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Another Music Conference Disappoints


| Image by City Paper Digi-Cam

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at the

, and took no pleasure in reporting that the event fell victim to poor planning and low turnout. Baltimore may not be a music industry city, but there's no reason the more motivated musicians from the area can't organize and learn from each other, and a music conference, if done right, could be a hugely positive force. So it was with nothing but optimism that I went to check out this year's

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, which I'd never gotten a chance to see in previous years. Looking to be full of interesting events, the Sept. 17-20 conference mainly consisted of dozens of concerts at various venues around the city, including the Black Hole, the 8X10, the Ottobar, and several other clubs. But I was mainly interested in the seminars and panel discussions taking place in the last two days of the conference, particularly since that was the one element I was most disappointed with at Making the Right Moves.

On Friday, Sept. 19, I headed over to the Hilton Garden Inn after work to catch the last few hours of the day's seminars. After a bit of wandering around, I finally found the hotel's conference rooms and made my way to the "Recording Techniques" session, where my friend Mat Leffler-Schulman, who recently opened Mobtown Studios in Charles Village, was discussing the state of modern rock recording with a panel of producers and musicians. There wasn't much of anyone in the way of spectators, so the invited speakers simply sat on the floor and had a casual but fairly enlightening conversation. Local singer/songwriters Ellen Cherry and E.Joseph contributed their viewpoints, both as studio clients and as artists who record at home. But the most interesting panelist was Brian McTernan, who operates Salad Days Studio in Fells Point and has become a go-to producer for large independent punk labels like Vagrant and Fat Wreck Chords. It was surprising enough to learn that some fairly big bands had been recording at a local studio right under our noses all these years, but McTernan was also refreshingly frank about the state of the specific little corner of the music industry he makes a living off of, which is apparently just as paranoid about leaks and eager to sign unproven bands as the major-label world.

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As promising as that discussion was, it quickly turned out to be the sole highlight of the Baltimore Music Conference. My friend and I were looking forward to the "House Music . . . The Real Story" seminar by Chicago house legend Jesse Saunders, but it didn't seem to be happening. When we ran into Saunders later, he explained that the equipment he'd required for his audiovisual presentation hadn't been provided, so he had to cancel.

Another Music Conference Disappoints
School of Rock,
City Paper Digi-Cam

When we looked around the conference rooms to see if any of the other three scheduled seminars for that time slot were still happening, only one seemed to remain. The host, a man by the name of Ravi who had the eerie confidence of a cult leader, beckoned us into his conference room for a lecture titled "Artistic Integrity." The vague, wishy-washy title of his speech was unappetizing to begin with, but it wasn't until the guy got a few minutes into his Power Point presentation that we realized what a crackpot we'd been taken hostage by. A guitarist whose apparent greatest accomplishment in life was touring as part of Hanson's backup band at the height of "MMMBop"'s popularity, Ravi had a hugely inflated sense of how fascinating his life would be to complete strangers, or how much his sideman career qualified him to educate others about the music industry. As he clicked through one screen after another of snapshots of him standing near famous people, and 20 minutes passed by without even addressing anything resembling artistic integrity, our eyes glazed over and we abruptly made our excuses and left. To give you an idea of how much importance was assigned to a deluded session musician like Ravi at the Baltimore Music Conference, the same guy was also scheduled to be the next day's keynote speaker.

And I had high hopes that the next day's seminars would turn out much better. But, it was not to be. On Saturday afternoon, I started getting multiple calls from scheduled speakers, informing me that the seminars would not be taking place again at the Hilton Garden Inn as scheduled, possibly because of the BMC's inability to pay its hotel bill. Instead, all the seminars would be moved outside to Rash Field on the Inner Harbor, where the conference's last day of concerts, the BAM (B'More Arts and Music) Festival had already been planned to take place. Still optimistic, I stopped by the field later that afternoon, searching for the seminars that were supposed to still be happening. All I found was a dance music tent, where a mohawked DJ was playing dated '90s drill 'n' bass for an audience of disinterested volleyball players, and a pavilion near the Maryland Science Center, where a few bands were soldiering on and playing for whatever passers-by happened upon it. And though I hung around for a while, and watched a band of teenage students from the

plug through some classic rock covers, the whole scene was just too depressing to spend much more time surveying. I still have no doubt that there could be a genuinely great annual music conference in Baltimore, and applaud anyone who wants to make one happen, but it's a shame that the only people interested in trying don't seem to know what the hell they're doing.

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