19 Music Conferences Ranked: Worth the Cost or a Waste of Time?

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With over 100 music business conferences in the US and most emerging musos on a budget, which ones are really worth the investment?

Moses Avalon

Maybe for many, the idea of spending thousands of dollars to schlep through airports and hotels for several days, only to end up with a handful of cards and CDs from people in the music business that they will never remember, is dumb. Or maybe it’s worth every dollar and minute you can spare.

They say you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince. If you think so, there are a bevy of music business functions that serve this philosophy. There are medium-grade ones geared towards the college music scene like CMJ as well as high-end ones like MIDEM, where people with far more dollars than sense fly to the south of France and stay in four-star hotels just to mingle with French lingerie models. (Wait, that’s starting to sound kinda cool.)

Some of these conferences are very useful, but most have become showcases for already financed acts, not places where true “emerging” artists can get a fair shake — despite what they advertise. The panels are also often a disappointment, filled with self-serving pitchmen from unions, PROs and “indie services.” making it very hard to extract any objective information.

Okay, enough of the dark side. What’s the appeal?

Since the music business is about connections, you need to make as many as you can. Given this reality, I’d say conferences are a must. As many and as often as you can. But with limited resources, how do you discriminate?

It’s better to go to one high-end conference than several low-end ones. MIDEM first, if you can afford it, then SXSW (South by Southwest). The rest are probably limited in terms of trying to “get a deal.” However, they provide the value of building social equity and acquiring important friends.

For example, the TAXI Road Rally, a low-to-medium grade conference, gets high reviews each year from my spies, who claim that more songwriting teams are formed there than anywhere else on the planet. Whereas MIDEM, the Rolls Royce of conferences, is a great place to find money– if you’ve already got plenty of your own. So, it ranks lower.

HOW TO USE THE CHART BELOW

The bias in my rating work like this:

Networking is premium item.  This means smaller conferences tend to rank higher because they are easier to navigate.

Commences that are in or near major cities tend to rank higher because you can probably already live near one if you are active in the music business, thus reducing your costs for attending.

There are three columns in the chart below. The “average cost” column is based on surveys of over 54 music biz veterans and includes admission fees, airfare, hotel, per diem of $75 a day (Believe me, you will need $75 just for the meals in the conference venue) and the cost of materials one generally brings (press kits, cards, flyers, etc.).  All presume mid-priced hotels for the amount of days that the conference lasts. Though it is quite possible to save money and attend these conferences on a tighter budget, these numbers provide a good indicator of the average potential cost.

The column called “SEY” stands for “Social Equity Yield.” This is a (1–10) rating based on how much influential juice you can potentially aggregate when compared to the cost of taking off work and flying to the conference. It’s weighted toward the interests of US-based artists (or their managers/producers, support team etc.) Conferences in Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York fare higher in this system, since you can network outside of the conference hub while in each city.

Anything below a 6 rating is a “good-time” write-off. As you might expect, you tend to get what you pay for in this chart, with some surprising exceptions.

100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business by Moses AvalonWith over 100 music business conferences in the US and Canada each year, choosing which to attend is a challenge for anyone… hopefully the chart below will help provide a starting point for making those tough decisions. A more comprehensive chart along with strategies for how to work these events is offered in my latest book 100 Answers to 50 Question on the Music Business. If you are looking for tested methods and techniques to take your music career to the next level you can pick up a copy at Amazon (fastest and cheapest).

Your comments here are invaluable. Please take a moment to share your opinions about any of the conferences and let me know if there are any major conferences which were left out.

100 Answers to 50 Questions Table of Contents

Name of Conference

Average Cost SEY

Comments

AES (Audio Engineering Society)

$1,500

4–7, depending

Good if you’re looking for an internship at a recording studio or want to meet producers who are gear shopping.
ASCAP EXPO

$1,500

8

If you need to meet songwriters, go here. Great mentor sessions with top pros make it worth the price of admission.
Billboard & The Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference

$4,000

9

Music supervisors. Best value on the page for those with finished masters for licensing.
Billboard Media, Entertainment & Money Conference

$2,000

8

Meet some name-brand music lawyers. You probably can’t afford them, but it’s good to know who they are. A good investment.
CMJ (College Music Journal)

$3,000

5

College radio people. Good for making promo inroads.
Digital Hollywood

$2,500

8

Lots of suites with ponytails. Good hunting for just about everything.
Digital Entertainment World

