I suppose that, what with we in the Latest Flame roster brainstorming ways to promote the label and bands in a more aggressive manner, i should be thrilled that the Yellow Phone Music Conference is coming to Milwaukee this weekend. But it probably surprises no one that the descriptions i've been reading on line fill me with a vague sense of...what is it? Oh yeah, bile:
Yellow Phone Music Conference (YPMC) is a three day gathering of talented artists and music professionals. YPMC will present engaging panel discussions and mentor sessions with experienced, respected leaders in the music business, bringing professionals, artists and fans together to share ideas and discover new opportunities.
Yellow Phone is a more focused version of larger conferences which seem to have become less accessible to up-and-coming talent and new industry professionals. The priorities of those conferences have been redirected toward launching signed acts instead of showcasing undiscovered talent. Yellow Phone, on the other hand, is focused on the unsigned artists. With fewer artists and fewer venues, the quality of the talent presented is paramount.
Yellow Phone's goal is to bring together career oriented artists and positive, forward-thinking leaders in today's music business, taking the best qualities of the larger industry conferences and downsizing them into a concentrated, quality experience with powerful, pertinent takeaways.
I suppose that once i read the phrase "career oriented artists" i should stop bitching and just realize that this whole dog and pony show isn't targeted at me, but i remain conflicted. The organizers, local entertainment consultants Doug Johnson, David Silbaugh and Scott Ziel, make some great points in their interview with Even at the Shepherd Express; in particular, they're exactly right about the problem with SXSW and CMJ these days:
"We have all been going to South by Southwest for a long time, but we found it increasingly hard to find unsigned, new and upcoming bands there amid all the established acts," Johnson says. "We had talked to some of our cohorts out in Los Angeles and they had a similar impression. They said they weren't going to South by Southwest because there weren't bands on the spot they could sign, since every act they saw had already been signed. We all thought that these events would work better for both parties if bands were able to network with industry professionals in a boutique situation, where they could actually talk one on one."
Obviously these guys care about making Milwaukee a hotspot on the national music scene, so their plan to lure Big Music Industry Folks from the coast by luring them with hot unsigned talent from New York and L.A., only to subject them to Milwaukee's Most Accessible, is crafty. (What, you think they'd come out to a Milwaukee music fest without bands from the "big" cities? Cool, how many execs were at WMSE's Radio Summer Camp this year?) Where things start to fall apart for our new Little Music Fest That Can is the pricing, which feels more like a Little Music Fest That Cons:
Panels, which will be held at the Intercontinental Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., are reserved for attendees paying $99 in advance or $199 the day of the event. However, the shows that will be held at clubs downtown and in the Third Ward will be open to the public for $5 each at the door, with weekend show passes going for $20.
A weekend show pass for $20 is a hell of a bargain, but how many broke-ass "career oriented" bands have $199 lying around to spend on a roundtable discussion on getting your music in a commercial? (Let me save you some money--hire a girl singer who sounds like Feist, and your music will be ready-made for commercials.) That's a level of pricing that screams "scam," and if you don't agree, check out the list of panelists, find the magic word "SonicBids," and get back to me. (As my esteemed labelmate Sean Kirkpatrick of the excellent Nervous Curtains tweeted yesterday, "I would like to pay a monthly fee to be able to pay another submission fee to possibly get a gig that we definitely won't get paid for." Speaking as a former SonicBids
Still. Conflicted. I want Milwaukee to get the recognition it deserves, but like the selective radio play of Milwaukee acts at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee (where you will get significant local support, provided you play music palatable to easy-listening suburban white liberal "arts enthusiasts"), the local bands showcased by this event are, predictably, mostly commercially viable (ok, i'm not sure why Elusive Parallelograms got on the bill, but in fairness, neither does the band). Does this music conference really showcase the diversity of Milwaukee's music scene? I don't think so, and if you disagree, i have $50 that says you'll never see Northless or Holy Shit! get invited to one of these.
But like i said earlier, this is a festival for "career oriented" bands, a phrase which excludes probably 90% of Milwaukee's finest. Which is not to disparage the Milwaukee bands in this festival, as the musicians i know who are playing aren't exactly looking for fame and fortune doing what they do. So i wish the Brewtown bands well in their shows this weekend (attending the conference shows but don't know which are the Milwaukee bands? They're the ones without emo swoop haircuts).
And hey, if the Big Music Execs without the Wisconsin ties fall in love with our little city over the weekend, i hope they come back and dig a little deeper, maybe even visiting the aforementioned Radio Summer Camp next year. I'm not holding my breath, however, because unlike the Yellow Phone Music Conference, Radio Summer Camp is about the music--not the money behind the music.