Negotiating a Folk Alliance Conference
I have been to three of the last four nationals and try to make Nerfa every year and, of course, Far West, as I do live out here. Negotiating one of these conferences can be quite daunting to the neophyte.
I know the first year I went to one, I felt like a complete outsider who did music that no one there would probably care about. It was difficult to go up to people and even more difficult to engage them in conversation. Here’s how I broke the ice.
I went to the welcome cocktail party and introduced myself to everyone who looked interesting to me, and I didn’t talk about me…I asked about them. And about who they thought that I should see perform; who the best agents were, what were the best venues represented. Then I went to the formal showcases and watched all the performers.
Now you should know that there are formal showcases and guerilla showcases. The formal showcases obviously take place in the main theatres and special rooms with sound systems, lights and crew. The guerilla showcases are presented in peoples rooms and there are no amps allowed, it’s usually all or nearly all acoustic (sometimes a bass amp or a keyboard will find its way onto the program but as long as it isn’t loud, it’s okay).
All the showcases require some prior contact. Only the jams and songwriter circles invite spontaneous performances. What I did was to float around all the guerilla showcases and listen to as many people as I could. Then I could go up to the ones that I liked and tell them what I liked about them, or what songs, or whatever. The thing is you tend to gravitate towards music that is not dissimilar to what you make. And you find yourself eventually in a circle of people like you.
There are also all kinds of seminars and programs that are listed in the master program. There is one the first day that will tell you how to get the most out of the conference. Definitely go to that one. And afterwards, ask yourself why you are at this conference and what you want to gain from being there. It’s just a spin on my old stand by, “what do you want to have happen?”
If you are looking for work, then find out who the house concert presenters are, who the club owners are, who the college bookers are, and which agents might possibly get what it is that you do. Attend the seminars and showcases that will further that goal.
If you are most interested in songwriting, there are seminars for that and there are plenty of people who will tell you who the really good songwriters are. Go hear them all. I have learned from almost everyone I’ve ever heard perform. Even if it’s what not to do.
If you have a CD out, then attend the radio conference and meet the DJ’s and program directors, ( there is usually a meet and greet cocktail party for that to occur ) and help them put a face on your work. I also gravitate towards the ones that I like anyhow. There are people with whom you click and some you don’t. You can’t fake liking someone and you can’t fake how much you don’t need their help. You do, so find the people that you can genuinely relate to and talk to them. Ask them about themselves, how they program, what they program, how they pace their sets. All that stuff is important to them and it’s important to you. If the rapport isn’t there, be brief and make certain that they receive your CD.
Which reminds me, I don’t give them CD’s at the conference. They are going to have a ton of stuff to carry home and they are going to go thru it pretty fast, I suspect. There’s just so much to go thru. I send them an email regarding our meeting and I tell them a CD is on the way. Then a few days later I mail them out. That way, they don’t have to carry all your promo and CD away from the conference, unless they specifically ask for it, at which point, you try to keep from hugging them and groveling and you give them the CD.
With each conference, you will become more comfortable and have more connections to people that may be with you the rest of your life. Just remember, “what do I want to have happen here?” Keep your eye on the prize. Make certain that when you perform you are on your game. Don’t stay up all night every night and then do seminars all day. Your voice and your concentration will both fail you.
O one other thing. I always have as much fun as I possibly can. You never know.