I learned much of what I know about this business. I met folks, kept in touch, and learned from their experiences. I’m fortunate that I came up in this industry when there were a handful of conventions each year that mattered, that everyone attended. That no longer exists. We seem to have split into sub-regions, and the South seems to have taken the focus. Plus the major labels no longer spend money to sponsor or attend conventions—probably because they’d have to actually leave New York.
Instead, we now have hundreds of little seminars that no one attends, with panelists who don’t really matter, and with attendees who didn’t come to learn. When I am the most powerful person in a room, something is horribly, horribly wrong. This means the seminar organizers fucked up. Hell, folks can come to the SEAs (Southern Entertainment Awards weekend) every year (March 19-22) and hear me speak—even spend time with me over the weekend. And the SEAs are free and have far more important and powerful folks than me in attendance.
So, if you are planning a conference or seminar in your area, please make sure you find the perfect venue (nightclubs are for showcases, not panel discussions), and sponsors who are willing to invest in your vision. Make sure your panelists are a nice mix of successful people who genuinely want to share useful information (as opposed to airing out others or pumping up their own businesses). Your panelists should consist of local successful people, regionally established industry people, and nationally significant people—all with proven track records of success. The panelists should be people willing to give back, not people coming into your marketplace to “rape” the local artists.
Plan out the panels so the panelists can speak to your market. If you have an abundance of indie labels in your area, make certain you have panelists who can share knowledge on putting out an indie record and maybe a LEGITIMATE distributor on the panel. If your market has no great producers but a ton of rappers, make sure you have some regional and national producers on the panel to help both the artists and the up and coming producers learn. Fill the void! Whatever your community is missing is what you should be offering access to. You will most likely need to fly key people in and put them up in a hotel. That is standard unless you have the connections and power to ask people to come at their own expense (for the SEAs, I ask the panelists to pay their own way so the conference can remain free and open to everyone).
Panel discussions should last longer than 45 minutes. You need at least an hour to get a real discussion going, and almost as long for the audience to ask their questions. Make sure you post a schedule on a website so people know where to go and what’s going on. It’s a good idea to print that schedule and hand it to your attendees as they come to your event. Make sure the panelists receive it ahead of time so they can attend more than just their panel—I spoke on a panel recently and missed a panelist dinner because no one told me there was one. I was sitting in my hotel room with nothing to do.
Have a moderator who can control the crowd and keep the discussion moving along in a lively fashion. Have a strong moderator no matter what. Last Spring in Houston, at the Go DJs/OG Ron C event, Mannie Fresh and I did a one on one conversation for 90 minutes (in a nightclub). This event was historical because I shopped and negotiated the Cash Money deal 11 years ago, based on Mannie’s excellent hit-making production (as well as the outstanding rappers and the owners’ vision for the label). Mannie and I had not seen each other or spoken for those eleven years. Also, in that time, we both had done some amazing things in our careers. You’d think the 70 people in attendance would have wanted to learn from us (especially the producers, artists, and DJs in attendance) but the talking and murmuring from the audience was distracting us.
Finally, one of my friends (Rick Edwards, who used to run Suave House back in the day) decided to moderate the conversation, grabbed my mic, and told the audience to shut the fuck up. He pointed out that between Mannie and I, we had earned (not necessarily made, but earned) millions and millions of dollars in this industry. Mannie’s production has sold over 30 million CDs and singles, and my deals have sold over 100 million CDs worldwide, netting a larger share to the artists than ever in the history of rap music. The crowd let Mannie and I continue without any more distractions after Rick broke it down for them. I would have NEVER imagined that someone would want to talk through Mannie sharing secrets of his success, but that day proved me wrong, and proved the necessity of having a strong moderator.
Make sure you spread the word about your event. Just using free MySpace and FaceBook blasts are not enough. Radio ads, flyers and posters, and advertising to the urban music community at least two months ahead is key for a small event. Six months ahead if you are trying to attract attendance from a larger area like your entire region. The SEAs begin advertising the next year’s event the week after the SEAs end. You don’t have to be that thorough, but maybe that’s why the attendance there always breaks a couple thousand. If your event wasn’t worthy of people attending this year, there won’t be a next year. I know I won’t be back.
And lastly, if there’s already a successful event in your area or region, find another avenue. Why try to copy or compete with something that already works and works well? TJsDJs springs to mind. Every Quarter, his event attracts 3,000+ people to Tallahassee, mostly key artists and industry people. If you are in that region, why would you want to compete with that? You’d end up looking bad, unable to attract the volume and the key people that his events attract. Don’t follow, lead. Find what’s missing in your region and supply that. And then be sure to do it well.
And if you advertise that someone is coming to speak or judge your ineffective showcase, they damn well better be there. You can’t ever repair your damaged reputation.
Events that I’ll be attending this year, if anyone cares:
• Southern Entertainment Awards Weekend (Tunica, MS March 19-22)
• The Core DJs Event (Atlanta, GA April 24-27)
• One Stop Shop Producer’s Conference (Phoenix May 9-10)
• Tampa Music Conference (first week of June)
• TJsDJs/Ozone Award Weekend (usually the second weekend in August)
• TJsDJs Record Pool (usually in late October)
• The Diamond Awards (Jacksonville, FL usually the second week of December)
And of course, I moderate the In The Know Seminars (dot com) that are on-line monthly (the third Saturday of the month on the internet), so I’m always there.
I do not attend any of the traveling “minstrel shows” that move from city to city charging exorbitant rates for artists to perform. If it smells like a scam, it probably is. Find the cities that any event has already been to, and ask artists on MySpace in that city if it was worth it. I find that when folks get burned out of money, they are more than happy to tell others about it. Don’t be fooled by recognizable logos—and if you attend an event that is bullshit, write to those “sponsoring” companies whose logos are plastered all over everything and tell them it was bullshit!!!