Thursday, September 9, 2010

IBMA Preview - How to Use WOB to Your Benefit

Rennaissance Center  Hotel
Nashville Convention Center

The IBMA World of Bluegrass
The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) will be holding its annual World of Bluegrass (WOB) Conference in Nashville, TN at the Renaissance Center Hotel and Nashville Convention Center from September 27 - October 3 this year.  As I've read people's responses to the organization, its conference, its location, cost, and other factors, the over-riding issue coming from cyber space seems to me to be, "What has IBMA done for me lately?"  This preview is designed to help you think about ways to use the WOB to help you advance your goals in bluegrass music whether you're a performer, a promoter, fan, a content provider, purveyor of music oriented equipment, or any of the many other sorts of people who come together to make the World of Bluegrass.  Whether you're a first time attendee or have been to IBMA many times, it's important to remember that you're not there to merely have a good time, hang out with friends you don't see often enough, pick a lot, and share a few drinks.  The most important reason to attend is to advance your career and understanding of bluegrass music during this week-long extravaganza by working hard to help yourself.  To this end WOB has been structured by IBMA to help you do just that, but you should never believe IBMA will do it for you.

 Panel on the Role of Technology

While this is only our third year at the WOB, I've been attending professional meetings for nearly forty years, and I think I've learned something about how to make them work for me.  The first and most important thing to do is to take some time to make at least a preliminary plan for your week. This year's WOB theme is: Face Time - It Matters.  With this in mind, much of the program is built around the idea of allowing people involved in bluegrass to get a chance for face-to-face interactions with other people who count in the business.  Everyone can be sure to find ways to make themselves known to others through their activity at IBMA.   Attendance at WOB begins when the program arrives in your mailbox, or you start to study the offerings on the IBMA web site.

Getting a Little Face Time

Kinds of Admission Tickets: There are a variety of ticket packages available for WOB priced from $540 (non-member full admission  after August 13) to $140 (the new "music only" ticket purchased early).  Significant discounts are available to professional members who register early.  No ticket package includes admission to the Awards ceremony, which is separately ticketed ($55 - $110).  For those who attend both the Business Conference and Fan Fest, the early bird price of $340 is quite attractive.  Among other things, full registration for the Business conference includes three meals associated with speeches and special awards. The new Music Pass (priced at $160 after September 10) is, for some people an interesting and attractive option.  The Music Pass entitles holders to attend all music events - Official Showcases, After Hours Showcases, and Fan Fest.  Holders of the ticket may not attend seminars, workshops, meals, or go to the Exhibition Hall during the Business Conference.  Attending private showcases in the Hotel, hospitality suites, and participating in jams in the hotel jamming areas would be a possibility. If listening to bluegrass music is your reason for attending IBMA, this may be your ticket.  But the Music Pass only works for consumers of bluegrass music. If you're a content provider in any capacity, you want to be able to take advantage of the much more extensive program IBMA offers.

The Business Conference

Seminars and Workshops: Running from Monday September 27 through Thursday September 30, the business conference presents a swirl of varied activities designed to help bluegrass people learn, develop new skills, build on old ones, display their music, network with others in the business to build and develop contacts, play music for talent buyers in the industry, and so much more.  Take a look at the list of Seminars and Educational Labs running from Monday afternoon through Thursday.  I can't imagine that any person involved with bluegrass in any capacity wouldn't be able to find several presentations to attend that would help grow a career or enhance enjoyment of the music.  The people involved in these presentations have already established a track record of success in their piece of the business and are willing to share their expertise with you.  How could you lose?  (Of course, you could have jammed 'til three in the morning the night before and not be in any shape to attend or benefit from these experiences, but life is always a series of choices.)

Seminar on Interview Skills
Let me highlight a few of seminars or workshops that particularly appeal to me during the week.  Do you think you might have something to learn about marketing your band from Dailey & Vincent?  They'll be presenting a seminar on Tuesday afternoon with their entire marketing team examining how they developed their team. Of course, you could say to yourself, "Well, I haven't got the resources they do. How could I learn from their experience?" Or you could attend the seminar, listen carefully and figure out what parts of their approach could apply to you and how you could adapt them to your means and needs.

