Musician Education and Career Advancement, better known by its acronym, MECA, is a major music conference in the Midwest (www.mecaconference.com). This four day Chicago-based event will be held May 12-15, 2004. Offering forty panels, workshops and performance clinics, mentoring sessions, 200 live music showcases, and numerous networking events, MECA covers a broad spectrum.
This feature article provides details about MECA and has a free clinic on how to develop an effective press kit. So, sit back and take your time going through this piece, it will be well worth the time you spend reading it. Attending MECA can enhance artists' careers.
About the MECA Music Conference & Festival
Anyone interested in attending the panels, clinics, workshops and mentoring sessions can purchase a conference registration. They even offer discounts for students, and also for attendees who take advantage of early registration purchases. The conference activities and events cover a myriad of interests applicable to most any demographic connected with the music industry.
Bands and Artists seeking to introduce themselves to more opportunities can submit to be selected to participate in 2004 MECA showcase opportunities. Both up-and-coming artists and professionals alike will be selected to perform at Chicago's best live music venues throughout each of the four nights of the conference. Those who are selected by the conference's judging panel to be among this year's Showcasing Bands and Artists also receive free conference registrations. Please note that there is a showcase submission deadline date - December 31, 2003!
For those primarily interested in becoming better informed about real issues and common aspects of working in the music business, no problem MECA has that covered too. There are numerous Panels and Workshops designed to provide real world education. This year, MECA panels will provide registered participants with access to successful musicians and industry professionals, who have direct experiences working at all levels within the business. This is a practical and viable opportunity to gain insights through interacting with some of today's most successful music professionals.
Additionally, all of the hands-on Performance Clinics conducted by high-profile working professional musicians, will offer another reason to sign-up and attend MECA. These offerings include clinics in guitar, bass, drums and DJ/turntable techniques. At this writing, confirmed 2004 MECA Clinicians include names like: drummer Steve Smith, bassist Billy Sheehan and turntablist DJ P-Trix.
Mentoring and Networking Opportunities Abound
Attending MECA also allows registrants the inherent ability to "plug-in" to the informal conference scene, and to meet a wide demographic of other people who share similar interests and passions. There are also numerous formal networking events being held throughout the four-day conference as well. The formal networking events are designed to build relationships between and among up-and-coming bands from different markets, as well as fostering the same type of peer synergy among established industry professionals who are normally based in different geographical markets.
Mentoring sessions will be offered on Thursday and Friday and are open to all registered conference attendees. During these sessions, participating panelists are also made available for one on one discussion with conference attendees.
Interview with MECA and The Morrissey Group
Photo: Founders Kathy Morrissey and Kevin Morrissey with singer/songwriter Jill Dawson (center) at the First Tuesday Internet Street Fair.
The MECA Music Conference & Festival, May 12 - 15, 2004, will feature four days of career advancement, educational and networking opportunities, as well as the showcases. Conference organizers aim to make MECA as valuable to the music industry, musicians and music fans as other major music conferences like SXSW Conference & Festivals and CMJ Music Marathon. MECA Music Conference & Festival is a registered d/b/a/ of The Morrissey Group, Inc. TMG is a corporation based in Barrington, IL and is managed jointly by Kathy Morrissey and Kevin Morrissey. Our interview with Kathy Morrissey follows.
How and why did the idea for establishing an event like the MECA Music Conference & Festival initially come about?
[Kathy Morrissey] As the owners of ChicagoGigs.com we have participated in the local music scene since 1999, and my partner Kevin has been involved even longer. He was a drummer in an indie band for several years before we started ChicagoGigs.com. We have attended music conferences in other cities, like SXSW in Austin and CMJ in New York, and always felt that Chicago was "left out." A city of Chicago's size and stature should have a major music conference, and musicians in the Midwest should have access to the benefits of a major music conference without having to fly halfway across the country.
And, what were the primary motivations behind your organization being involved with such an important initiative like the MECA Conference & Festival in Chicago?
[Kathy Morrissey] From our daily interaction with indie bands in Chicago, we felt that many bands are having trouble figuring out the next steps in their careers. There are so many opportunities available to musicians these days, but sorting through and assessing those opportunities can be daunting.
It seems that many music conferences focus on the idea that an A&R rep might 'discover' you and make your career happen for you. The music industry has changed so much that this approach is outdated. A major label deal is not the only path open to artists today, and for many artists a major label is not a good match.
These artists can take a do-it-yourself approach to producing, distributing and licensing their music. This range of choice in advancing your career is what we want to highlight. We felt that we had developed the contacts and the strengths required to put together a top-notch music conference that could be of real value in helping working and aspiring musicians advance their careers. We see this as a logical extension of our ChicagoGigs.com business.
