News Column

Rockers mingle with industry professionals at music conference

September 8, 2013


Sept. 08--Emerging bands and seasoned music industry professionals arrived in Milwaukee this weekend for the third annual Yellow Phone Music Conference, a boutique Midwestern variation of the must-attend music industry networking event South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

A few highlights:

Lessons learned: By day Friday and Saturday, panels at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, featuring band managers, talent bookers, publicists, entertainment lawyers, reps from Virgin Records and Elektra Records, and locals like Radio Milwaukee program director Mark Keefe, offered some blunt, beneficial advice -- often to rooms overfilled with attendees hoping to make some money, and maybe even a career, in music. A few takeaways for musicians: develop an interesting story to stand out to media, save money by building a local and regional audience first before trekking out on national tours, don't treat your social media channels as a one-way promotional tool, and establish concrete goals with a detailed, six-month strategy.

O Canada: Despite its small scale, Yellow Phone was, technically speaking, an international event. Through a partnership with Canadian music marketing company Audio Blood, approximately 20 Canadians were on hand to participate in panel discussions and network, with five Canadian acts -- the Noble Thiefs, Mise en Scene, Deanna Devore, Poor Young Things and the Balconies -- performing at the free evening showcases.

So why come all this way? "We do all the big events like South by Southwest," said Tim Jones, a Yellow Phone panelist and co-founder of Canadian indie label Pipe & Hat. "They'll have thousands of shows. You have to fight to get people out to see your band. Yellow Phone has 40 shows, and most of the people I've talked to have said they're coming to see my band. I'd love it if there were more of these everywhere."

Pingpong and power pop: Yellow Phone hosted 32 free band performances at four bars along Water St. prompting an interesting side effect: there were people there who knew nothing about Yellow Phone. That was clearly the case Friday night at table tennis bar SPiN Milwaukee during Chicago band Ryan Powers & the Secret Weapons' set. Powers' power pop band wasn't all that potent, but it provided a live soundtrack for some parties of pingpong players working on their backhand.

Band on the street: The space at Fire on Water was so tiny, Detroit-based pop punk band Kaleido couldn't even fit the whole band on the stage. The solution? Bass player Cody Morales, 27, rocked out by himself on Water St., just outside the front window. "You've got a breeze, you've got some people," Morales said. "It's like I'm busking here, but with a band."

Testing one, two: "Sing a song already," a patron rudely barked at Nashville-based Modoc at the Milwaukee Ale House Friday night. The comment made frontman Clint Culberson visually nervous, as did no doubt the awkward, never-ending sound of "check, check, check" coming from the musicians as they tried to get past spotty sound problems. But by the time Culberson did sing a song already, Modoc sparked a little dance party with its King-of-Leon-like blues rock, with ladies hoisting beer, a gray-bearded gent in a "Northern Exposure" shirt getting down and another guy in a blazer leaping across the dance floor like a delusional ballerina.



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