The four-day event was held at Kent State University on April 22 through April 25. The conference drew in a diverse collection of musicians and recording industry professionals from Northeast Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Artists learned that building a career in the music industry is a complex venture that takes knowledge, networking and persistence.
“That’s what this whole thing is about,” Jeff Gargas, FTF Records president and conference founder, said about the event. “It’s the fact that your band is a business, your music is a product. You’ve got to learn how to sell it and do it the right way while staying true to yourself and going after your dream.”
A compilation of 20 panels comprised the conference agenda. Discussion topics included songwriting, recording, licensing and touring. Panelists hailed from New York-based Wind-Up Records, Boston-based Digital Bear Entertainment and Cleveland-based Little Fish Records, among other industry-leading companies. Each panelist shared the consensus that central to a successful band is a business plan.
Smart artists are hot on the market
John “Jack” Storey, Independent Music United director of optimism, said, “the day of the dumb artist is dead.” That message resonated throughout the event as panelists explained that today’s industry leaders expect more than talent. Artists have to know how to sell their art, Gargas said.
During the “Your Music Business Plan” panel, NEO Soul Entertainment President Maurice Martin asked how many bands in the audience had written down target demographics for their brand of music. About half of the audience raised their hands. However, hands plummeted when Martin asked how many had written out a short-term or long-term plan for how to promote to identified demographics and grow the band’s business.
“People will help you and finance you if you can lay out your financial plan, lay out your market plan and target demographics, things of that nature,” Storey said, adding, “People are going to want to give you money because you are the only band they will have ever met to hand them a legitimate business plan.”
Likening the business plan to a roadmap, All Hail Records Owner and Entertainment Attorney Tony Clark said it ought to cover every possible route and every contingency to get the band to where it is going. He noted that most artists know where they are at and know where they would like to go but often need help filling in the details of how to get there. There is often a disconnect between the artist’s frame of mind and a business’ structured outlook, according to Little Fish Records President Larry Koval.
“We’ve been working with bands and artists for a few years and I can tell you right now, one of our biggest obstacles, as a management group, is the artist mentality versus the business mentality,” Koval said. “Know your limitations. Know your capabilities. There are people out there to help you. There are attorneys. There are management groups. There are law firms. Use those resources whenever it’s possible.”
Musicians identify career options
In an interview following a song critiquing session, Jordan Tishler, producer and artist manager, Digital Bear Entertainment, said that the most important aspect of events like the FTF Music Conference is the educational and networking experience. Conferences are valuable when artists can ask questions to professionals who are working in the industry everyday, he said. Starting at 11 a.m. each day, panels discussed various avenues musicians can take to make a living off of their music.
“My goal isn’t to go out, play shows and be the rockstar. I have a recorded product. I’m looking for publishing, licensing deals. I’m trying to learn more about that,” songwriter Kevin Conaway said.
Aspiring hip-hop producer and artist manager Aaron Bryant, known locally in Akron as A-1, wanted to learn how to launch an independent record label. He said the panels provided reassurance that he is doing the right thing. Vocalist Justice Hilliard and his heavy metal band, 3SO, shared Bryant’s sentiment that the panel discussions reinforced the progress they have made on their own business and marketing strategies.
“When [Jeff from FTF Records] told us that he was going to be putting this conference together, we saw it as yet another opportunity to better educate ourselves in the music industry, and critique and fine tune our efforts that we work so hard for,” Hilliard said.
One-to-one mentoring sessions allowed individual musicians or bands to meet privately with a field expert who helped to identify goals and advise the artist(s) on how to achieve those goals. Sarah Lamreaux, heavy metal vocalist, Catera, met withTake Action Media President Niki Sapp for more than one hour to review her music and discuss the band’s marketing plan.
After work, musicians must play
3SO headlined the opening night of the FTF Music Showcase at The Outpost on Route 43 in Kent on April 22. The showcase featured more than 30 local and regional acts throughout the weekend including The Chuck Shaffer Picture Show, Maid Myriad, Vitium, and Winslow.
Artists mingled with industry leaders and each other, using the relaxed environment to connect. Making a break in the industry is just as much about business as it is being in the right place at the right time and presenting yourself well to whomever you meet, Brennan said.
“You’re at an event right now. You don’t know who’s in this audience. The way you present yourself, the way that you carry yourself, the way you deliver what you say. Attitude is everything. You don’t know how far that will get you,” Sapp said.
Storey agreed and encouraged the artists to get to know and support one and other, connect with fans and find the right people with whom to work. He emphasized that the music industry is a community and it is necessary to help each other out.
“Everybody’s in this together,” Storey said.