Navigating Nashville’s ‘Music Biz Conference’

Navigating Nashville’s ‘Music Biz Conference’

As an independent artist, music conferences have become one of my secret weapons. As the independent artist’s job grows increasingly more difficult by the day and the noise gets louder and harder to break through, attending these concentrated days of industry exposure and learning is in my opinion, essential. An independent artist in 2023 has to highly execute the jobs of an entire staff, while staying creative, producing great art, being consistent on 20 different social media platforms, evolving and innovating, making money so they can fund all of it, and maintaining their mental health to avoid burnout. The artist of 2023, must be a master of many skills and have a thicker skin than ever before. The depressing fact is that artist development is dead and if you want to succeed in today’s entertainment industry, you have to either have loads of money, know the right people, or have lightning in a bottle strike on TikTok (or the trifecta of all three). Music conferences fit into the mix under “know the right people.” The surprising discovery I have made is that every conference I have gone to is lacking in artist attendance. I always wonder if artists don’t know about them or don’t see how valuable they are or if it’s simply the price point being too high and conferences being low on the priority list. No matter the reason, I seek to change this and show artists why it matters. Each conference has its strengths and weaknesses and I have yet to attend one that I think checks all of the boxes. SXSW is the king of live music and showcases, but the panels can be overcrowded and the networking is decent but not great. NAMM is like a music nerd’s playground with over 2,000 vendors who showcase the most innovative and new music technology for you to get your hands on, amazing panels, and great networking (with the added bonus of a chance for endorsement deals), but their live show element is lacking and disappointing.

That brings me to Music Biz: music networking’s best kept secret. I set a goal for myself to talk to as many new people as I could over the 4 days of Music Biz panels and parties and I wound up leaving with well over 100 new contacts and a lot of knowledge. Read on for the full review. 

Music Biz is a four day conference held in Nashville, TN every year and this is their mission: The Music Business Association creates the rooms in which the important conversations that shape our industry’s future take place.

They market the conference to major segments of the music business including but not limited to: Labels & Distributors, Music Streaming, Retail & Wholesale, Publishers & PROs, Rights Management & Metadata, Artist Managers, and Tech Startups. It’s the who’s who of the music industry, the people who you dream of getting a hold of through a cold email, the ones you would guess are too busy to attend a conference. Of all the music conferences I have been to, Music Biz has some of the most exclusive and high level networking I have found. But before you rush to look into when ticket sales open next year, I don’t believe this event is right for every artist. 

When I first became aware of Music Biz and put in a request to go, I started researching on their website for prices, panels, speakers, events, etc. A ticket to Music Biz costs $1,500.00. When I first saw that, I was pretty shocked especially after seeing the offerings. Unlike other music conferences, there are no live shows or showcases, only a few panels going on at any given time, no food trucks, and knowing Nashville, where most events I get excited about fall short of my expectations and hopes, I was walking into Music Biz fully expecting it to be a let down and not worthy of its ticket price. I am quite the extrovert and I absolutely love networking and meeting as many people as I can (obviously, I’m gushing about conferences) so I was ready for four days of intensity. Having the stamina for days of panels and talking and parties is no small thing.. It’s beyond exhausting. 

I kicked off my first day at Music Biz listening to hit songwriter Jenna Andrews break down writing songs like “Butter” and “Supalonely”, learning about short form video content from insiders at Youtube, TikTok, Songfluencer, and attending masterclasses on platforms like Pandora AMP and Spotify. After a packed day of panels and shaking hands, I headed over to an array of exclusive after parties where the networking continued until midnight. Tuesday began early with the Record Store Day Town Hall, Metaverse and AI panels, Women & POC Roundtables, learning how to manage teams with different personality styles, TikTok demystified from the insiders at TikTok, the future of vinyl, NFTs and more! This was followed again by an array of badge-holders only after parties and open bars. So many open bars. Wednesday took me into a day focused on marketing and sync licensing, interesting ways to run merch campaigns and physical product trend forecasting, the Bizzy Awards and again… parties and open bars. In my opinion, half of the panels were very informative and half of them were just okay (that’s pretty standard), but I met cool people doing cool things at every turn. And this brings me to day four… 

CD Baby took over Thursday’s programming and everything was very focused around independent artists (exciting right?!). I saw many new artist faces there because there was a discounted ticket for artists to come for their events. Artists had flown in from all around the world to be there to learn, and network. I was really excited for a day focused around artists and finally seeing the industry support its creators. 

Up until this final day, I found a lot of the information at the panels useful but also out of touch at times. What I mean to say is that the industry executives giving their opinions on topics like artist burnout, social media and what the future of our industry is going to look like, all while a massive part of the industry, the ARTISTS, were widely missing wasn’t very helpful. In my opinion it would have been beneficial to showcase the ones in the mud dealing with the burn out and the “innovation” that is impacting our mental health. Perhaps a panel made up entirely of independent artists who don’t have label funding behind them. Maybe some people who have done more than just go viral on TikTok (I also want to add that there are many amazing people in this business that do want to see artists supported, the infrastructure of our industry is just not built for development anymore).

As I went up the escalator for the artist focused day, I noticed that a lot of the high level business people were not there, the phone charging stations were gone, the bowls of peppermints were not in any of the panel rooms anymore. I couldn’t help but notice that the amenities were far less, everything was being torn down, like the artists were an afterthought. Having attended all four days, I saw the drop in quality and as an artist it made me upset. It showcased to me what I already know, how little value artists hold to high level business people. What harm could one day of networking and teaching new artists do to any music industry executive? As independent artists, the people that hold our fate in their hands don’t even notice it or realize that this goes the way it does. I brought it up to a few of the business people still left in the lobby and they also noticed the quality decline of the day once I voiced it and looked visibly uncomfortable. A few of them said to me “this is more of a business focused conference,” and I proceeded to talk their ears off about just how much “business” goes into running the career of an independent artist. We deserve a seat at the table, after all, independent music now holds over 40% of the market share. Artists drive the industry and could benefit to learn the things that I learned while attending this conference. All this to say, nothing is keeping artists out of Music Biz, it is just priced in a way that is inaccessible to most artists. Most of the people attending the conference have their companies pay for their entry fees. And now we get to the part of the article where I say which artists I believe should be attending and where my opinion of the ticket price changed. If the floodgates were open and this was accessible to all artists, I believe the quality of the event would decline. Kind of like we have seen with the networking side of SXSW. Everywhere you turn, a new artist is looking to give you their mixtape or card so business people avoid it like the plague.

Artists: To be a little harsh about it, If networking and meeting people in person is not your superpower, don’t spend the money on conferences. If you are a brand new independent artist with little knowledge of the business end of music, do not spend the money YET and learn at home. If you do not have a solid brand and lots of great music and assets that would actually be of value to people at the top of the industry, keep working on your craft and spend your money towards that for now. Music Biz is for artists when you have your brand, you have your music, you have buzz going on around you, and you are ready to take it to the next level with some high level networking. And only then, would I tell you the $1,500 is well spent here or at any music conference. I think a lot of artists have a hard time being able to look at what they have and decide if it’s ready to showcase and I meet many artists who think they are ready that are far from ready. If you aren’t sure if this is you or not, ask an industry person you can get a hold of for feedback or talk to some friends for their honest feedback. If you are really even questioning it, you’re probably not ready. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get yourself ready. Becoming a student of the business side of music is more necessary than ever before, whether it’s online, at a conference, or with a coach.

I give Music Biz a 9/10 on networking. It would be awesome if they incorporated more artist driven experiences, showcases, or sponsored live shows in town around the event to give back to the artist community.

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