Welcome to CMJ.


Suppose I owe you some kind of introduction to CMJ. Something that mentions energy drinks, badge futility, and essential picks? CMJ is a “marathon,” after all, every bloghard’s own charitable Walk for Musical Hunger—collective insomniac “suffering” in the name of better-working—and in which every participant gets their sponsors, declares their intentions to whoever will listen click, drinks a lake’s worth of liquid, whines a lot in the process, makes an essentially positive experience into a negative one because “art” consumption should repeat the Burger Kingian have-it-your-way mantra of customer satisfaction, etc.?

Sure. Right. There’ll be plenty of that.

In the meantime, as far as I understand it, there are plenty valid criticisms of this CMJ arrangement, but I’ll leave that to someone who’s actually done this before, one Mr. Zach Baron.

credit: M. Wartella

Context from the No Context Guy:
Give The People What They Want

By Zach Baron, Reprinted from 2006

No official panel on this subject, obviously, but I heard a bunch of people speak about it yesterday and last night:

A CMJ badge is priced at $295 for a college student, $495 for New Yorkers and everybody else not in school. At five days, some quick math will tell you that for a regular, non-college student to get anything approximating their money’s worth, they’d have to attend 50 shows at $10 a pop or 20 shows at $25. Not 50 bands–50 shows. Doesn’t take a genius to see the economics here are way out of whack.

Now, add the fact that a badge gets you into, at best, 75% of what you’re actually trying to see. It won’t get you into last night’s Sub Pop showcase; probably won’t get you into today’s Kill Rock Stars showcase; they were more or less laughing at folks who showed up at the Knife with only a badge in hand; and so on. In other words, virtually all of the big-ticket shows this week are at least partially closed to badges.

Who’s getting in? Mostly, venues act like it’s any other week and force people who came halfway across the country to attend CMJ to pay full ticket price–badge, press, or otherwise. Strip away the fancy Marathon title and you’re looking at just another price-gouging week in New York — five shows or so at $20 or $25 bucks per, a $100 dollars or so out for the week and twice that on drinks plus cabs, etc. Triple that if you’re trying to see more than one thing a night.

So do the math: who exactly is CMJ for? Not for the casual fans who buy badges because of the embarrassment of riches CMJ claims to bring to the city–those are the kids getting turned away for the shows they bought that badge for in the first place. My college radio station, up in Boston, stopped sending representatives years ago when it became clear that CMJ could give a fuck about college radio DJs, charging them $300 bucks to travel way out of the way only to be denied access to half the events.

Press might be a better answer, except plenty of writers get turned away like everybody else at doors all across the city. If you’re not on the list, which negates the badge anyway (no matter what affiliation it’s got on it), you’re not getting in either.

Bands could conceivably be the winners here, with the hype ramping up attendance and guaranteeing tons of press coverage, but unless they’re seeing a percentage of the badge sales, which rumor says they’re not, most bands are taking a pay cut to play shows that have more cross-town competition and less attentive audiences than usual.

Try the venues then, which get to open up their bars at three in the afternoon to big crowds and are apparently allowed to stop admitting badges whenever they feel like it–over and over, you see venues turn away badges and demand people pay full price or go home. Or look to the sponsors (of whom the Voice is one), who get banners and flyers and advertising all over the city. Also in the mix are PR firms and the bigger blogs, both of whom act as middle men for all kinds of transactions going down throughout the week, thus profiting via more attention than normal and, presumably, by taking in more cash as well.

Hey- this is speculation. The paths of economics and access underlying this whole week are so well obscured behind the visible spectrum of badges, crowds outside of shows, free daytime showcases, late night super-secret afterparties, etc, that who knows who’s benefiting. But one thing’s clear: those who just showed up, as fans, to see bands play, are not coming out ahead. Neither are the bands who play the showcases and shows around town, as far as I can tell. Ask yourself who’s left?