$2,500

8

Once called Digital Music Forum.  A great integration of creatives with technocrats. My 2015 pick for best undiscovered hunting ground.
MIDEM (Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale)

$10,000

10

Rich hotties and their sugar daddies. Good hunting for cash, if you’ve already got plenty of your own.
NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants)

$1,000

7.5

Imagine Guitar Center on steroids. Lots of gear. The recent addition of H.O.T. Zone makes this worth it.
New Music Seminar

$2,500

8

Good blend of b2b and wannabe.
SGA (Songwriters Guild of America)

$800

5

Old timers. Not worth it.
SXSW (South by Southwest)

$5,000

6-8 depending on your goals

You’ll wait in line more than anything else. Lots of top execs if you can find them in the massive crowds.
TAXI Road Rally

$700

7.5

Meet more undiscovered songwriters than you ever thought existed. It’s free with membership, but I know many non-members who attend.
FMC (Future of Music Coalition)

$1,500

4

Meet egghead constitutional authorities who argue about whether or not music should be free.
LAMC (Latin Alternative Music Conference)

$2,000

9

If your Latin

Small but very potent. If you’re Latin, you have to go. If you’re not it’s still a blast but make sure you speak at least some Spanish.
MUSEXPO

$2,000

8

The UN of music conferences. Executive hunting ground. European meet ’n’ greet.
MusicBiz (formally NARMNational Association of Recording Merchandisers)

$6,000

8

A great backdoor way to meet label people on the marketing side. Managers galore.
Pollstar Live!

$3,000

9

Venue promoters. Get on a better tour. Meet managers of top acts. Often overlooked.
Sundance Film Festival

$7,000

10

Ironically, my top ranked music conference is a film festival. Why? You’ll stand out and be one of the only music people in the room.  That’s how to network with tomorrow’s Christopher Nolan.
West Coast Songwriters Conference

$1,000

5

Songwriter coffee klatch. TAXI Jr.
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57 responses to “19 Music Conferences Ranked: Worth the Cost or a Waste of Time?”

  1. One of my faves is the Dewey Beach Music Conference in Dewey Beach, DE., http://www.deweybeachfest.com/dbmc. I’m also a fan of Folk Alliance, http://www.folkalliance.org.

  2. gary earl says:

    hey moses, great list, been to a few of these and in general agree with your assessment. never seen a list like this before. love your writing…

  3. Marilyn Miller says:

    I love your outspokenness and your honesty, Mo! 🙂

  4. Hi, I have been to several music conferences although none of the ones mentioned above. Actually, I had never heard of Moses Avalon til attending one and was very impressed with his insight. I think it was Midpoint Music Fest in Cincinnati where I’m originally from (I now live in Nashville). I also was accepted to showcase at 3 different ones in one year….said Midpoint, Midwest Music Conference (Indianapolis) and Millinnenium Music Conference (Harrisburg PA)…what with all the “M”s? LOL. Anyhow, the one in Harrisburg cost me approx $300 and a 7-8 hr drive one way to play 20 minutes. However, there was a booking agent there who really liked what I did and out of that came several tours of Eastern PA and the DC area as well as many parts of Maryland. In short, it paid for itself many times over. However, your mileage may vary. This was just my experience. That being said, I seldom attend or submit to them anymore but that is just because I am at a different place in my music career. I would highly recommend to younger artist/bands to go to as many as possible for experience and networking. Oh, yeah, I also met a producer at one that I am now friends with who as a result asked me to play on a remix he did for Eminem. Again, your mileage may vary :), cheers,

    Musically yours,
    Chris Dunnett

  5. JAWAR says:

    Moses, thank you for bring forth your nice assessment of music conferences and industry related events

    You’ll also find a list of nearly 100 music business conferences in the Truth about Record Pools & Music Conferences, Talent Shows & Open Mics. The book includes a number of specialized and regional conferences that may be more cost effective then some of the other larger industry events.

    I am the author of the Truth about Record Pools & Music Conferences, Talent Shows & Open Mics.

  6. Moishe:

    Tommy Silverman is about to send some of his favorite old school gangstas your way. You didn’t even mention the newly resuscitated New Music Seminar, now a road show.

    HB

    • Moses Avalon says:

      @Hank I’m ready for Tomm! I got boyzzz too!

