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The Indie Music Forum: Something Familiar, Something Peculiar, Something for Everyone
By Linus Gelber, Home Office Records
(more articles from this author)
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Dateline: Philadelphia. Eventually. But first K-Mart. In order to forge a more perfect union, it became necessary to buy a DustBuster. Your Mr. Cyrano has never had one of these before, and it's over in the doorway charging. If left basking in current for the next week, apparently, it gives up another 94 seconds or so of orgiastic tool-wielding suction satisfaction. I can hardly wait.

This happens to me every August or so -- the Implement Bug bites and I'm off giving socket-wrench sets an appraising eye (as if I had anything here with sockets) or thoughtfully comparing different brands of those work lights with the yellow cords or deciding, as I did last summer, that it's time to fix the leaky bathroom faucet [masculine noises here]. By the time the plumber finally came I had spent $45 and the better part of two sweaty days equipping myself to get copper shavings all over the tub, and was/am the proud owner of a seat wrench and a handle-puller. And watch out: I know how to use 'em. Sorta. I might even be able to find them, in a pinch. In case I ever get attacked by a Faucet Monster, I'm in good shape. As long as it attacks me under the sink.

Sign of the Times: Carolyn Ballen at the IMF in Philadelphia
All the world's a stage, and we do so love to get on it.

Anyway, the DustBuster knockoff made it to the house all right, and after taking it apart and putting it back together I flipped through the instructions to see if I'd damaged anything that would void the warranty. It's got a little plastic pointy attachment that you stick in the sucky part so you can get into corners and do things like try to vacuum out errant pennies. According to page 3 of the manual this little attachment is called, incredibly, a "Crevice Tool." Paging Freud. The Hoover people need to talk to you right away. This one doesn't look like it's just a cigar.

The Right Stuff: Whether it's bathroom leaks on your mind or the nuances of song copyrights and publishing, whether it's file sharing or file parings, there's always a mystery to penetrate. The Indie Music Forum is a traveling one-day seminar designed to demystify a business that is generally acknowledged not to be rocket science, and to put tools and resources into the eager hands of outstarting musicians and tyro music business types of all stripes and interests. Entering its second year of national touring, the IMF is the creation of Philadelphista Carolyn Ballen, who moderates, organizes, soothes, stirs and lays on hands in a thorough if rushed primer that tries really hard to be all things to all people, and gets much further with that kind of inclusion than you might think possible.

Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil: Mark Roemer and Ariel Hyatt
Roamer and Pageant, all ears and inspirations.

The IMF caters to an audience that may not have the time, money or preparation to make hefty investments in the big national and regional music conferences worthwhile. Most of the powerhouse gatherings are explicitly designed for insiders (there are a lot of rooms to be inside in the Industry, some fancier than others), and with their three- to four-day formats, running all day and all night and then spreading into after-hours parties and impromptu late smoky-room sessions, they end up being a bit like "Survivor" tryouts: if you're still standing and can still talk at the end, then you get to come back and play even harder next time. Your correspondent is of the adamant opinion that most of these conferences, whatever potential opportunities they might present for theoretical networking, are a waste of time for bands just starting on the long hard climb. What with fees and hotels and travel and meals and missed days at work -- not to mention damage logged to lungs and liver -- the tab for one of these puppies is money that could record three or four songs for an artist's CD, or buy the bulk of a solid used van. It's a question of priorities.

Which is precisely where the IMF fits in: it's a conference that comes to you, it packs in a lot of bang for not many bucks, and it crams a wealth of information and service into a moiling single day. With free snacks. And it is carefully trimmed to the inseam of the independent music community. With a few debating panels and several sessions of small mentoring groups and "clinic" workshops, Carolyn and the IMF bring together a starter kit of friendly helpful indie professionals. These are people with a wealth of bootstrap experience, who are a little more sympathetic to the harsh realities of day jobs and entry-level regional booking and promotion than their brusquer counterparts who kick back in the easy chairs of the plusher chambers are likely to be. There's a lot to talk about. And if there's one thing that this crew is good at, it's talking. Which is what the Indie Music Forum is all about.

Making Music Work: Dave Hooper, Derek Sivers, Eric de Fontenay and Ari Nisman
More energy than you can shake a stick at.

Indie Appleseeds: In Philadelphia's dark vaulting Trocadero, one of the bigger venues on the local club circuit, Carolyn leads a Practical Information panel through its paces at the most recent Forum. Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity (New York and Colorado) cautions against believing that a publicist is a magical panacea who will take an unknown band and transform it into Kittie overnight -- "learn what a publicist's job is," she tells an audience that is scribbling notes at steno speeds, "so you can tell if your publicist is doing that job." It may seem obvious, but it needs saying anyway: for the most part, you can only successfully get press for a band that's got something interesting to cover. Radio promoter Mark Roemer of All Indie, an independent promotion and distribution company, is encouraging but realistic about radio play. Can it be had? Yes. Sometimes. But you have to have all the pieces in the right places, as well as having a song that will fly in the markets you choose. Attorney Paul Ungar is clarifying some of the realities of copyrights and the roles a lawyer can play. And Suzanne Glass, listed in the thick resource binder given to all registrants under the title "All Things Indie" (and her encyclopedic web site,, is all things indie indeed), chimes in with the mechanics of publishing and with tips and pointers about how to balance work and sanity. The line for questions is long and nearly all of them get asked; when the first panel closes, having said a mouthful and then some, there's all that much more still to say. Little advisory groups are forming, and business cards and CD's and scraps of paper pass from hand to hand.

