the cmj marathon: more tracks than you think
  • WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2008

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The CMJ Music Marathon is arguably the biggest, most extravagant, most ubiquitous music festival in New York City. Spread over five days, dozens of venues, hundreds of shows, and tons of bands all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. Many New Yorkers don't even realize they are attending a CMJ show until they get there; others front the hefty sum for a badge and attend multiple shows a night. College radio stations from around the country send delegates to scout new talent. Showcases highlight genre specific acts. And blogging skyrockets harder than Radiohead making headlines. It's a time of joy for music fans in the big apple.

However, many forget that CMJ is more than just show-hopping. The festival was more expansive than ever this year, including not only numerous industry panels and expo spaces, but a sizable film portion as well. Zach And Miri Make A Porno made it's NYC debut with a Kevin Smith Q&A, The TriBeCa Film Center hosted a short film awards as well as other notable films, and a Johnny Cash documentary (about the Folsom Prison show) was screened, with some never before seen footage. The film component isn't new, but it certainly has never been as big.

The Kimmel Center for Student Life at NYU was transformed into CMJ HQ, complete with a sponsor expo on the tenth floor. The artist lounge (sponsored by RedBull) also featured tons of swag for artists and press people. Hangout spots were everywhere. However, the real gem that most people gloss over was the incredible diversity of the panels.

CMJ Panels are perhaps the most interesting collection of media topics around, and rarely does a music fan or employed industry professional get to see so many experts in the field come together on one stage and discuss issues. I was pleased to see certain panels that were well attended, however, overall I felt an under appreciation for the unbelievable variety.

Some examples: the George Clinton panel on the role of the producer in today's industry was packed. However, the discussion seemed very limited, and possibly inhibited by certain member's substance abuse. Meanwhile, a very poignant panel on music and philanthropy (featuring representatives from World Hunger, Witness, and Hard Rock Cafe) was ill attended. Several very moving videos were shown, and artists were given advice on how to get involved with charitable organizations that could bring about positive results and further their careers.

Other panels had better turnouts; including one about artist development. Panel members included many record label execs that spoke of new and creative techniques, such as having in-house quarters for artists to work, live, and perfect their art before recording. A series of panels highlighted all the tracks an artist can take (three in all: the indie label route, the major label route, and the DIY route). All featured artists and professionals who've supported and traveled the respective path, with tons of insight for new acts. Other panels I attended included one on the role of music in politics, the future of hi-fidelity production, and the horizon of festivals in America.

Overall, the amount of industry professionals who are invited to these panels, and the amount that can be learned simply by attending, is jaw dropping. So next year, after picking up a badge, think about putting some panels on your planner. So what if you have to roll out of bed a little earlier after a night of rocking out? They call it a marathon for a reason. - joe puglisi

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