There seems to be a lot of interest in the MECA Conference & Festival. What type of registration turnout do you anticipate?
[Kathy Morrissey] We're expecting about 2500 - 3000 attendees: bands, panelists and industry professionals from all over the country, and even some international visitors. We were surprised to get inquiries from as far away as West Africa! With so many people in attendance, it will be a great opportunity for networking.
MECA seems like an ideal place for new and emerging artists and bands to showcase their talents. What types of potential opportunities might those artists and bands, which are selected to showcase, be making career inroads toward?
[Kathy Morrissey] I think the opportunities depend on what the band has accomplished so far. If a band has been able to develop some buzz in the industry, showcasing will give A&R reps and talent buyers a chance to see them perform live. If the band is looking for a label deal or wants to line up gigs at major clubs, this opportunity could be important.
If the band isn't at that point yet, showcasing is still valuable. Being selected to showcase is an important credential to mention in your press kit bio, and can be helpful in booking shows. In fact, you may get to play in a showcase at a club you haven't been able to book on your own - so now you have some experience to point to when you go back to the talent buyer later and try to book another show. Showcasing also gives you a chance to expand your fan base. There will be a lot of Chicago music fans attending each showcase, so be sure to get fans to sign up for your mailing list and tell them how to find your website.
Besides, showcasing bands get complimentary registrations to the conference - so they get to attend all the panels, clinics, workshops, mentoring sessions and networking events for free.
Networking and mentoring are vital aspects toward achieving success in most any profession. With that end in mind, how did you select the Panel Discussion topics being presented at the MECA Conference & Festival this year?
[Kathy Morrissey] Our goal is to provide working and aspiring musicians with the information needed to direct and propel their careers, as well as examples of people who have done that successfully. Successful artists have to be skilled musicians, songwriters and performers, but the reality is, they also have to treat their careers like a business, if that's how they intend to make a living. So some of our topics address the "music" side - feedback on songwriting, production, engineering and improving performance skills; and some of our topics address the business side - marketing and promotion, accounting, legal, management, etc.
Additionally, we believe that signing with a major label is not the only way to be successful as a musician, so we strive to provide alternative examples of success - licensing music for video games, TV and commercials, college radio and booking, and we'll have a panel with musicians that are successful in different ways talking about their experiences.
I'm glad you mention networking and mentoring, because we believe it is critical to learn from the experiences of people that have gone before you, and to find ways to work with other people to the benefit of you both. To that end, we have two types of events planned: One-on-one mentoring - our panelists will be available for short conversations with attendees to discuss anything they would like some advice on. The second is a gig-swapping networking event. One way bands can get into new clubs is by swapping gigs with other bands, especially in other cities. We know networking can be intimidating, but we've come up with an event that will make this chore a snap. We'll announce details on the website.
The Press Kit - A Free Clinic For Indies
This segment shows the type of practical and useful mentoring those attendees will benefit from by attending the MECA Music Conference & Festival in Chicago. So, it also seemed appropriate to talk with The Morrissey Group about an area of vital interest to most all artists - The Press Kit. This information was developed by TMG co-partner, Kevin Morrissey. One of Kevin's many responsibilities is overseeing the reviewers that cover local and national acts, so the advice on the press kit information is a result of his 4 years of experience in that role. He's also overseeing the showcase selection committee for MECA. Following are Kevin Morrissey's suggestions to anyone interested in submitting to this showcase, or most any other performance opportunity:
What should a press kit include?
1) Photo - typically an 8x10 black and white glossy; color is a nice touch. It should be professionally duplicated. The purpose of the photo is to capture the essence of your band, so you need to know what your band is all about. For example, one band we know has a party image, so their photo was taken at a corner bar - partying. If your band is all about live performance, then a live shot would be best. If you're a country artist, then you better look like a country artist. A good photographer can help you with this, but you'll need to have defined your artistic vision first. Tip - four guys standing in a warehouse or on railroad tracks has been done to death.
2) Bio - should be one page, short and to the point. It needs to say why you are different and mention your credentials. Everybody has a story about how they met (John and Tom met while serving detention in High School), the trials they went through finding members ("after auditioning 100 guitarists they finally found _____"), the endless rehearsals, previous line-ups, etc. Unless your story is truly unique and compelling, don't put it in your bio. And don't include a bio for every member, again, unless someone's story is truly compelling ("Gregg was the guitarist for 'band name here.' He left the band after two releases for Elektra Records").
