Feeling stuck in your music career? Not sure what your next steps might be?
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that relationships are what propel our careers to new heights. But where are those connections built?
There are plenty of places you can go to meet people. But there are none quite as valuable as music conferences.
Showing your face at industry events can help you gain recognition in ways sending an email or direct message simply can’t.
With so many music conferences out there, however, it can be hard to know which ones to go to. After all, you’ve got to plan your year around them, as they are scattered across the world.
But that’s also what makes them exciting and fun.
And, at each conference, you’re sure to discover new ways of approaching your career, strategies and tactics for growing your audience, methods for staying motivated and more, in addition to opportunities for networking with likeminded individuals.
So, here are several music conferences worth attending.
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CD Baby’s DIY Musician Conference
Still a relative newcomer on the block, CD Baby’s DIY Musician Conference is a fun, relaxed and info-packed conference.
It’s not small but it’s not too big either. The relative size leaves you with plenty of space to move around, meet people and enjoy the sessions without feeling anxious, crowded or hurried.
If you’ve listened to CD Baby’s podcast or read their blog, then you already know their presenter and speaker roster is made up of the “usual suspects”.
At 2019’s conference in Austin, TX, for instance, you could have attended sessions led by the likes of Indepreneur, Simon Tam, Caren Kelleher and the like.
You’ve heard of these people before if you’ve been orbiting CD Baby’s content.
2019’s star speakers included Questlove and DMC of Run-DMC. I thought their talks were good but not in a “this is how you make it to the top” kind of way. More in an inspirational way.
And, I think that is the primary benefit of a conference like this. The information is good, and in some cases even helpful but there is a limitation to the live presentation format and how much you can take away.
I think it’s better to walk away with a renewed and invigorated commitment to your personal success in music and a bunch of business cards in hand versus few tips that are supposed to help you up your social media game.
Just don’t forget to follow up with the people you connect with. Otherwise your efforts are all for naught.
Additionally, it’s clear CD Baby knows their audience. They had rooms for jamming and open mics and after the main sessions were over, CD Baby’s own showcases and open mics were held from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM at a separate venue.
If you can’t already tell, I was the 2019 DIY Musician Conference and I had a lot of fun, most of all because I got to meet a lot of people, I had built a digital connection with but had yet to meet in person.
It didn’t hurt that my ticket was paid for, mainly because I applied to be a presenter and didn’t get accepted.
I am also planning to attend next year’s conference, which will be in Austin again. I hope to see you there.
When: The next DIY Musician Conference will be held in August 2020.
Where: The 2020 conference will again be held in Austin, TX.
Why go: For a chance to connect with likeminded people, learn from musicians and experts with experience and credentials, and to walk away feeling moved and inspired.
David’s verdict: I’ve been once and I’m happy to attend again, especially if I get to present.
The DIY Musician Conference could end up becoming an annual homecoming of sorts for some of my favorite human beings, so hopefully you'll show your face and say “hi” too.
The long-running Midem is a conference that brings all the key players of the music industry together in one place – artists, labels, mangers, publishers, distributors, streaming services and more.
Held in Cannes, France, Midem attracts industry from all over the world and offers plenty of opportunities for networking, discovering and learning, attending performances, showcases and more.
If you’re thinking about going, naturally you’ll want to save up for your flight. But the cost of going could be easily offset by the connections you make and the possibilities you walk away with.
Although it may seem unreasonable to go that far for a music conference, it’s often those who are willing to go the extra mile to move their career forward that break through.
When: The next Midem conference will be held June 2 through 5, 2020.
Where: Palais des Festivals, Cannes, France.
Why go: To me, Midem is where many smart, intelligent music business conversations take place. It might be a bit heady, but people in the music industry tend to be smart anyway, so you shouldn’t feel intimidated.
As with most conferences, there are plenty of reasons to go, whether it’s for the networking, sessions or concerts.
But you should absolutely go for your own reasons. So, be sure to define your purpose for attending, and then you can make good on your intentions by planning well.
David’s verdict: I’ve known about Midem for a long time and have even watched some videos from the conference on YouTube.
Again, my impression is that this is where brainy conversations happen, and I’m kind of into that.
I also have yet to visit France, so I would certainly like to check it out.
LAUNCH Music Conference
A meeting place for fans, musicians and industry professionals alike, LAUNCH features a jam-packed schedule made up of panels, seminars, performances, parties and more.
Held in Lancaster, PA, LAUNCH could be considered the SXSW of Pennsylvania. Though large, it’s nowhere near as overwhelming, and there are plenty of opportunities to connect with the people you want to.
