At last year's New Music Confab (NMC), the head of A&R at Atlantic Records asked the audience to get their phones out and take down his phone number, playfully shaming the other panelists to do the same. That's just one of NMC founder Dave Stewart's favorite moments from Charleston's first-ever music conference.
Stewart brought over 40 music industry professionals from around the country to the city for New Music Confab. Why? Because Travel + Leisure's No. 1 city in the world clearly has a lot to offer, Stewart suggests, including a thriving music scene that is on the brink of something extraordinary — like Austin, Texas extraordinary.
So with the model of SXSW in mind, Stewart organized five music showcases and several panels offering inside-industry advice on everything from press and media to A&R and record labels. Thankfully, the first NMC was successful enough to make a return to the Holy City this weekend. "We got off to a great start," Stewart says. "The music industry folks who came in were impressed with the music scene, and while every conference has a few glitches, we felt like it ran smoothly. Like any business, it's the first step, and it continues to grow."
Even radio veteran Stewart realized how increasingly complex the industry is becoming. "I also learned that the more diverse the backgrounds of the speakers and the panelists, the better, because there are so many different areas of expertise," he says. "If someone says they know how to do it all and that they can DIY it, they're lying to themselves. It's just too complicated for you to be an excellent musician and an excellent social media strategist and an excellent website builder — there's just too much going on."
That's where NMC comes in, to help artists network and build meaningful relationships within the music industry. But Stewart also recognizes, particularly after a recent conversation amongst locals on social media, that the diversity of genres, like hip-hop, at this point is limited. "The reason New Music Confab is what it is: it reflects my background and experience in the music industry," he says. "I worked for 25 years programming radio stations, and those stations were all alternative, rock, triple-a, and/or country stations. So the music-industry executives that I have relationships with are in those worlds. I don't have relationships with execs in a number of other genres. I'm sure if someone with a background in another area started a conference, they'd start in their format of expertise. And as a self-funded one-man-band, I don't have the unlimited resources of money and/or staff that a large promoter has. But if this version of New Music Confab proves to be financially viable, then I'd love to expand to other areas."
So what can you expect at this weekend's conference? With a new partnership with ReverbNation, NMC will offer more discussions via 14 panels with a wide range of industry professionals, including reps from Atlantic Records, ReverbNation, CMT, Spotify, Pro Tone Pedals, Big Machine Music, Rounder Records, Dot Records, Cumulus Media, Black River Entertainment, Merch Cat, and Chucktown Music Group.
You can also expect to see performances from 42 artists from across the country at the Charleston Music Hall, Music Farm, The Royal American, and Sottile Theater.
NMC has also added what Stewart has dubbed as Fab Talks, the first of which he'll lead. "Mine is really a welcome and a message to really encourage folks there, especially students and artists, to network," he says. "That was kind of my mantra from last year — there's only one degree of separation in this industry. You can't turn on your laptop and meet people and make connections. You gotta get out there and meet people."