      No, seriously, the NMS has been in haiatus for some time and only remereged at NARAS last year when this data was being complied. I’m sure he’ll make it onto next year’s chart. Of course it would help if he invited me. (wink, wink.)

  7. Greg Nisbet says:

    There’s certainly one glaring ommission here from where I sit – one of the industry’s biggest and most important annual conferences worldwide – Canadian Music Week.

  8. I hear Nerfa is a good conference…Lots of venue owners, some radio people, and good info and help for tours…It’s a regioanal show geared toward folkies…But todays folkies border on pop….so many who think they don’t fit….would…

    http://www.nerfa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1&Itemid=66

    Good Luck,

    Leigh Goldstein

  9. Bill Gibson says:

    Hey Moses,

    Excellent list! And, the chances of never meeting anyone important are 100% if you stay home all the time! It always comes down to: step out, be brave, and start laying it on the line…

    You’re a good dude MA.

    -bg

    • Moses Avalon says:

      @Bill Gibson (“chances of never meeting anyone imporntant is 100% if you stay home…”)

      Ah, Bill, have you not heard of the internet? The day of the “Stay-at-home conference” is just aournd the corner. Just you watch. it will be scary, but it’s coming.

  10. Miguel says:

    Glad to see you include the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC), which is byfar more substantive for artists than other Latin events like Billboard Latin. I just wanted to point out that the statement “make sure you speak Spanish” is incorrect. I have attended LAMC many years and all their panels are in English. Gringos are always welcome! 🙂

    • Moses Avalon says:

      @Miguel Oh, you’re right. Of course. I was just trying to be funy and let people know that it’s not an Engligh only event. I know there are plenty of Gringos there. I have been one of them on more than one occasion. As I emailed Tomas Cookman last night, the LAMC deserves a higher ranking than 7 in the nictch of Latin conferances. In fact Id give it a 10 if broken out. But graded on curve, when considering size and audience to the others on the chart, that’s where is sites. Remember that only 1:10 people who read this post will be Latin and therefore looking for Latin oriented conferences.

  11. Saint says:

    Hi Moses,
    I’ve been to most, if not all of these at one time or another.

    I used to go to a conference every quarter, but cash flow being what it is – there is just not enough Return On Investment to go these days to attend many conferences.

    Truth be told, you’ll get much better results by trying to develop relationships outside of these conferences. At most, if you’re not already established in the Music Biz – you just be come another blur, another package, another business card and wannabe in the pile and soon forgotten afterwards.

    I’m assuming your basing the dollar amount on airfare, ground transportation, hotels, meals, parking, etc. IF you don’t live in the city that the conference is being held. For example – the Billboard Film & TV Music Conference costs between $400.00 – $500.00 for registration – so if you live in or near LA, you’re going to be paying MUCH less than $4000.00 to attend.

    As far as New Music Seminar – if you’re a young, naive, D.I.Y. Musician who doesn’t know ANYTHING about the business – then you may learn something at NMS. If you’re established its a complete waste of time and money. Its really about people that have a DIY service to sell who want to convince you to spend your limited resources on THEIR service.

    SXSW has been completely co-opted by the Major Labels and Big Indies on the Music Side. For an up and coming Independent Artist, its just not worth it – you won’t be able to compete and rise above the noise (and $$) being spent by the big companies. SXSW = Brand Central, anymore. Its a clusterfuck, and so is NAMM.

    NARM is valuable is you want to smooze with your distributor and meet the remaining retailers of music. If you don’t already have distribution – then you might as well put your money in a pile and light it on fire, for all the good it will do you!

    As always, Thanks for your insight.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Saint, yes, you’re correct about the costs. But I’ve received a bunch of emails about why the costs are so high in my chart.

      Remember that this chart is not MY personal experience alone, i surveyed about 50 people. It’s possible that the people I talked to fly business class and stay in nicer hotels than others who drive15 hours and sleep in the van parked in the convention’s overnight lot.

      However, read carefully the description of what the cost column encompasses: it includes a self-imploded per diem as well as costs for creation of promotional materials.

      So there is a lot of subjectivity mixed in there and I do not mean to imply that you HAVE to spend this much to go to any of these.

  12. Suesan Stovall says:

    I went to the first New Music Seminars. They were massively fun and cool. One of the best things about NMS was that you could volunteer for them to swap your time for the entrance fee and all the perks to the seminar. Do the other conferences offer the same opportunity?