Do you write songs and would you like to earn increased royalties from them?  Do you think Dan Keen, Larry Shell, Tim Stafford, Carl Jackson, and David Crow in a seminar moderated by Brink Brinkman and Louisa Branscomb might have something to say to you that could enhance your chances of increasing your revenue stream through song writing?  They're offering a seminar called, "Follow the Money: Song Writer Royalties and the Real World" on Monday morning.  

Are you unsure how to make Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and all the other social networking media available on the Internet work for you to help you develop and define your brand and keep your name before the public?  Would you be happy getting some new ideas about how to build your fan base?  Would becoming more familiar with these concepts help to improve your income from music?  Public relations guru Ariel Hyatt will be presenting a seminar called "Music Success in Nine Weeks" on Monday afternoon.  Check out her web site to see a list of her clients and decide whether a couple of hours spent with her might be worth your while. People spend what you'll be spending for IBMA attendance just to attend one of her workshops.

Could This Be an Important Moment?

Maybe you've been teaching lessons to people who want to play bluegrass instruments. How would you like to make the time you spend teaching generate more income and attract additional people to the joys of playing music together?  On Monday around noon Pete Wernick will be launching his new network of Bluegrass Jamming classes taught by "Wernick certified" teachers.  Spend some time with one of the most successful teachers and performers in bluegrass history and see whether you'd fit into the format he teaches. And then attend the "Wernick Bluegrass Method"  to learn how becoming associated with this new program might be a good fit for you. Would being associated with Pete Wernick make your classes more attractive to students?  It just might. 

I've focused on four of the more than thirty workshops, seminars, and special interest meeting to be held during the day at the WOB.  I can hardly imagine how hearing the people who will be presenting and getting a chance to ask questions that help you relate their experiences to your own particular problems could be anything but valuable as you seek to develop and forward your career.  If you attend IBMA as a member of a band, you can split up and cover even more of the events.  During the following weeks you can sit together in the van or bus or motel room and share ideas you got in order to make connections and develop specific applications for your situation. Taking new ideas and making connections between them and your own needs is what learning is all about.  If that doesn't lead to greater success for your band, I'd be surprised.  It does take work on your part, though.

Exhibition Hall: The Exhibition Hall contains a range of exhibits by instrument manufacturers, parts manufacturers, agents, gear companies, and so-on. Bands presenting official showcases
also provided with a complementary space for an exhibit.  It also functions as a central meeting place for people who wander the aisles between other events during the day.  During Fan Fest, the Exhibition Hall becomes more consumer and fan oriented and Fan Fest performers also have merchandise tables in the hallway outside the Fan Fest auditorium. Lists of exhibitors for both the Business Conference and Fan Fest can be found here.  While I haven't made an actual count, it appears to me the number has increased since last year.

Gig Fair: This event is sort of like speed dating.  You can view it as a meat market you want nothing to do with, or as an opportunity to make a visual contact with bookers who might be important to your future.  So far there are thirty-one bluegrass talent buyers confirmed for the Gig Fair, and, no doubt, more will have signed up to participate by Wednesday.  This is an unparalleled opportunity for you to make an initial contact, leave a demo and other information, and help buyers connect your band's name with a face.  It's up to you to follow up on these contacts after IBMA is over.  You can register for up to seven appointments during the sign-up from 8:30 - 11:00 AM before the orientation period at 12:45, and the Gig Fair, which runs from 1:00 - 3:00 PM on Wednesday afternoon.  Are you sure you want to be so tired from jamming all night that you don't show up to register at 8:30 in the morning?

Gig Fair

Mentor Sessions: These sessions provide participants with an opportunity to spend one-on-one face time discussing specific issues with people who have had great success in the particular area involved.  The list of participants and the number of mentor sessions this year is larger than in any year we've seen. Would you like to:  talk about getting articles in Bluegrass Unlimited with founder Pete Kuykendall and editor Linda Shaw, examine house concerts as a way to showcase artists in intimate setting with Archie Warnock, learn about booking tours and artist representation with John Everhardt of Keith Case & Associates, or discuss mastering your new bluegrass album with John Eberle of Americana Mastering?  There are twenty-eight different people or groups participating in the Mentoring Sessions where you can make appointments to sit down and talk about issues of particular concern to you.

