Moses Supposes: 19 Music Conferences Ranked

Moses Avalon is one of the nation’s leading music-business consultants and artists’-rights advocates and is the author of a top-selling music business reference, Confessions of a Record Producer. More of his articles can be found at

Moses Avalon: 100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music BusinessMoses Avalon: 100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business (Hal Leonard, 12/15/10)

With more than 100 music-business conferences in the US alone and most emerging musos on a limited budget, which ones are really worth the investment? The following is an excerpt/sample chapter from the revolutionary new book on music-business survival,
100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business, by industry veteran Moses Avalon. Enjoy.

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/CDs from people in the music business that they will never remember, is dumb. Or maybe it’s worth every dollar and minute that you can spare.

They say that 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 often are 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?

Because the music business is about connections, you need to make as many as you can. Given this reality, I’d say that 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 — a fancy sociology term for acquiring lots of 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. And 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

There are three columns in the chart below. The “average cost” column is based on surveys of over 54 music-biz veterans and is an aggregate number that 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 the materials that one generally needs to bring (press kits, cards, fliers, etc.). If the conference is in a major city, the cost presumes airfare. 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 budget of a mid-line attendee.

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 towards the interests of US-based artists (or their managers/producers, 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.

With 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 that are worthy of being added to this chart.

Name of ConferenceAverage CostSEYComments
AES (Audio Engineering Society)$1,5004–7, dependingGood, if you’re looking for an internship at a recording studio or want to meet producers who are gear-shopping.
ASCAP EXPO$1,5008If 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$4,0009Music supervisors. Best value on the page for those with finished masters for licensing.
Billboard Media, Entertainment & Money Conference $2,0008Meet 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)$3,0005College-radio people. Good for making promo inroads.
Digital Hollywood$2,5008Lots of suits with ponytails. Good hunting for just about everything.
Digital Music Forum East & West$2,0005Geek fest. Best to go only if you can program in C++ or better.
MIDEM (Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale)$10,00010Rich hotties and their sugar daddies. Good hunting for cash, if you’ve already got plenty of your own.
NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants)$1,0005Imagine Guitar Center on steroids. Lots of gear, but too many people to navigate effectively.
SGA (Songwriters Guild of America)$8005Old timers. Not worth it.
SXSW (South by Southwest)$5,0006You’ll wait in line more than anything else. Lots of top execs, if you can find them in the massive crowds.
TAXI Road Rally$7007.5Meet 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)$1,5004Meet egghead constitutional authorities who argue about whether or not music should be free.
LAMC (Latin Alternative Music Conference)$2,0007.5Small 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$2,0008The UN of music conferences. Executive hunting ground. European meet ‘n’ greet.
NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers)$6,0008A great, backdoor way to meet label people on the marketing side. Managers galore.
Pollstar Live!$3,0009Venue promoters. Get on a better tour. Meet managers of top acts. Often overlooked.
Sundance Film Festival$7,00010Ironically, 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$1,0005Songwriter-coffee klatch. TAXI Jr.

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