CMJ Music Marathon 2015 Recap


R. Yibing Guo Jia is a first-year graduate student in the NYU Steinhardt Music Business Program and a junior staff member here at Musonomics. Last week, she attended the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City. In this blog post, she shares some of her thoughts on the mini-festival that brings industry heads and indie fanboys alike to New York City to discover new music and learn about the business behind that music.

Being a college radio kid, CMJ Music Marathon has always been an exciting time for me. Those four or five days in early fall are like summer camp for music enthusiasts. This year, many things changed for CMJ. Under new leadership, the location moved from Kimmel in Washington Square Park to a trendier, less academic setting at Dream Downtown in Chelsea.

Though the venue was amazing at first sight, some panels were bound to get uncomfortable due to small spaces and the huge couches that could only fit three people. The Electric Room, which housed many relevant discussions, suffered from a lack of space. It was sometimes impossible to fully engage with the speakers.

The panels were divided into different subcategories for each day. The first day, most of the panels seemed to have come “straight outta” Palo Alto. Topics ranged from services that stream shows online to new technologies that will allow audiences to have a more interactive relationship with music through immersive environments activated by movement — a sort of post-modern concept that blurs the line between creator and consumer.

Neon Indian @ Webster Hall [photo credit: Justin Joffe for Observer]
The second day shifted focus entirely towards college radio. The third day was focused on artists and the vast tools available in different social media platforms that can help reach wider audiences and maintain a deeper connection between artist and fan. Topics ranged from things like Youtube plug-ins that make videos more interactive, the different ways in which artists can use Bands In Town to gage where their biggest fan-bases are, to tips on how to be more strategic on social media. Great insights were also provided by Jon Cohen, co-founder of Cornerstone and The Fader, about navigating the realm of branding without compromising artistry in the music industry.

The fourth and final day of CMJ was perhaps the weirdest, as the conference audience switched from goofy college kids wearing denim jackets to suited-up thirty-somethings. Most of the panels had a huge legal focus, an important topic in this age of outdated copyright laws that haven’t adapted to a new technological landscape.

The danger, of course, with topics that rely so heavily on legal jargon is inaccessibility, which was an issue. However, the discussion panel on ASCAP, BMI and Pandora, moderated by Musonomics very own Prof. Larry Miller, was perhaps one of the most straightforward discussions of the week. It was very interesting to hear both sides of the story about the new decrees of the Department of Justice in regards to online streaming and how this affects performing arts organizations and music publishers, through fractional basis licensing practices.

Of course, CMJ isn’t all about legal conversations and industry panels — it’s also about great new music, of which there was plenty.

Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington at Le Poisson Rouge [photo credit: Brooklyn Vegan]
Kamasi Washington played (le) poisson rouge, putting on one of the most spectacular jazz shows I have ever seen. Two drum sets, a versatile double bass with an incredible amount of pedals, Washington’s dad on soprano sax, and of course, Kamasi Washington, shredding it all on stage.

Animal Collective’s Panda Bear played Bowery Ballroom, bringing his shiny electronic beats with trippy vocals and even trippier visuals. Tobias Jesso Jr. proved that he deserved to be where he was, in a completely packed Music Hall of Williamsburg, filling every void with his sweet and nostalgic tunes. Finally, Levitation & Alisa Loog  closed this year’s CMJ in the best way possible at Rough Trade. The lineup featured some of the most refreshing rock bands that are circulating CMJ right now: Mild High Club, DRINKS, Shannon and the Clams and Ringo Deathstarr. Rough Trade, with an amazing selection of vinyl, instruments, and fun pedals you can play around with, cool books, good coffee and even a photo booth, was the perfect setting.

Overall, CMJ 2015 was great time. The Music Marathon delivered, and my ears are satisfied with what they heard — both during the daytime programming and the nighttime shows. At CMJ, there’s always someone or something new to hear, learn, or experience — an apt representation of a music industry that is constantly pushing forward.

by R. Yibing Guo Jia

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