Last week, as a self-assigned endurance test (and out of an occasional true interest in the subject matter), I attended as many CMJ panels as I possibly could — the good, the bad, the sparsely attended, and the boring — with a tape recorder, a cup of iced coffee (not quite willing to submit to the looming hot-coffee weather), and what was probably a poorly camouflaged smirk. The future of radio, social media, crowdfunding, launching a music start-up: I heard experts weigh in on it all in 10 panels. And it wasn’t pretty.
Though some quality networking went down and some insider knowhow was shared, CMJ’s panels tended to follow the basic tenets of any professional conference’s panel discussions: earnest attendees, A/V technical difficulties, forward-looking discussion topics, and many, many questions from the audience answered inadequately. Despite all the intensive mentorship that the “silver boardroom” and other panels promised, in most every session, the main idea conveyed was, “It’s going to be a lot harder for you than it was for me, kid.”
To save you the trouble of being crestfallen in person next year, I have distilled the most often repeated vague refrains (many of them contradictory!) of the whole shebang into the below summary, followed by their subtext. Good luck, you little go-getter, you! Now, make with the famous!
So, you are an aspiring artist, producer, manager, entrepreneur, or music executive. Let’s talk about how you should get started. (Subtext: Thanks for spending $549 on your CMJ badge! That was step one to achieving your goal — you’re one of us now! But be prepared not to get anything out of this discussion, because half the time will be given over to panelist bios, decrying the current state of the industry, and self-anthology.)
Keep your day job that you hate. You need to be committed to your dream, but if you don’t have a back-up plan, you’re in trouble. (Subtext: You will only make a third of a cent each time your song streams on Spotify, and we know you have no savings, so steal photocopies, long-distance phone calls, and stamps while you can.)
Quit your day job that you hate. Be fully committed to your dream. If you have a back-up plan, you’re in trouble. (Subtext: Use your trust fund. Oh, or crowdfunding. Lots and lots of crowdfunding.) You are so lucky to be entering the field in a time when there are so many digital tools available to you. (Subtext: You have to record and produce your music in your bedroom on your own equipment, and keep a video blog, and engage your Facebook fans, and learn how to use Pinterest. Harry Nilsson didn’t even have to tour! Ha-ha! )
Do it all on your own; don’t compromise your vision. (Subtext: It’s OK to be a snob. Everyone on this panel is!)
Actually, you can’t do it all on your own and do it well. You better hire a social media manager, voice coach, famous producer, lawyer, promoter, and an image consultant. Lucky for you, there is one of each of those on this panel! (Subtext: Give us all your money. It’s the only way!)
If you’re doing something amazing, don’t worry, people with money will find you. Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube, after all! (Subtext: There will probably never be another Justin Bieber, but you’re going to have to do it anyway.)
Showing up and putting in work is the only way to break in. The quickest and cheapest way to get attention is to constantly create content for your social media presences. (Subtext: Going viral is your only hope.)
Don’t make any enemies. (Subtext: Actually, all of the most interesting stories told at panels are about making enemies or getting fired, and I, as a record executive, would never have gotten where I am if I hadn’t gotten into that fistfight with Tommy Mottola, so…)
Now, go make a pile of money! (Subtext: And don’t forget to call me when you need a social media manager!)