Should You Go to a Music Industry Convention?
Note: This advice applies specifically to musicians. Labels, promoters, and others have different considerations when deciding whether or not to attend a music industry convention/trade show.
The prospect of attending a music industry convention is understandably appealing for a musician. After all, lots of music biz reps will be in one place at one time, including possible people from your dream label or that manager you'd love to get some face time with—it sounds like this could be your big chance. Plus, these events can be a lot of fun. There's tons of music, tons of music fans, and even tons of free drinks—what's not to like?
Well, one thing not to like is the price of admission. Music convention passes cost hundreds, and that's before you even consider things like travel and accommodation. Is it worth it? Should you suck it up and shell out the cash for the chance to work crowds and promote your music? Should you become a music convention regular?
Apply for a Showcase Show
First things first—hands down, the best option any musician has for attending any music industry convention is to apply for a showcase show at the event. If you are picked by the convention to play a show, then you can rest assured that your show will be promoted effectively, giving you the best chance of getting an audience. Although it's unlikely you'll be paid for your gig, you are likely to get free admission to all of the events at the convention and maybe even a stipend for travel and accommodation.
If you think you want to attend a particular music industry trade show, attempting to get a gig, there should be your priority.
Should You Go If You Aren't Picked?
Naturally, competition to play these events is stiff, so what happens if this option doesn't pan out? Should you still go? Tempting though it may be, musicians seldom get their money's worth out of attending these events on their own. Here are some things to consider:
- Attendees at music conventions have CDs, flyers, stickers, badges, pens, pencils—you name it—coming at them from all directions. Usually, for attendees, when the glow of the event wears off, they're left staring at a huge stack of business cards from people they're not sure they remember meeting and an even bigger stack of promo CDs to wade through (and yes, you guessed it, a fair few of them end up in the bin).
- If you've got a demo and you're thinking of attending the event in hopes of getting a record deal, be aware that pitching your demo in person is not usually the best way to go about it. It's uncomfortable for everyone involved. You'd be hard pressed to find a label that wants to get an unsolicited demo from a musician in person and be put on the spot; if anything, you might hurt your chances because you'll be remembered for the awkward moment. Of course, you can simply give someone a CD and press pack and leave it at that, but then, you could do that with a stamp or internet connection—you don't need to pay the price of admission for that.
- For many music biz types, there is work to be done at these events. These events are a central meeting spot to get some one on one time in person with all of the people they do business who live far away, and they usually have their agenda to complete, like seeking new distribution or licensing deals or promoting new releases. Schedules can be quite busy and may not leave a lot of time for the demo ambush meeting.
- Musicians who book gigs in town at the same time as a music convention but that are not connected to the convention seldom do well. Music trade shows do a good job of promoting their sponsored shows to attendees, so you'll be well off the radar.
When You Should Go
For these reasons, you're unlikely to get enough bang for your buck to justify the cost of attending a music convention simply to market your demo. There are, however, times when attending a trade show could be a good thing:
- If you are acting as your record label, and you're going there with your label boss hat on, rather than simply your musician hat. Be aware here that you can increase your chances of success at the event even more if you have another artist on your label to talk about in addition to your release.
- If attending the show won't be a financial burden. You shouldn't divert money from important things like promotion or live performing, but if you can swing the cost of admission, attending a music convention is a great learning experience. Even the most experienced people walk away from music trade shows understanding more about the music industry, and you're likely to come away with lots of new ideas.
Of course, some music trade shows are more friendly environments for up and coming musicians than others. Here are a few to check out: