For musicians in a city without much music-industry presence -- like Pittsburgh -- it's an uphill battle to get your work into the hands of people who can help guide and advance your career. Which is where music conferences come in handy. While the largest, most competitive events are South By Southwest (Austin, Texas) and CMJ (New York), there are myriad smaller, regional conferences, geared toward newer musicians. Most focus on education, through panel discussions and lectures, and include networking opportunities and showcases by selected groups.
Periodically, we get a glimmer of the action here in Pittsburgh, such as the Undercurrents monthly free mini-conferences a couple of years back, and other informal forums. Now Mike Moscato, who served as Undercurrents' regional director for the Pittsburgh events, is launching the day-long Sardonyx Music Conference, with the slogan, "Bringin' the Biz to the 'Burgh."
"It's something that I really love to do -- I love the educational aspect," says Moscato. "Especially in this town, I think people could use it a lot, because this kind of thing doesn't happen that often around here." Despite a few naysayers, he says he's been pleased with the support from local music businesspeople as well as Los Angeles label execs. "They've been really open and helpful with me."
The educational portion, which starts at noon, includes panel discussions on music promotion, record labels vs. DIY, licensing and publishing, songwriting and touring. It kicks off with a "state of the music business" overview, moderated by Moscato.
Many of the panelists hail from Pittsburgh, including Dwayne Muhammad (producer of the annual Hip Hop Awards), promoter Brian Drusky, Jason Myers (of metal band Icarus Witch and Cleopatra Records A&R) and others. There's also Jim Pitulski, managing director for the primarily metal label Blistering Records, who has extensive experience in music marketing, A&R and management. (Pitulski and his then-label Inside Out Music America were the subjects of a 2007 feature I wrote on the future of progressive music in Pittsburgh.)
The out-of-towners -- people who might be a little harder to reach out to on your own -- include Jeff Blue, A&R for Sony/BMG/Jive Records, music supervisor Don Grierson and several others (see the lineup and brief bios at www.sardonyxproductions.com).
"I've only been to big [conferences] -- I haven't been to too many small ones like this," says Moscato. "It being smaller, I think [attendees] will be able to network with these panelists a lot more. I hope they find that beneficial."
After the panel discussions and dinner, the showcases start at 8 p.m., divided into songwriters (such as Joy Ike and Ben Hardt), hip hop (including Commonwealth Family and Kellee Maize) and a dozen rock bands, ranging from newcomers to more established groups (Anthony Rankin Band, Kill the Drama, Mandrake Project). Each will play three songs, using a backline. Moscato says he was looking for a certain quality in the selected performers, but "the first people that jumped on it" received the most consideration.
The event's $60 ticket price -- which includes dinner, the showcase and after-party -- may seem steep to some, especially those who aren't performing. If you're on the fence, you might consider all the things you've spent $60 on that haven't exactly helped your music career -- the pleather pants, the bar tab at your last gig. You're gonna spend $60 on paper towels this month anyway.
Sardonyx Music Conference. Noon-midnight. Sat., May 30. Altar Bar, 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. $60 ($70 at the door/$50 students/$5 for showcase only). 21 and over, or with parent or guardian. 412-263-2877 or www.sardonyxproductions.com