The Internet Marketing panel seats Nashville's David Hooper of IndieBiz, all pragmatism with a glittering drawl, next to the brightest of the lights on the current indie scene, CD Baby founder Derek Sivers, with Eric de Fontenay of the Internet newswire Mi2N (who, with brother Sounni, brings you this column and its sister e-zines) and hard-hitting manager and online retailer Ari Nisman of Degyshop and Degy Management Services eased comfortably at the other side of the table. Dave is adamant about guerilla promotions, about pushing what you have as hard as you can with all the unexpected resources you can bring to bear. Ari glows with his plans for online booking and automated resource matching, a whole philosophy of forcing an often-meandering Internet into practical shapes and forms. Eric describes the free press release and publicity services available on the Mi2N site, which in turn farms out content to other subscribing Internet sites. And Derek, whose now-vast indie online retail store has grown over the last few years from a friendly hobby to a sudden force in Internet sales, steals the show. As usual.

A Man, A Plan, A Server: It's Derek Sivers
The people have the power. - P. Smith

It's not enough to play the computer keyboard, Derek says, agreeing with the rest of the panel; the Internet is the nerve net coordinating the limbs of a successful band or business, stepping up from a stagger to a walk to a run. But for most it is not a solution, only a part of the puzzle. There's more, and music speaks to us in ways that a monitor (even one of those nice big ones) just can't accommodate. And he stands, his shaven pate gleaming and his long back-braids swinging behind him, smiling with angelic mischief. You need to touch people, bring them something more, excite them, he says -- and leaps off the high stage into the audience, braids flying, and grabs hold of a nearby note-taker. Who starts back and smiles in turn; and as Derek stalks through the seated crowd, touching shoulders and shining bright amid welcoming and confused and averted gazes, his point is eloquently made. Bring music to people in ways they can't forget, and they'll remember.

Video Killed the Conference Star: In keeping with Carolyn's freedom of information ideas, the panels at the IMF in Philadelphia were filmed and video feeds are available on the Indie Music Forum web site. There's even a dyed-blonde guy from New York's Home Office Records grumbling about label issues -- hey! That's me! If your machine is fast enough to handle a decent clout of bandwidth, it's the next best thing to being there. Except you miss the snacks. And we all look very small.

There's an informal sort of Dead Musician's Society that travels most of the nation's major music conferences, making faces at the suits and lingering at the fringes telling those who will listen that it just doesn't have to be this way. Their musical tastes range from thrumming techno to quiet folk to acoustic whanging pop to jolting thrash to odd burbling unclassifiable stylings, and they have this in common: the music they love is shot through with personality and dedication. Some of them have walked the usual paths of the Industry and then strayed off on their own, some have been outsiders all along. They're joined in working hard to turn their obsessions into careers, and Carolyn has gathered the whole oddball pack of them to form the flexible spine of her seminars. There's a lot to chew over here, and the IMF is a terrific introduction to the greater world of music conferences. If nothing else, the attractive thick binder you'll get with registration is packed with tip sheets and contacts assembled over Carolyn's years of doing her own footwork, and for any band or budding professional with Big Questions it is worth the ticket all by itself. The next segment of the Indie Music Forum is scheduled for November in New York. Look for the IMF in upcoming chapters in San Francisco, San Diego and Miami, with more stops undoubtedly in the works.

A word to the wise: it's not easy getting copper shavings out of the tub. Unless you have a DustBuster with a Crevice Tool. See you in two.

Why Napster Will Not Take Over the World
(At Least, Not This Month)

The following is a conversation lifted from a Pop chat room on Napster of a balmy weekday afternoon. The names have been changed to protect the very, very, very young.

[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] anyone like nsync?????????????????
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] I DO I DO!!!
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] cool whoz ur fav?
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] JUSTIN..Can Everone Say H-O-T-T HOTT?
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] ~*JuStIn*~
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] yeah i can say hott
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] lol
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] hez soooooooooo fine
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] I have a huge poster of him on my wall
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] HUGE
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] i wish they posed for playgirl or sumthin, i would luv to see those hotties naked
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] eeewwww
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] how old are you?
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] what do u mean eww
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] 14
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] omg
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] eeewww
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] what do u mean ewwww? they're so hot, like you've never thought bout seeing them naked
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] no, its gross..I do not want to see *//\\//SYNC's Packages thank you!
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] ok well thatz u, i wanna see em
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] ok
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] how old r u?
[Teensy-Weensy-Girl] 13
[Itsy-Bitsy-Girl] aight


The Indie Music Forum:
Ariel Publicity and Cyber Promotions:
CD Baby:
Degyshop and Degy Management Services:
Home Office Records:

Indie Music Forum photos by Linus Gelber.

Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Helping Artists to Focus on their Music - Interview w/ Ari Nisman of (2000-07-27)
» Where's an All Indie? Here's an All Indie, There's an All Indie! - Streaming Interview w/ Tom Chernaik (2000-06-20)
» CD Baby - An Icon Of Indie Retailing - Streaming Interview w/ Derek Sivers (2000-06-20)
» Debating the Future: Continuing Discussion from Indie Music Forum '99 (1999-10-27)
» Coverage of Indie Music Forum '99, one day music industry seminar (1999-10-27)

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