Standard weekend passes are incredibly affordable, making this an attractive conference for all attendees.
If you live on the East side of the States, where most of the population does, then Lancaster should be convenient to get to as well. It’s not far from New York or Philadelphia.
When: The 12th annual LAUNCH Music Conference will be running from April 30 to May 3, 2020.
Where: You can attend the conference in Lancaster, PA.
Why go: The affordability of the conference is quite attractive. For some conferences, you can spend several hundred dollars on a ticket, but not so with LAUNCH.
But ticket prices do fluctuate, so keep an eye on them if you’re planning to go.
Aside form that, LAUNCH has all the trappings of conferences in general and you can expect all the same great benefits.
David’s verdict: From the photos and videos, LAUNCH appears to be kind of a “homey” conference, though I’d have to attend to confirm that impression.
If that proved true, then it would be the kind of place you could easily network and build connections with attendees, which is always nice.
I don’t have much else to go on, but based on what I see, I’d at least give it a try.
ASCAP is one of the main Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) in the States. And, PROs are generally pro-music and pro-musicians.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that the ASCAP Experience brings music creators together from all over the world.
If music is your passion and you just can’t get enough, you’re sure to get something out of this conference, which is going into its 15th year.
The conference features performances, networking mixers, panels and performance opportunities.
When: April 1 through 3, 2020.
Where: InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown, Los Angeles, CA.
Why go: First and foremost, if you’re a member of ASCAP, you’ll probably be more likely to attend. Seeing other ASCAP luminaries will leave you feeling inspired to grow your career.
L.A. is one of the top music hubs in the States, and as such, it could be worth seeing with your own eyes.
As one of the biggest conferences for songwriters, you can't help but take notice of this behemoth.
David’s verdict: Tickets are a tad on the pricey side. Nothing out of the ordinary, but it could be out of reach for some.
I also can’t remember whether I’m a member of ASCAP or BMI. It seems like something I should know, but because I’ve operated out of Canada as a musician, I don’t think about it too often.
If I belonged to ASCAP, however, I would certainly consider going to see what ASCAP Experience is all about.
Held in Nashville, TN, Music Biz has quickly grown into a great place for artists to connect with decision makers in the industry.
Powered by Music Business Association, the Music Biz conference hosts conversations about the future of the music business.
Most musicians hope to one day go to Music City, U.S.A., even if it’s just to visit and soak in the atmosphere.
So, why put it off another day? The conference gives you a great excuse to go and see what the music industry is all about.
Tickets aren’t cheap by any means, and if you need to travel from out of town to Nashville, you’ll want to save up before going. But it will be worth it.
When: Music Biz 2020 will be occurring May 11 to May 14, 2020.
Where: The conference will be held at the JW Marriott Nashville in Nashville, TN.
Why go: Isn’t it obvious? One of the main benefits of attending Music Biz is the opportunity to visit Nashville.
Of course, even if not for that it’s a chance to be a part of ongoing industry discussions that have a bearing on the future of music.
The conference is also held at the luxurious JW Marriott Nashville. That may be neither here nor there for some but for others it might be a bit of a perk.
David’s verdict: Hmm… attend a music conference in Nashville? Well, twist my rubber arm!
I get the sense that this conference is less about strategy and tactics and more about ways to improve the music business.
There is value in that but in general I think I would get more value out of attending conferences aimed specifically at artists.
Still, I can’t say one way or another unless I attended. I would give the conference at least one try.
East Coast Music Conference/ECMC
ECMC is a friendly conference for anyone looking to learn more about the music industry, and its offerings include seminars, panels, workshops, one-on-one mentoring and more.
As with many other conferences, ECMC also hosts artist showcases and you can apply to be a part of it.
2019’s speaker roster included the likes of Matt Starr, Emily White and Alex McGinnis.
Though still a new conference, ECMC is growing fast, and they’ve been successful in bringing out some amazing guests to boot.
Don’t wait until it gets too big. ECMC is the place to be.
When: June 4 through 7.
Where: Norfolk, VA.
Why go: There must be a reason this new conference has been growing so fast, and I think that has something to do with the quality of presenters as well as the way they run things.
Their website may not be much but don’t be fooled by their simplistic exterior. ECMC has plenty to offer.
David’s verdict: Based on the speaker roster alone I would be inclined to attend, especially as it is made up of many people, I’ve already built a connection with but haven’t met in person.
I have a feeling ECMC would be right down my alley.
TAXI Road Rally
TAXI, if you don’t know, is a service that connects musicians with decision makers who need music for their productions. Their service has been around for a while and has a strong track record helping musicians monetize their work.
