CMJ Music Festival | Event Review

Even brooding musicians don’t like the rain – it works well as a metaphor but not so much when you’re trying to move gear. But that didn’t stop sheets of rain from falling on the hundreds of people flocked to New York City this week for the College Music Journal Music Marathon, a place for grassroots-level artists to show off their skills to industry veterans. The dour mood turned to fear as it was discovered that a doctor with Ebola attended one of the events.

College Music Journal is the Billboard of the 20-something listener. Industry pros go first to this strong but independent publication to find what the kids are listening to. The annual conference features panels about metal, touring in the south, modern emo music, anything small label owners and indie bands might need to know to stay afloat.

As Ebola scare took over America, starting in Austin, people at CMJ seemed oblivious until news broke that it had come right into their music venue. However, the Gutter bowling and music venue in Brooklyn shut down for two days, sanitized, contacted authorities and finally reopened on Saturday. CMJ CEO said that he was keeping tabs on the situation but the festival would go on as scheduled.

Shows began mid-week in the middle of dreary New York Fall weather. Headliners at this year’s CMJ Music Marathon included indie favorites like The Kills, Cold War Kids, Bombay Bicycle Club and Slowdive. The highlights of the festival are, however, the smaller bands. Many independent outfits will play multiple shows at various showcases in an attempt to get quality management or licensing deals. Showcases by small, artsy publications like Ipsum Magazine, The Deli or Brooklyn Vegan show off their tastemaker status by finding the hottest, smallest bands to blow up the stage.

This year also saw a growth of house concerts. Bands desperate to get in on the publicity of playing a CMJ show or who were tired of the drama with venues decided to set up in friend’s basements, backs of cafes and even on street corners.

CMJ is a gamble for everyone involved. Most of the attending managers and industry people at a small independent level – as most people are now that the big labels are failing. Because of these thinner wallets, they can’t take too big of a risk on too small of an artist but also can’t afford anyone who draws major label attention. CMJ is their opportunity to find a rare jewel among the hundreds of singer-songwriters, DJs and rappers clawing in the competition. And for the artists, this is one of the few opportunities to get in front of professionals who can actually forward their career. Ebola may terrify the rest of America, but for the musicians and industry pros running from showcase to backroom in New York, it’s not the first of their worries.