  13. The best thing that ever happened to me at a music conference was meeting Moses Avalon—–}:~)

    I think for the right kind of ‘go get ’em’ person it can be a good networking sitch.
    But it can also be a “look busy” thing if you really compare any actual working continuing relationships you’ve developed because of a conference against the big bag of crap you come home with at the end of it that eventually ends up…..wherever.
    Just because you throw a bit of dough at your career doesn’t necessarily mean you’re really moving toward your goal.
    I think it’s like anything, it all comes down to what you do with it.

    The Real Johnny English

  14. You missed a clear 10…. SF Musictech Summit. Must attend! Lots of actually useful seminars where you will leave having learned something. Filled with so many people for the “new” music industry. You will be able to network with so many people.

  15. I searched Google for folkies and I found your blog 🙂 I like your blog, well done!

  16. karen millen on sale says:

    Nice post! Resources such as the one you mentioned here will be extremely helpful to myself! Thanks once again for the push!

  17. Stephen DeVore says:

    For Christian music, songwriters, or musicians:

    Music in the Rockies, a week-long blast of seminars, and then concerts in the evening, set in the mountains at Estes Park, CO. I went several times, and enjoyed it.

    Christian Musician Summit (CMS), a 2-day gathering with seminars, and “worship” time in the evening, held nearby Seattle, WA, and in some other city in the USA. The day before CMS (in WA) has typically been a Songwriting (bootcamp) day.

    Dove Awards, I suppose, sort of a Grammy for Christian-oriented music.

    Great starter list, btw.

    🙂

  18. Stephen DeVore says:

    Across Puget Sound from Seattle is an organization called Centrum.

    They put on music seminars and workshops throughout the year (typically Spring, Summer, and Autumn).

    Notable are the multiple weeklong workshops for Jazz (including the Port Townsend Jazz Festival), Blues (with its own festival), Singers (Voice Works), Fiddle Tunes, and others, plus misc creative topics.

    These are held at the old Fort Worden State Park, near Port Townsend, WA, where one may stay on campus with their additional Room and board packages. (There are also hotels and motels nearby, in and around the city.)

    Web site: http://centrum.org/

  19. Lara Rai says:

    I just love your honesty in your assessment, Mo! Nerfa is one good conference, I guess.

  20. Hi Moses:

    Interesting post. Probably should disclosure that I work for NAMM and your tweet about Summer NAMM certainly caught my eye today. But is the NAMM column on your list meant to be The NAMM Show (90,000 attendees, 1,500 exhibitors in Anaheim) or Summer NAMM (12,000 attendees, 450 exhibitors in Nashville)? They are pretty different shows. And don’t forget, Summer NAMM this year has a public day with a mere $20 admission charge (applause) and a session entitled Instant Record Deal where someone’s song is going on a Guitar Player Records compilation after the show.

  21. Michael says:

    Moses,

    I know this is totally different than what the list is actually about, but Ultra Music Festival in Miami is totally mind blowing. Check out some vids on Youtube if you’re curious!

  22. Ash Wells says:

    Country music artists may be interested in the Nashville SongWriters Festival on Music Row. Registration opens October 15th for the 10th Annual Song Fest June 1-3, 2012. Although country music is (not surprisingly) represented the most at this festival it is in fact open to all genres and forms of original songwriting and music. There’s a wide variety of opportunities to network with others, receive advice, and perform.

  23. Music in the Rockies, a week-long blast of seminars, and then concerts in the evening, set in the mountains at Estes Park, CO. I went several times, and enjoyed it.

  24. John Harris says:

    Under The Radar: South Central PA & South Jersey shore!
    http://www.musicconference.net
    http://www.sscapemay.com

  25. James Martin says:

    Attending midem doesn’t have to cost $10k. The “sugar daddy” thing is very much old midem, if it ever was. You can attend from €300 (artists) or €500 (startups) and can get a hotel from €60 a night. So a US music startup paying €1000 for travel, for example, could do midem for around €2000. Still, thanks for the mention!

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Thanks James, good oints all. Keep in mind however, how the chart was created, as mentioned in the artilce. It was done by survey. MIDEM is indeed getting cheaper to attend, so in time this chart will have to reflect that as more and more artists do it the way you propose.