You need to have nailed your image, so take time to figure it out, and then describe it in a succinct and interesting way.
Include your credentials. Mention really good venues you've played. Include quotes from a couple of good reviews in credible publications, and also list any awards. Copy 2-3 really good reviews from credible sources and attach them.
3) Music - Include your CD.
Generally Indie bands spend way too much money on their press kits. A press kit from a major label act is usually one photocopied bio, one 8x10 glossy black and white photo, and one CD. It's usually sent via FedEx, because they can afford it, but that's it. If you spend more than this you are wasting your money. Keep in mind that over the course of your career you're going to send out thousands of these kits, so the package has to be affordable.
Indie bands frequently put their press kit in a binder, with the pages in plastic sleeves. This is a huge waste of money. First of all, it costs a lot more to mail a binder. Then, the recipient isn't going to leave your materials in a binder because they can't easily mail or file it, so the binder gets thrown away. Even the cheap cardboard folders and custom boxes will usually get thrown out.
The best bet is to put everything in a manila envelope. You can use a different color to stand out, and print custom mailing labels with your logo. This will be eye-catching.
Also, you don't need to send the CD in a jewel case. If you already have your CDs in jewel cases, you can take out the artwork and throw that in the envelope with the CD to save on the postage. It's nice to include the insert because, even though you won't be judged on it, it's helpful to have the information that is usually provided here (band members, song titles, lyrics, etc). It's perfectly acceptable to forgo the jewel cases when making your CDs; just print your logo and other info on the CD and put it in a sleeve. Save the jewel cases for CDs you sell to your fans. Keep in mind that unless your CD really moves the reviewer, it's eventually going to end up in the garbage, before or after it's reviewed. (Most music journalists regularly throw out boxes of CDs that they don't need anymore).
Spending a lot of money on your press kit is a waste because your press kit alone will typically not get your CD reviewed. Personal contacts are the best path. Get someone who knows the reviewer to pass on your press kit. So you need to network. One way to do this is to get a job in the industry, or take a position as an intern. Top clubs, Indie labels and papers are always looking for interns. (Building and maintaining your network is beyond the scope of this.)
The next best way to get your press kit reviewed is to build a bit of buzz around your band. The reviewer will pay attention when your press kit comes in if they have heard your name several times before.
What do you do if you don't have any personal contacts and haven't yet generated a name for yourself? Here's our suggestion: When you send in your press kit, include some merchandise, or do something distinctive. If your band has t-shirts, throw one in, because everyone loves free t-shirts. But use discretion because you can't afford to do this for everyone. Then, about a week after sending your press kit, call or email to ask if it was received. Call or email every week or so until you get an answer that it was received. Then after about a month, if you haven't been reviewed, call or email to check-in, ask the status. Be very polite, cool. Don't be pushy or act discouraged.
Check in about once a month. After a while, the reviewer will remember you, then s/he may start to feel guilty about not reviewing you yet, and eventually you'll probably be reviewed. This may take about six months. Keep in mind - this is a sales call. You're trying to sell your band to the reviewer and to do that you have to establish a good relationship.
Another piece of advice: put your press kit on your website. Include the bio in PDF format; print quality color photo, logo, CD artwork; and music samples. This makes it easy for people who are going to review you. For an excellent example of the elements in a press kit, see the Kill Hannah website press link (www.killhannah.com)
Advice on submitting your press kit
When submitting a press kit to a music conference showcase committee or to a publication for review, the goal is to get the attention of the person who makes the assignments as well as the attention of the reviewer.
Some people will tell you to do anything that gets attention; including things that are an annoyance or an inconvenience to the person you are trying to reach. If you have inconvenienced or annoyed a person, they will remember you.
We believe that is misguided advice. You want to be remembered for your professionalism, creativity and originality. When you are relying on the goodwill of other people to pass your kit along or give it a good review, it's best to take that attitude that you can't expect someone to make an effort on your behalf if you have inconvenienced them or treated them with something less than respect.
We've provided some suggestions for submitting your press kit, plus examples of what not to do, culled from actual experience.
Here are some suggestions for submitting your press kit:
1) Read and follow the submission directions.
a. Following directions shows that you are interested enough in the publication or conference to read the material provided and follow the process. It makes you look professional. (This can also save you time and money. Some publications have a specific focus and your material might not fit. You won't know this unless you read the policy. For example, ChicagoGigs.com only reviews releases from up-and-comers who are based in Chicago or are on a Chicago-based indie label. We routinely receive CDs from bands that have no relationship to the city and never even play here. These CDs go straight in the garbage.)
