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CMJ Seminars: Day 1, 14 September 2005

This humble reporter decided to get a taste of what the 25th annual CMJ Music Marathon was all about, you know, during the day. Held every year in New York City, CMJ offers an unconscionable storm of music performances but also a plethora of seminars.

PopMatters @ CMJ 2005
CMJ Artist Showcases: Day 2, 15 September 2005

by Lou Friedman

[Day 1: Showcases | Panels] [Day 2: Showcases | Panels]
[Day 3: Showcases | Panels] [Day 4: Showcases]

On the second day of this CMJ sojourn there were many people milling about who looked like they had TOO good a time the previous day (and my PM cohorts were just two in the crowd). The seminars offered during this day were focused on specific issues, so my choices involved a pair discussing problems (of a totally different sort), and a business seminar.

If I ever worked in the record industry, I think I would gag. Yes, it's a business. But everyone, from artists to people who work for labels, love to use the word "product". Every time I heard it, shivers ran up and down my spine. Whatever happened to the days when an artist or a band was referred to as "talent"? It's whoredom at its finest. Oh yes -- stores move "units". Eek.

Semantics aside, the first panel discussion of the day addressed the "other" evil empire, the RIAA. They have a huge beef with rappers and hip-hop artists who produce mix tapes; it's this thing called Copyright infringement or something.

The big problem, according to the panel, which boasted five DJ's (including Green Lantern), is that the RIAA is going overboard to enforce these laws. One said that there is a total disconnect between the RIAA and the labels, at least at the boardroom level. There were stories about shop clerks who were busted by alleged FBI personnel, forced down on the ground, and had guns put to their heads. Their crime? Selling mix tapes.

The DJ's did emphasize that if you mix with original music, or if you obtain proper permission, then everything's cool. They do realize that they're playing a dangerous game in making mixes without permission.

The panel also discussed how to break into the genre and get your tapes recognized. These guys couldn't stress enough that in order to make it big in the game you have to take your stuff to the streets, to the clubs, and the radio stations. As DJ Green Lantern said, "It's all about promoting yourself. When you get started, you make no money doing this. If that doesn't drive you to work harder to get yourself heard, you may as well go do something else.''

He added that he gets tons of demos. "I just look for someone who really stands out. I mean, anybody with a mic and a computer can be a rapper."

Apparently, the new thing in DJ parlance is "chop and screw". The "chop portion means taking someone's song and slowing it down, while the "screw" part allows a DJ to be creative, inserting beats or whatever he/she thinks will make the song sound better.

From there, we learned that ring tones are the next big industry money-maker. Even Billboard magazine has a chart reflecting ring-tone purchases. Brian Garrity, the business editor for Billboard, said projections for 2005 include half a billion dollars in downloaded songs, and an almost equal amount in downloaded ring tones.

Even indie artists want to get in on the ring tone action, but some get frustrated in with trying to get their stuff out. It was suggested to use a site that promotes indies, such as Orchard, or if the band has a website of its own, to set up a ring tone from there as a launch point. Be that as it may, downloading is easier in Europe and Asia than it is in North America. Why? Because in these foreign places, a consumer simply has to push a five-digit code to get the song, and a keyword to activate the loading process. The wireless companies here are a little slow on the uptake. Cingular and Sprint are supposed to have their key code in operation by the end of the year, while Verizon Wireless is set to get theirs by next Spring.

Ring tones are a new fad, according to Thomas Ryan, senior VP of digital development for EMI. "When they first started, ring tones were basically for teens and those in their early 20's. And since all these kids know are the top hits, that's why the top hits score high on the Billboard Ring Tone Chart. As time evolves, ring tones are more of a fashion product than an entertainment product. It's all about style. It gives people a sense of their own identity when they put a specific ring tone on their phone."

We now leave the hip-hop and business worlds for this message from metal: violence at metal shows is over-dramatized.

The case discussed was the death of Dimebag Darrel, former front-man form Pantera and Damageplan. You remember, a crazed lunatic jumped on stage and shot Dimebag in cold blood. Unfortunately, this case isn't a very good example of faulty media coverage. Most media outlets, even if they made the point that the event happened at a heavy metal show - portrayed the incident as a random tragedy. Even the major news channels (CNN, FoxNews, etc.) came to the early realization that this was no Satanic ritual gone wrong.

The panelists, including Sick of it All lead singer Lou Koller, all agreed that the metal genre courts a certain amount of aggressiveness; otherwise, it wouldn't be metal. And it's not just metal that leaves trails of bodies in its wake. Panelists kept coming up with names of groups who had a death at their show including names like the New Kids on the Block, the Righteous Brothers, the Beatles, and even David Cassidy!

All agreed, the media are to blame for their kid-glove treatment of shootings at hip-hop shows. For some reason, those events are glamorized -- as though it's more commonplace and therefore more easily accepted.

Many of the panelists complained that security staffs at venues don't have the know-how to deal with certain situations. But then again, some promoters hire Hell's Angels to play security (remember Altamont, 1969)? Everyone was quick to say that most security people are a pleasure to work with, but there are a few bad apples in the bunch. They're either part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Stories about security abounded thereafter, as everyone compared notes. Most of those who attended this seminar knew one of the panelists. It proved the point that metal is a community, even with all that loud playing sometimes violent imagery.

Tomorrow, journalists get abused in one seminar while the analysis of "Jack" happens in another. Stay tuned.

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