Music Business Association’s 2016 Music Biz Conference feat. Little Big Town by Acacia Evans

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Words and Photos by Acacia Evans

The Music Business Association held their annual Music Biz conference here in Nashville, aka The Songwriting Capital of the World, from May 16th to 18th. This conference welcomed over 500 companies including major labels, publishers, universities, and even radio stations. The event sponsors consisted of YouTube, RedEye, Dropbox, Monmouth University, and many more. From new technology to student-run record labels, there was a little bit of everything.

All attendees had to pick and choose their seminars wisely according to preference and interests. The first panel I attended was Starting Up in Music Tech: The Agony & The Ecstasy featuring my friend Channing Moreland – CEO of EVAmore. EVAmore is a company that makes live booking very simple by allowing event planners (or really anyone trying to book a show) to easily find artists according to budget, calendar, and genre with a confirmation in less than 24 hours. Channing and her partner in crime Makenzie Stokel make sure that customers are accommodated even in times of emergency (such as an artist cancelling). Is this the new wave of booking? I would say so. The other panelists included Michael Amburgey of karaoQ, Stephen Davis of Ear.IQ, and Chris McMurtry of Dart Music.

IMG_8088The second panel I attended was Streaming Data: Valuable Insights Visualized for the Artists. At this seminar Jason Feinberg, (previous experience with our friends at Epitaph Records) Head of Artist Marketing at Pandora, and Shane Tobin, Head of Strategic Partnerships for the Creator Team at Spotify, presented us with updated technology within both companies. They demonstrated systems that allow artists and mangers to put a magnifying glass on charts and statistics. Though these methods vary from one another depending on the company, they have many similarities. Spotify is even showing appreciation towards top-streaming fans by giving them the opportunity to buy pre-sale tickets. Pretty cool, huh?

During my third panel, Artist Management Now: Today’s New Structures and Services, I learned from James Blades of Blades Entertainment, Zack Gershen of Mtheory, and Faithe Parker of Marbaloo Marketing that each management company has their own strategy. Communication and working together with the rest of the artist’s team are vital factors for success. When talking about artist fan data with representatives from CAA, William Morris Endeavor, Starstruck Entertainment, Tunespeak, and Girlilla Marketing, it is important to keep in mind that fans want to feel like they have a deeper connection with artists rather than just seeing them on stage; “An illusion of accessibility.”

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What really intrigued me at this conference were panels on topics that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. There has always been some kind of stigma regarding women in the music industry. Truthfully, no matter what industry you’re in, there is always a chance of discrimination against females. Kelly Rich, Senior VP of Sales, Marketing, and Interactive at Big Machine Records states, “First of all, you have to be confident in yourself.” Unfortunately there is also a high chance of discrimination towards the LGBT community as well. Zeke Stokes, VP of Programs at GLAAD, and Matt Yazge, leader of brand partnership analytics at Nielsen, are both out to make a difference in regards to the negative and unjust ways members of the LGBT community are commonly treated. From getting attacked in bathrooms to not even being able to hold hands with someone of the same gender in certain areas of the country, it is time for supporters to really step up in the fight for equality. Luckily, we have the help of celebrities to do so. While demonstrating a slideshow of statistics, we learned that the #1 form of protests in support of fighting against unfair LGBT laws are musicians taking action. Artists/groups such as Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and many more have cancelled their concerts in North Carolina due to its HB-2 “Anti-LGBT” bill. Artists such as The Lumineers decided to carry on with their performances, but donate all proceeds to EqualityNC and The HRC along with providing gender-neutral bathrooms. Be sure to check out Nielsen PRIDE and GLAAD to learn more about what Stokes and Yazge are doing to make a difference.

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One of my favorite panels that I attended was Promotional Distribution & Digital Security. Big City Thoughts’ friends Jen Appel of The Catalyst Publicity Group and Maria Gironas of ReyBee chatted with James Shotwell of Haulix and Will Pugh of the band Cartel to discuss pirating music and what we can do to stop it. According to many reliable industry professionals, Haulix is the safest and easiest way for publicists to safely distribute music directly to the press. Hidden watermarks are able to track where the leaked music came from and where it ends up. Though same artists are just happy that people enjoy their music regardless of whether or not they’re paying for it, musicians need to make a living too!