Examples of what not to do: forgetting the application form or payment, or asking to "get together" to personally drop off the package, rather than mailing as the directions state. These actions inconvenience the people you are trying to impress.
b. Think through your packaging and make sure it isn't so unusual (large, bulky, complicated, etc.) that it will cause a problem for the receiver.
Example of what not do to: mailing your submission in a big moving box that doesn't fit in the P.O. Box. Our intern Steve picks up all of the MECA showcase applications from the Post Office and once in a while someone will send some oversized box that won't fit in the PO Box. Then Steve has to stand in line at the counter, which usually takes forever. Invariably, when we open it, we find that the press kit could have fit into a 9"x12" envelope and there's no logical reason for why the oversized box was used. Not that something minor like this should ever influence a showcase or review decision, but it is a waste of everyone's time and the band's money. It also makes the band look unprofessional because they obviously don't send out a lot of press kits using these kinds of odd-sized, improvised shipping containers.
2) Be critical of the information you put together and make sure that you can support your claims. Assume professionals who can tell when you're stretching the truth will review your press kit.
a. Include as much factual information as possible. Real facts (credible clubs where you have played, reviews from legitimate publications, awards from credible talent search competitions) carry weight.
If your band doesn't have much history, write a short bio that is creative and interesting. (Example http://www.chicagogigs.com/duenow)
Example of what not to do: using quotes that fans posted on your site or on community sites (we'll just assume these are your friends) or listing very small clubs that any up-and-coming band can book a gig at. These types of things don't impress credible music journalists.
b. Make claims about great talent only if you can support them. Assume the reviewer can easily distinguish the difference between average competence and mastery.
Example of what not to do: making a statement like "our guitarist Dave is a multi-instrumentalist who has mastered guitar, bass and drums." Make sure Dave really has mastered those instruments, otherwise it could be embarrassing when a truly talented bass player reviews your material and points out Dave's shortcomings.
3) When submitting to a publication for a review, you need to consider that not every press kit gets to a reviewer. You need to get the attention of the person opening the press kits and doing the assignments. That person is the first hurdle. (This doesn't really apply to a music conference where every application gets reviewed.) If your kit looks professional, it gives the impression that you know what you are doing, that you are experienced, and it will be worth the reviewer's time to take a look at your material.
Be as creative and original as possible when putting your materials together. Put something unique and useful into your kit, if possible. It's not necessary to "bribe" the person, just aim to be different - in a good way.
Examples of things that have worked:
a. A guy from the West coast got a gig at a prominent Chicago venue on his first try by sending the talent buyer a box full of free movies, candy and other stuff. It was enough to get the talent buyer to listen to his CD - and he liked it enough to book him (it should be noted that the guy worked for a video distribution company, so he got the videos for free).
b. We recently received a press kit that included a DVD. It got played right away because we were curious.
c. Another time we received a squirt gun that tied into the theme of the package. It didn't really impact the decision making process, but everyone remembered the squirt gun.
d. Coffee mugs tend to stick around the office for a while.
4) When submitting a press kit to a publication, personalize the materials - write a slightly different letter to each organization. Do some research and know what each organization does. If you're looking for a review, send it to a particular writer at the publication; this shows that you read the publication and know what kind of music each writer covers.
Example of what not to do:
a. Addressing your letter to the wrong organization (this happens more than you might think).
b. Demanding a review or whining about not getting a review in the past. Most publications get more requests for reviews than they can handle. If you don't get a review in a few months, submit it again, but try a different attention-getting approach.
5) The music is what ultimately matters. None of this advice will do any good if you get to the reviewer, but the music is not written, executed and recorded with a great deal of care and attention.
One last piece of advice: Being an artist requires a tough skin and not everyone is going to like your music. Every now and then even the best artists get a bad review or get turned down for showcase opportunities. If you get a bad review, chalk it up to a character-building experience. Honestly consider what the reviewer had to say to see if there's anything you can learn to improve your music, and then let it rest. The worst thing you can do is go on a rampage against the publication and reviewer - well perhaps even worse is stalking the reviewer (we've had this happen too).
The best way to avoid a bad review is to carefully select the publications to which you submit. Some are known for making fun of bands; others make an effort to write reviews with only constructive criticism. If you submit to the first kind, you're only setting yourself up for a bad experience.
Anyone interested in attending the panels, clinics, workshops and mentoring sessions can purchase a conference registration. Discounts are available for students and for early purchase.
For registration details - click here.
Bands/Artists can submit for showcase opportunities. Showcasing bands/artists receive free conference registrations. Again, please note that the showcase submission deadline is approaching fast - it's 12/31/03!
For showcase details - click here.