David Davis & the Warrior River Boys - Official Showcase

Showcases: Official and After Hours: Showcases are where the official musical activities designed to highlight new, emerging, and changing bands to the bluegrass community.  They come in two kinds.  Official showcases are selected by a committee of IBMA and take place from 7:45 - 10:45 on Monday through Wednesday evening in the Center Exhibition Hall of the Convention Center.  Here's a list of the Official Showcase participants for 2010.  In the past, these showcases were held in the banquet hall of the Convention Center. They've been moved to the same stage being used for Fan Fest with the hall made more intimate for the fewer number of attendees.  This should signal an improvement in the sound and lighting for these showcases as well as a greater emphasis on listening to the music.

Adam Steffey in Official Showcase

After hours showcases are not informal or unofficial, but the way they are developed and presented differs significantly from the Official ones. Running from 11:00 P.M until 2:00 AM each night of the WOB except after the Awards show,  After Hours shows take place in smaller rooms on the first and second floors of the Convention Center.  They are hosted by record companies, media organizations, and other groups wishing to showcase talent of their own choice.  Record companies, for instance, might showcase bands whose newest product has hit the market in the past several months.  A newcomer on the bluegrass stage, The Bluegrass Legacy, is hosting five nights of showcases featuring emerging bands managed by Mile Marker Entertainment.  Since many of the sponsors are record companies or management agencies, it stands to reason the bands in their showcases would be predominantly chosen from their clients.  The audience for these showcases is often composed of a mix of talent buyers, other musicians supporting friends, and fans.  The new Music Pass may change the dynamics of the after hours showcases.  While they run late, these events can turn into exciting moments and shows.  They, like all IBMA events require a ticket.

 Chris Jones & The Night Riders in After Hours Showcase

  Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle & Jerry Salley in After Hours Showcase

IIIrd Tyme Out and Special Guests 
at Rural Rhythm Records Reception (Invitation Only)

Kyle Cantrell - Emcee for the Rural Rhythm Reception

Other Activities: For people registered for the Business Conference there are a range of large scale meeting, some including meals, and other events.  There are also private events held by bluegrass associations, a few large festivals, and record companies.  Some of these are by invitation only, while others are open events.  They're not on any schedule and you learn about them by word of mouth or invitation.  Some of the hospitality suites hold private auditions and shows.  I always enjoy the opening banquet and keynote address on Monday evening.  This years keynoter will be Sam Bush, who, I have no doubt, will be enjoyable and challenging as he looks towards the future of bluegrass and sets the tone for the ensuing week of events and festivities.  The Special Awards Brunch on Thursday morning is fun.  There is a series of special events for singer/songwriters all through the week.  In short, there's too much going on during the Business Conference to highlight it all.  Study the IBMA web site to begin to get a handle on it all, and then, when you get the full program, spend some time studying it.  If you haven't been to IBMA before or at least since it moved to Nashville, it will prove useful to familiarize yourself with the floor plan of the Convention Center.

Kids Jam at California Bluegrass Association Suite
Hallway Jam

In the end, the Business Conference of World of Bluegrass can be a wonderful experience and provide a wealth of learning and growing opportunities for anyone involved with bluegrass at any level.  For members of bands seeking to improve their visibility, get more work, learn how to develop their band, and develop new streams of income, it could provide a huge breakthrough.  But in the end, all IBMA can do is provide the opportunity, open the door, and its up to each individual to walk through it.

Tim Stafford and Missy Raines Present Awards
at Special Awards Brunch

Pete Kuykendall Presents Dick Spotswood with 
Distinguished Achievement Award

Katy Daley Accepts Broadcaster of the Year Award 

The IBMA Awards Ceremony

Pete Wernick & Kathy Matea Host 2009 Awards
If you attend bluegrass festivals or go to concerts, for the next year you'll hear something like this from emcee after emcee, "Now,  IBMA Entertainer of the Year and Star Records Recording Artist......"  Winning a few IBMA awards increases a band's prestige, helps them get more jobs, and, presumably, raises their price for at least a while.  It's an important recognition granted by peers within the industry for bluegrass musicians, song writers, record producers, and others who attain the level of excellence recognized by these awards.  The event is held at the Ryman Auditorium, just across the street from the Convention Center, on the very stage where, according to the plaque outside, bluegrass music was invented when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe on the stage in 1945 and dragged the audience screaming to its feet.  It's carefully scripted, well-produced and gives all of us a chance to see many of the greats of our business and cheer for those who win awards.  Sometimes, we also say, "Huh?"  But that doesn't matter, it's our most important evening and gets more publicity than any other IBMA event.  When people within bluegrass talk about IBMA on the forums, it's the award show they talk about. The Award Show is separately ticketed ($55 - $110) and usually sells out early in the on-site registration when only a few tickets remain.