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Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all business talk at Music Biz. There were special performances and exclusive late-night events for those who attended the conference during the day. Guest performers included KONGOS, The Strumbellas, and award-winning singer, songwriter, and producer Brett Eldredge. Not only were there special performances, there was also a luncheon on the last day of the conference to honor some remarkably successful artists and organizations. Sam Hunt and Halsey were both recipients of the Breakthrough Artist Award. The Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award was given to the T.J. Martell Foundation – a nonprofit organization that utilizes the music industry to help raise money for leukemia, cancer, and AIDS research. The Artist of The Year Award was granted to country sensation Little Big Town and the Chairman’s Award for Sustained Creative Achievement was given to hard rock band Cheap Trick.

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Luckily, we got the opportunity to chat with a few of these amazing recipients about their careers and thoughts on the Music Biz Awards. We first spoke to Laura Heatherly, CEO of the T.J. Martell Foundation, a little bit regarding fundraising and collaborations. “We celebrated our 40th anniversary last year and it’s amazing that $270 million later that we are still going strong. Again, it’s because of the music industry and their passion for this foundation.”

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Kid Rock recently inducted Cheap Trick into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH. Recognized for their popular hits “I Want You To Want Me”, “Surrender”, and “The Flame”, the guys in Cheap Trick were enthused to be accepting this award at Music Biz. “It’s something we didn’t expect,” explains lead guitarist Rick Nielsen. “It’s our fans that kept us working and relevant.” When asked how they’ve stayed together all these years, Rick responded with, “You gotta like what you’re doing. And don’t expect to make money!”

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Last but not least, we got to speak with multi-award winning country group Little Big Town.

Big City Thoughts: You’ve gone from playing small fairs to performing at the Grammys and headlining huge tours. How does it feel going from those little county fairs and hoping someone buys your music to now not even having to ask? Everyone wants you.

Karen: Well that short time in between was actually 17 years. It might seem like it didn’t take that long but it really did. I think the long journey of really working hard has paid off. It makes all of this really sweet for us. To be honored today as Artist of the Year still seems crazy to us because we’re still that band playing the county fair. That’s how we feel in our heart. We just love it, we love making music together and we’re happy to be a part of this community here in Nashville.

Big City Thoughts: What’s your best CMA Fest memory?

Philip: Oh my gosh, last year when we were playing “Girl Crush” in the very middle of the whole crowd. They lit their phones up and it was just a magical moment.

Kimberly: Last year we got to sing with the Oak Ridge boys so that was pretty amazing.

Karen: After the Nashville flood (2010), Kimberly and I joined Keith Urban onstage for “With A Little Help From My Friends” and that was an epic moment.

Jimi: I was going to say the same thing because that was pretty cool.

Big City Thoughts: How does the process work of balancing relationships with co-writers and also making original music?

Karen: Email, email, email! Skype and texting songs. We’ll even get on FaceTime and finish something or send ideas. But trust me, the writing community knows how to stay in touch.

Jimi: Most of them are good friends of ours and we’d stay in touch with them regardless!

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The award ceremony was just as exciting. A video highlighting each artist/group’s career played before their acceptance and president of the Music Business Association, Jim Donio, helped transition in between. “I’ve never won an award in my life!” exclaimed Halsey while accepting her Breakthrough Artist Award. Unfortunately Sam Hunt wasn’t able to make it to the ceremony due to illness, but his manager Brad Belanger was there to gladly accept it on his behalf. Belanger spoke with Hunt prior to the luncheon and said that Sam is very thankful for his award and wishes that he could be there. Cheap Trick and Little Big Town graciously accepted their awards as well as we wrapped up the ceremony.

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Overall, Music Biz 2016 was a complete success in all aspects. From learning that SnapChat effects are actually a form or virtual reality (augmented to be specific) to even listening in on a panel regarding the legal aspects of touring and festivals, there was something for everyone. The people I met, connections I made, and experience I got from Music Biz 2016 is truly something you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. I hope to return to the conference next year. Thank you so much for having us Music Business Association!

Full photo gallery by Acacia Evans (click to enlarge)

**do not use without credit**