Whether or not you think of Baltimore as a music town, it's definitely not a music industry town. And if there's one thing the city's countless starving artists could use a little more of, it's business savvy and some perspective about their chances of success. With that thought in mind, Milestone Media organized the first Making the Right Moves entertainment conference last week, booking a few rooms at the Baltimore Convention Center for a weekend full of networking and panels offering advice on everything from promotional street teams to legal representation. I was asked to speak on two panels at the conference in my capacity as a City Paper contributor and a Baltimore music blogger, respectively on the subjects of the press and internet marketing. After attending Friday night's meet and greet and showcase at Taste International to pick up my VIP pass, I showed up at the Convention Center early on Saturday to watch some of the events before my panels started. Although Making the Right Moves was billed as an "entertainment conference," and those in attendance included a rock band manager and owners of a clothing line, the clear target audience was the countless young African-American entrepreneurs who consider themselves not just rappers but also label owners and future media moguls. The second panel of the morning, "Get Your Business Started the Right Way," was one of the more informative, thanks mainly to entertainment attorney Paul Gardner, whose clients include Young City and Baltimore rapper Los. Gardner addressed the importance of incorporating your label as an LLC as early as possible, and trademarking all names, logos, and titles. Meanwhile, Nathan Corbett, the 15-year-old local actor who stole a few scenes (and a few cars) in the last season of HBO's The Wire, came off surprisingly grounded and business-savvy when discussing the finer points of balancing careers in acting and music at such a young age. A pattern began to emerge over the course of the day in how most of the panels played out: at least five or six panelists and an hour of discussion (usually less, as the day was perpetually behind schedule and most panels were hastily rushed to a conclusion), and it felt like there was far more to say than there was time for. And often one panelist would end up using far more than his share of speaking time, either by monopolizing the microphone or, in the case of local rapper NOE, easily the most high-profile recording artist on any of the panels, because most of the audience's questions were addressed directly to him. More often than not, at least one person on each panel would end up not getting a word in edgewise after their introduction. But worst of all, some panels really could've used a moderator to steer the discussion back on-topic when it went on a tangent, and the one moderated panel, "Women in Media," addressed issues universal to womanhood (being treated with respect in the workplace, dressing slutty vs. dressing classy) without ever really getting to the "media" part. My first panel, "Are You Using the Internet to Fully Market Yourself?," was one of the most unfortunate victims of the time deficit. Practically every discussion eventually came around to the web in one way or another, but this was the place where we got to address how the internet has opened up music promotion in recent years, while file-sharing has simultaneously put music sales in a tremendous slump. But business attorney and musician Cheryl Slay, no doubt one of the more experienced and informative panelists, made the frustrating choice of taking huge chunks of the panel's time to read bullet points off a piece of paper. I had a head full of observations about the evolution of rap blogs, how free downloadable mixtapes have become all the rage in the aftermath of the DJ Drama arrest, and smarter ways to promote yourself than constant e-mail blasts. But ultimately all I ended up really addressing was my love/hate relationship with MySpace, and how artists who use that as their only promo tool have made "MySpace rapper" into a pejorative term. Likewise, my second panel, "Street Teams and Gorilla [sic] Promotions and How to Get Press I Need," ended up dealing mainly with the street-team side of things, leaving little for the members of the press on the panel to say. But when I did speak up, with Brian Raftery's recent Idolator post illustrating the environmental cost of unsolicited promo CDs fresh in my mind, I urged a move toward less wasteful online marketing methods. As obnoxious as e-mail blasts can be, at least they don't necessitate cutting down trees like the fliers left on your windshield every time you go to a show. Still, the panels were illuminating and entertaining, which is more than can be said for the "demo listening session" that followed. The showcase, which gave a couple dozen unsigned rappers and singers, mostly local but some from places like Philadelphia and Virginia, a chance to perform in front of a panel of DJs, was woefully short on any notable talent. And the sterile, well-lit conference room didn't provide the best atmosphere for a concert, either. Thankfully, the day ended on a high note when the celebrity keynote speaker Ice-T, who was in town to perform at Rams Head Live later that night, graced us with his presence. Although the West Coast gangsta rap pioneer moved on to the more lucrative pastures of film and television over a decade ago, his brutally honest reflections on the depressing reality of the music industry were as relevant as ever. As an orator, Ice-T was relaxed and frank, frequently making hilariously self-deprecating asides about the rougher moments in his career (the "Cop Killer" controversy, Tank Girl), while detailing his unlikely path to stardom. He pulled no punches about the brutal odds stacked against a major-label artist turning a profit, plummeting album sales, and why he wouldn't want to be a rapper if he had to get started today. If anyone in attendance was still dreaming of platinum plaques, Ice-T woke them up with a bucket of cold water. Hopefully, Making the Right Moves taught a few musicians about how to make a decent living doing what they love, but the one lesson they all should've learned that day is this: If you're only in it for the money, you're in the wrong business.

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