I Love the New Folks at Home! (with apologies to Stephen Foster)
**Guest post written by Salina Sias. Salina is a Brooklyn based singer-songwriter with a deeply personal folk-inflected vision and serves on the board of directors of Women In Music. This piece was originally posted on ThrowtheDiceandPlayNice.com.
"I just got back from the 26th annual Folk Alliance International (FAI) music conference in Kansas City, MO.
For the purist – and for Pete Seeger who sadly left us a few weeks ago – the phrase “music conference” is likely a scary combination of words. Then add “folk” in front of music and it gets even more frightening. Folk music is the essence of direct, authentic, commercial-free expression and “conferences” makes you think of the boring corporate events full of PowerPoint presentations and a lot of middle-aged, white guys telling bad jokes.
But in today’s world, where artists need every fighting chance they can get, music conferences are an essential tool. They can help us connect with fellow artists from whom we can learn a lot. They can give us advice, guidance and support.
They can also be overwhelming, as I can attest after having just dragged my butt back to Brooklyn from Kansas City.
So, the generous soul that I am, I thought I’d share my experiences and advice after my first trip ever to a “folk-music conference.” Now, I’m one of those people who like to walk into a new situation as organized as I can be; maybe that’s a reaction to having two young children and walking into every day with plans that usually only last about thirty seconds.
However, in this case, my organizational instincts worked against me. If it’s your first time at a music conference such as FAI, in my personal experience, it’s best to forgo an “agenda” and ride the wave wherever it takes you, even if you have one of those cool, new organizing apps, like any.do.
When you get down to the heart of the matter, music conferences are designed for one main reason. Grab a beer and prepare yourself to soak in what it’s really all about:
I came to this now-obvious epiphany on day two of the conference when I was hung over from sleep deprivation (at least that’s what I told my body, although it didn’t really listen).
The conference was about truly connecting with people – not just networking, which can sometimes come across as opportunistic and mechanical and false. Rather, it was about genuinely being in the physical and spiritual presence of people who wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night, (if it’s a night for sleep) thinking about the same things you do.
During FAI, you didn’t need Starbucks to get a mental rush.
Louis Meyers, in his final year as President of FAI and one of four SXSW founders, confirmed my sentiments when I asked him if he had a single piece of advice for first timers. His response was instantaneous,
“You have to observe. That’s all. You meet people. Folk Alliance is about making relationships.”
“…what happens is by the time Saturday rolls around, you will have a whole bunch of new friends and family you didn’t have when you walked in.”
It’s about making relationships and continuing them. During what most would call the wee hours, around 2:30AM, I was happy to have run into a NYC friend, Willie Nile, in the hallway just before one of his performances. Willie ended up echoing the same point in his own Willie-way. “Wow, I’m really diggin’ this Folk Alliance vibe, this is great. Everyone should be here. Pussy Riot should be here!” We all cheered.
The joy spilled out and was uncontainable. Artists from all over the world sang and played everywhere – in the hallways and stairwells, well into the morning. Then they woke up earlier than you would expect – perhaps earlier than they have done all year – and did it all over again.
To give you an idea of the event’s intensity, check out the showcase schedules – for private showcases, three floors of a hotel were turned into mini music venues.
Come for the climate creativity and/or come for the great workshops and panels that are offered –with FAI in particular, there’s even a first timers’ orientation. Folk.org really tries hard to help newbies get a sense of it all – they even have a special letter geared toward first timers on their website.
Of course, even having presented you with this succinct information, musicians aren’t good at following instructions, so, chances are you won’t read it before booking your showcases. Recognizing that – as well as our Twitter-esque attention span – I’ve compiled a personal list of things you might find helpful when attending a music conference, like FAI, for the first time:
- Taking a trip to the local store might save some loot rather than digging deep to pay the hotel’s mark-up for essentials like water, Red Bull, vodka and jujubes.
- Sleep is a great thing when exhausted
- Water is life
- Phone chargers are more important than wallets – tip: hotel concierges have 'em
- Sleep late or take a nap if your showcase is between 1AM and 3AM
- Room service stops serving breakfast at 11AM, but they still make omelets
- Introverts, pretending hard to be extroverts, are everywhere…
- Impromptu collaboration with someone new is like magic
- Things are really bad for makers of consumer junk food if they’re going after broke folk artists
- Sponsors are lurking everywhere. You need them. We need them. Spotify doesn’t pay enough for a wet nap. (see this pic!)
- People who have been attending for 5+ years – they reunite w/ friends
- If there’s one person in the audience, work that much harder
- Volunteering at a conference can save money. e.g. free breakfast and maybe even free registration
- Go to keep learning and learn to keep going
Former Vice President, Al Gore, was even there and he managed to make the most sustainable-friendly audience on the planet: FOLKSINGERS –bored with climate change. I was waiting to hear him tell us about a potentially cool, new marketing strategy that would involve songwriters and a global warming competition, but it didn’t happen.
HOWEVER, I did get inspired to work on crafting a mix tape for him.
Next year, I want to hear Al sing that classic folk song, “When the Ice Worms Nest Again.”
To put it simply: You might just fall in love with music and the folks who create it all over again. It takes patience and time to form, and nurture, relationships along the way; it isn’t going to happen by showing up once. Keep going..."
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