    • I remember the old Midem, and it was still a thriving, exciting show where people did serious business. There were more girls in T-shirts on the stands during the dotcom boom. But that was 15 years ago

      One thing I would say is that you don’t come on a whim. People are busy. You really have to have a very good case to put to them – but if you don’t, you should not be reading this article anyway! Go out and find yourself a way to be brilliant/exceptional/irresistible (depending on your genre).

      Apart from that, this is a great idea for an article. Other shows worth mentioning: the Amsterdam Dance Event (pretty self-explanatory) and Womex (for world music).

  26. […] My hope is that next year we see a continuation of this theme. If so, expect the nexus of deal making to be made more at NAMM than any five music gatherings put together. At about $100, the price gives it my highest marks on my chart ranking Music Business events. […]

  27. Pretty accurate. Thanks for organizing this.

  28. […] My hope is that next year we see a continuation of this theme. If so, expect the nexus of deal-making to be made more at NAMM than any five music gatherings put together. At about $100, the price gives it my highest marks on my chart ranking Music Business events. […]

  29. […] how was the show? Was it worth the money? On my published Chart of 19 Music Conferences Ranked, I gave DMFW a 5 out of 10, meaning that it was a bit high-priced in exchange for the chance of […]

  30. […] Click Here to find out whats the Average Cost to attend the Top Music Conferences in America […]

  31. […] Click Here to find out whats the Average Cost to attend the Top Music Conferences in America […]

  32. […] Click Here to find out whats the Average Cost to attend the Top Music Conferences in America […]

  33. […] Click Here to find out whats the Average Cost to attend the Top Music Conferences in America […]

  34. […] All things considered whiles some other staples have slipped, NARM keeps its 8 ranking on my Chart of Best Music Business Conferences. […]

  35. […] how was the show? Was it worth the money? On my published, Chart of 19 Music Conferences Ranked, I gave DMFW a 5 out of 10, meaning that it was a bit high priced in exchange for the chance of […]

  36. […] vs NARM Music Conference – Taxi or Indie A&R Services: good for growth or bad for business? – 19 Music Conferences Ranked: Worth the Cost or Waste of Time? – How Will Cloud Services (Online Music Lockers) Change The Music Industry? – New Law Making Many […]

  37. […] Avalon You don’t have to tell me. I’m sure with so many music conferences to choose from NAMM might have made your cut list for this year. Sometimes the 100,000 square foot […]

  38. Jillian says:

    Can anyone share good conferences/networking events that are in Nashville? I know there are a few besides Summer NAMM, please share! 🙂 Thank you!!

  39. Darlene Stoval says:

    Yes, brilliant. He graduated from Columbia Law School, too. Or does graduating from an Ivy League law school not count?

  40. Makar says:

    Can anybody rate Miami Winter Music Conference ? I didn’t see it here.

  41. Peter says:

    There is a new seminar in Santa Monica, California in April. I don’t have a lot of detail as far as speakers, but after speaking to the organizers it sounds perfect. $495.00 and includes meals and refreshments. It’s called This Is Music 2013. 2-days and very straight to the point. No BS or politics of the industry. The networking and contact information sounds well worth the price on it’s own. I will comment later when I know more about the speaker line-up. http://www.wildhorseagency.com

  42. Katy says:

    Just fyi, social equity isn’t the term you’re looking for, and in fact means something quite different than the idea you’re trying to get across.
    Social capital is what you mean. 😉

  43. Hi, Moses. Great article. I hope to be able to attend Midem sometime, but haven’t been able to swing it just yet. Wanted to second Jack Hayford’s endorsement of the Durango Songwriters Expo, and also invite you to check out our second annual Nashville Songwriting and Music Business Conference which sprung up since you wrote this. Our conference costs $300 and is geared toward fostering sustainable careers in the music business. You can check out the info page here: http://songwritingandmusicbusiness.com/conference

    Best,
    Amanda

  44. Alex Mallett says:

    Hi Moses,
    Just stumbled on your website. I work for midem in our US office and I have to say that I have many clients that attend for much much less than the 10,000 Euros listed. If planned properly, someone coming from the US can make the trip in the 3,500-5,000 dollar range. As someone else wrote, planning ahead is absolutely essential for a successful midem. Book back-to-back meetings and you can really get a lot done.
    Anyone who’s thinking about coming–feel free to look me up and drop me a line. I’m always happy to help people try to make the trip work out.
    Best,
    Alex Mallett

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