The TAXI Road Rally is their free conventions for members. And, many members report the convention alone is worth the price of membership (which, I’ll be honest, is no measly sum).
The convention is free if you are a TAXI member, which is awesome.
If you’re serious about pursuing licensing and placement opportunities and see a future for yourself in it, you should certainly consider attending the Road Rally.
When: When has yet to be announced but I’m relatively certain it will be fall 2020.
Where: Los Angeles.
Why go: Because you’ll get an inside look into how the industry works, especially with regards to getting your music in front of decision makers.
Let’s face it – licensing and placements is kind of a complex subject and there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.
So, if you want to start developing this income channel, you’re certainly going to want to learn how it all works. Even better if you learn from the parties who are actively licensing music.
TAXI also hosts open mics most nights, which is a nice way to wind down.
David’s verdict: This conference is specifically for TAXI members. As such, if you aren’t already a member, and you’re not interested in getting your music into media, it may not be for you.
I wouldn’t plan to go unless I was a TAXI member myself, which I am not.
SXSW is more of an honorary mention than anything, for reasons I’m about to get into.
First, you’ve probably at least heard of SXSW already. It has a reputation.
Second, it is more overwhelming, bigger and chaotic than it ever was.
But SXSW does make for a good addition to your bucket list with hundreds of speakers, thousands of performers, showcasing artists from 60+ countries across the world, exhibitions, parties and a great deal more.
You’d have to be intentional about making the most of your time at SXSW but if you don’t mind planning, you should be able to take it by the horns.
When: The next SXSW is coming up fast, and will be held from March 13 to 22, 2020.
Where: Austin, TX.
Why go: SXSW is the old standby, though it encompasses so much more than just music. The music festival specifically will be held from March 16 to 22.
If you’re going to be showcasing at SXSW, that would be an obvious reason to go. If you’ve created some connections online and you know some of those people are going to be in attendance, that might be another reason.
Maybe you just want to see what all the fuss is about and that’s fine too.
If I were to attend, I’d want to be strategic about it. But I like Austin, so that’s not a tough sell.
David’s verdict: I would consider going, but again, mostly as a bucket list thing and less as a career building move.
You must consider your purpose for attending, which could be entirely different from mine.
I’ve heard so much about SXSW, so I can’t pass it up. But all things being equal, I probably wouldn’t prioritize it over the others.
How To Be Strategic About Attending Conferences
I think there are a few things musicians tend to miss about attending conferences and often walk away feeling like they haven’t maximized their experience.
I’m not being judgmental here, and I think you can attend how ever you want to attend. But it’s good to be aware of the opportunities available.
Here are a few things I would be conscious of if I wanted to be strategic and purposeful with attending conferences:
- Meet lots of people. You will rarely find a larger gathering of likeminded people than at a conference. Remember – you are surrounded by peers, decision makers, organizers and more. You could uncover opportunities, form a band, find an investor and a great deal more. Anyone can extend their hand and say “hi”. So, do this as much as possible. But avoid pitching and “networking” in the traditional sense. Be authentic. Be a friend. Add value to others.
- Follow up with those you meet. Exchange business cards. But don’t forget to follow up with those you meet. Attendees often forget to do this and never make good on any of the connections they’ve made. This defeats the purpose of networking. After you’ve returned home and a couple of days have passed, send an email, a text or place a call.
- Post to social media. Conferences often have a branded hashtag you can use on social media. And, presenters regularly encourage you to connect with them and even to ask questions. Take advantage. Getting a personal response to your question can propel you in way passively listening at sessions simply cannot.
- Share what you got out of the conference with others. It doesn’t matter how inspired you feel coming away from a conference if you don’t share that with others. If your sharing leads to others being inspired, you’ll get more out of the experience. If you don’t share, whatever you gained from the conference may quickly fade, leaving you in the same spot you were before attending. By going to a conference, you’re making an investment in yourself – wouldn’t you prefer to hold onto whatever you got until the next conference rolls around, so you can be in a different place next year than you were this year?
Top Music Business Conferences, Final Thoughts
Besides the DIY Musician Conference, I’ve only been to local workshops and events, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else is out there.
If you’re planning to begin attending conferences, then it’s important to note that you don’t need to go to all of them.
I know some people feel it’s better to have more options, but it can get overwhelming after a while, and if you can only attend one or two per year, you don’t want to get stuck in analysis paralysis.
I have a feeling there will only be more conferences to attend as the years go by, so your options aren’t about to be limited.
Set your sights on one or two, get a feel for what they’re like and how they work, and then come up with a plan to conquer music conferences yearly.