I have been a member of Folk Alliance Intenational for a decade, am serving my second term on the national board and find the community to be nurturing and supportive; a great place to network; and just plain fun. My friend and associate Russ Paris (who with his wife Julie, presents one of the most successful and long running house concert series in the country) just weighed in on the conference in response to newbies asking about the validity and necessity of joining or participating in the alliance and how it would benefit them. Here is his perspicacious response:
These conferences are one of those things where "the more you put into it, the more you get out of it." But because the conferences are about making connections and building relationships, they also have a cumulative effect.
As Sandy (another FAI member) said, it's important to stay on the radar. As someone who books artists that I see at a conference, I will make a note of artists that I'm considering for future bookings. If I don't see that artist again, it's really hard for me to keep them at or near the top of my list. They will drift lower as other artists I see are also added to my list. Meanwhile, those artists who I see over and over again and repeatedly have a positive impact on me will be moving higher on my list. I'll be thinking, "why haven't I booked this musician yet?"
It is difficult to judge the impact of attending a conference. How do you weigh the cost versus the benefits? Okay, costs are easy to weigh in time, effort and money. But what are the benefits? You don't know when the gigs will come. I've booked bands several years after seeing them perform at a conference. So if I see you this year, but don't book you right away, how do you know the impact on future bookings?
Immediate bookings are only one, and maybe not the greatest of the benefits of attending a conference (FAI or regional). I can think of many other benefits, all of which are difficult to quantify. Here are a few that come to mind:
(1) The rejuvenation effect of attending. This is real and should not be underestimated. I can't tell you how many artists I've talked to after a conference who have told me that they were energized by attending. This helped them move forward as artists both in writing, performing and booking.
(2) The networking effect. You never know who will hear and see you at a conference. You might be playing to one single person in a hotel room at 1:30 in the morning, but that person could be a talent buyer for a festival. . . or could be sleeping with someone who is!
(3) Relationship building. This isn't just with venue people, but with your fellow artists as well. It seems to me that many of your future bookings come from your fellow artists. They may ask you to open for them. They may ask you to back them at a gig local to you. You might end up in a band or studio with them at some future date. But building relationships means growing them over time. If you come to one conference every 5 years, you aren't building those relationships. As I said above, there is a cumulative effect of attending conferences year after year.
One real life example. There was an artist/band we met at a conference, in the elevators. Nice people, but we didn't get a chance to see them perform that year. The following year, we made a point of catching one of their showcases, and liked what we saw and heard, but not enough to book them. Still, the relationship grew. The year after that, we again caught their performance as they were an official showcase act. And again we liked what we heard, but not enough to book them. Still, by that third year, we had built up a friendship with them. The following year, again in a late night showcase, we saw them perform and found that their music hit a chord with us. Maybe they had gotten a bit more polished as an act and maybe their music simply grew on us. Probably a little of both. The following year, we booked them. (What if they had stopped attending after the first year or two?)
(4) Getting your songs heard by other artists. One year we booked a band at a conference who performed here about 16 months later. During their set, they introduced a "new" song to their set that they explained they discovered at that conference. They were at a late night jam session when someone they didn't know, played a song that they thought would really fit their style. So they got the guy to teach them the song. Now we didn't book that guy. Not sure if we saw him or not. However, his song got played at our show, and his name was mentioned when he was given credit for writing the song. AND the song is going on the next album by the band who we did book!
(5) Inspiration. Some artists tell me that they rarely go see others perform. They are so immersed in their own music that they are burnt out or simply don't have the time or energy to see others perform. This doesn't make sense to me. Go be inspired by some great new artists. Find out what the buzz is this year. Who is the hot new band? What turned you on to making music in the first place?
I'm sure if you think about it, you will come up with more examples from your own experience. But the point is that it seems that many artists who attend a conference try to weigh the value just a week or two later by seeing how many immediate bookings they received. In my opinion, that's a poor way to measure the benefits.
Don't forget prior to the conference to write to venues that are specific to your type of music to come see your showcases. Pick a few that you want to target and make a personal contact. And don't forget to follow up with them after the conference and thank them for coming to see you. Again, it's about building relationships that will lead to future gigs.
Russ (& Julie)
Russ & Julie's House Concerts