Homemade Music Symposium 2009: Conference Wrap-Up

4844_1153265598837_1443576002_408089_7610584_nFive years ago, any music industry conference would feature hours of discussion about how to get your compact disc into the hands of DJs on FM radio, or tips on how to press and package a CD that wouldn’t get buried on the desk of an A&R executive at some major label. A lot has happened in five years. On Saturday, June 13 and 14, Hillsborough Community College and The Artist and Writers Group hosted the Second Annual Homemade Music Symposium in Ybor City, and in the combined 18-plus hours of discussion, commercial FM radio was not mentioned one time.

Instead, Saturday’s daytime programming included panels and workshops like “Alternative Media Promotion,” “Marketing, Touring and Band Management” and “How to Get the Most Out of a Studio Session.” Panelists included bloggers (Bryan Childs, Ninebullets.net), social networking specialists (Julia Gorzka, Brand Tampa) and local media (Lee Courtney, WMNF; Curtis Ross, Tampa Tribune; Julie Garisto, St. Pete Times as well as Creative Loafing’s Leilani Polk). Mr. Courtney was the only radio personality in attendance. (Tampa’s 88.5 FM is a community station that still allows their DJs to play CDs – they even sometimes play records.).

The Homemade Music Symposium’s goal is to educate nascent and struggling musicians in the ways and means of the music business and industry trends. It also included out-of-town industry folk and special keynote speakers – this year, it was Tunecore’s Peter Wells and Tony Michaelides, a local author from Manchester, UK, who’s colleagues and contemporaries include Factory Records’ Tony Wilson, David Bowie, U2 and The Stone Roses.

Conference attendees were mostly solo singer-songwriter types, with a sprinkling of MCs, publishers and managers as well as other local bloggers and marketers looking to get involved in the music scene or learn about new media. There was a lot of talk (maybe too much) about Twitter and Facebook, and of course the familiar geographical gripe of how Florida is difficult to tour/break out of, because there are no surrounding states (The closest top 10 market is Atlanta). A good portion of the crowd was visibly older, some dressed in flowery shirts and flip flops, and plenty of eyes glazed over when the topics inevitably circled back to “Tweeting” and social networks.

Sorely missing from the panel of experts, especially on the panel labeled “Area Record Labels and Artist Managers,” were representatives from the handful of local Tampa imprints, namely ADD, New Granada and 24 Hour Service Station (Geri X, Win Win Winter and The Beauvilles). 24 Hour owner Marshall Dickson stated that he would definitely be involved next year, but that this time around he just had “too much on his plate.” The only current label owner in attendance was Ivan Pena, who runs Mohawk Bomb Records (Soulfound, Ascending to Avalon and Rise of Saturn). Pena seemed optimistic about the Tampa Bay music scene, and about the fast-changing online industry, but insisted that artists need to tour incessantly and start treating their band like a business or risk failure.

The “Music Critics” panel, unfortunately the last session of the day, seemed to be the most pessimistic. One girl in the crowd asked for suggestions on how to become a music writer. The entire panel discouraged her. It may be in fashion for music writers to be moody and begrudging, but one would think their passion for music could somehow keep their chins up, not to mention grateful that they still have jobs in the age of Rotten Tomatoes and aggregated, user-generated reviews at Amazon.com.