Should You Go to a Music Industry Convention?

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Music industry conventions are understandably appealing for musicians. Many music industry representatives are in one place at one time, and facetime with the right person could lead to someone's big break. Plus, these can be fun-filled events full of music, fans, and even tons of free drinks. The only downside might be the price of admission: Convention passes can cost hundreds of dollars, plus travel and accommodations. Acts should make sure their time and money will be spent effectively before deciding to go.

Applying for a Showcase Show

The best option any musician has for attending a music industry convention is to apply for a showcase show at the event. Those selected to play a show at a convention can rest assured knowing that their shows will be promoted effectively, giving them the best chance of getting an audience. While pay is uncommon, selected acts typically get free admission to all of the events at the convention and maybe even a stipend for travel and accommodation. And the exposure could be worth more than what many acts might get for a typical gig.

Competition to play these events is stiff, and for acts that are not selected, attending the event might still be worth it if they can afford to make the trip and if they can use the event for more than one purpose. For example, acts who have their own record labels and are attending with their label boss hats on can increase their chances for success if they have other artists to talk about in addition to their own releases.

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.

Deciding Not to Go

Acts not selected for a showcase show seldom get their money's worth out of attending these events on their own. Several factors should be considered before forking over money to attend a music industry convention:

  • Promotional materials go to waste: All attendees 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. A lot of these promotional items never get a second glance, and CDs rarely get a listen.
  • It's the wrong setting for getting a record deal: Pitching a demo at a convention in hopes of getting a record deal is not usually the best way to go about it. It's uncomfortable for everyone involved, and you'd be hard pressed to find a label that wants to be put on the spot with unsolicited demos from musicians delivering them in person. If anything, it could result in a musician being remembered for the awkward exchange which ultimately hurts his chances.
  • Work comes first: For many in the music business, 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 colleagues who live far away, and they usually have agendas to complete, like seeking new distribution or licensing deals or promoting new releases. Schedules can be busy and may not leave a lot of time for demo ambush meetings.
  • Conventions overshadow surrounding events: Musicians who book gigs in town at the same time as a music convention but are not connected to the convention seldom do well. Music trade shows do a good job of promoting their sponsored shows to attendees, so unconnected shows simply will be overshadowed.