 Mike Cleveland Receives Fiddle Player of the Year - 2009

Melvin Goins, Bobby Osborne & Paul Williams 
Lonesome Pine Fiddlers

This year's co-hosts will be Sharon & Cheryl White and Jerry Douglas.  Performers will include Dailey & Vincent, Doyle Lawson & Qucksilver, The Claire Lynch Band, The Del McCoury Band and more.  A few unusual (for IBMA) additions will also be heard including the wonderful Darrell Scott appearing with Blue Highway to perform their nominated song, and Dierks Bentley, perhaps appearing with the band he recorded his bluegrass album with.  We saw Bentley at Merlefest, and he deserves serious attention as a bluegrass musician, a genre he's remained loyal to throughout his stellar country music career.  Here's a link to the complete list of nominees for the 2010 IBMA Awards.  The program will be broadcast live on Sirius/XM radio.  The Ryman is a great venue for such an event, and it represents an enjoyable interlude between the Business Conference and Fan Fest.  If you're not a voting member of IBMA, The Bluegrass Blog often runs a poll that allows readers to vote on the nominees. You can register and then vote here.  These results often mirror and predict the actual winners.

 Fan Fest

 The Grascals

Kids on Bluegrass
At 11:30 on Friday morning the Isaacs take the stage of the National Convention Center (Lower Level) to begin three days of bluegrass and bluegrass gospel music by some of the biggest names in the field. Until the closing gospel performance by The Grascals on Sunday morning, Fan Fest provides enough music and activities to make any bluegrass fan happy.  During Fan Fest forty-three bands will perform to benefit the Bluegrass Trust Fund benefiting bluegrass music professionals in times of extreme need. (It may be that Fan Fest tickets are deductible.  Check with your tax preparer.)  Fan Fest is a large and very fan friendly bluegrass festival held indoors.  In addition to performances on the Main Stage, there's a Master's Workshop Stage (Convention Center Room 209/210) where hour long instrument, band, and singer/songwriter workshops are held.  There is also a Grand Master Fiddler Championship also featuring interesting performances, including an open jam session of Friday night.

Fan Fest Audience

Daughters of Bluegrass - In the Green Room

Alecia Nugent with Co-Producer Carl Jackson

Co-Producer Mark Newton

Bill Knowlton, Greg Cahill, and Kitsy Kuykendall 
Serve Brunch at Fan Feast

Sound from the Fan Fest stage is always excellent, although I find the lighting a bit glitzy with colors making good photography difficult.  The Fan Fest lineup is large and varied.  You can find a printable Fan Fest schedule by going to the Fan Fest description and scrolling to the Click Here button which appears just below the heading "Artists Appearing." Fan Fest tickets are sold separately from the comprehensive WOB tickets and can be purchased for $95.00.  The advanced ticket discount period has already expired.  There's also a Fan Feast breakfast on Friday morning, a buffet breakfast served by some of your favorite bluegrass musicians (extra ticket required: $25).  This event was new last year, well attended, and lots of fun.  Fan Fest is organized and produced by Carl Jackson and Mark Newton who spend months putting this fine event together.  Fan Fest and the WOB conclude with a Sunday gospel program beginning with a Chapel Service at 9:00 AM which is followed by gospel performances by five bands with The Grascals closing the week.

 Alecia Nugent Serving Brunch at Fan Feast
Dale Ann Bradley at Fan Fest

Church Sisters Gospel Performance

The IBMA World of Bluegrass presents bluegrass professionals and aficionados an unparalleled opportunity to get Face Time (the meeting's theme this year)  with each other and to make and hear wonderful music.  There's no other better place you can go to hear and see previously unheard bands who are ready to begin to move upwards or to see and hear many of your favorites.  Rather than my summarizing its joys and benefits, here's a wonderful film made by Craig Havighurst for IBMA.  It offers in nine minutes as good a summary of the WOB as one could want:

Whether you're a bluegrass professional or an avid fan who enjoys not only listening to the music, but spending time with your favorite bluegrass musicians, the IBMA World of Bluegrass is the place to be.