This Article Originally Published October 2002


by Valerie De La Cruz

OK, so you've decided to take a positive step toward your goal as a songwriter or artist; you want to check out that music conference you keep getting brochures or email blasts about.

It's time to take the plunge, whether you are a seasoned veteran and have attended them before, or a "newbie" hoping nobody at the conference notices! Here are some steps to take to make sure you get the most out of the reinvigorating and inspirational experience that they always are:

1. Review the promotional materials to determine what the main focus of the conference is; i.e: songwriting, legal issues, performance, and make sure that this is an area you are interested in.

2. Define your goals. Are you going to strengthen some qualities you already have? Gain more knowledge about something technical or legal? To network with others at your level and hopefully move up a notch in your field of expertise? Write them down and refer to them as you determine your schedule. Often, panels or workshops are taking place at the same time and you have to choose between them. If you go with a friend, you can split up and compare notes and resources later.

3. Figure out the overall cost including travel, accommodations, conference fees, etc. Start saving up and realize this is an investment in your profession. You may be able to interest a friend to go and share the expenses of a room.

4. Reserve your room and travel arrangements. Often the conference will have blocks of rooms reserved for the conference at a reduced rate. It is always better to spend a little more and stay right at the hotel where the conference is taking place. A great deal of the networking and connections that take place are during casual times between seminars, and you don't want to waste time in a taxi getting back and forth. You may need to run back up to your room to get another package or CD to give out. They usually have special airfare rates, too. I use www.expedia.com for the best rates and schedules.

5. Now that you are set to go, you need to prepare the materials you will need. Make a checklist and give yourself a few weeks to gather them. Once I left printing out lyric sheets and bios 'til the last minute, and of course, the cartridge on my printer started to act up on a Sunday evening when there were no stores open! I also email things like the bio file and one-sheets to myself so that in a pinch, I can download them at Kinko's or forward them to someone I meet. They are up there in my virtual file cabinet wherever I go.

a. 5-10 full packages including:

1. bios

2. photos

3. one-sheet of several of your reviews and critics' quotations

4. photocopies of great press if you had a photo in print or if it is from a major publication like Billboard. Use the magazine's actual heading on your press sheet to get attention and gain credibility.

5. business card and CONTACT INFORMATION (the most important thing, seemingly obvious, right?)

The packages should be set up so that your name (or band name) and photo are on the front. If you have a CD, using the CD cover on the front of your folder looks very professional too. You want them to quickly identify you when they are digging through a huge pile of packages. Inside, have something visually compelling like a color copy or photo on one side and your bio immediately available on the other. Insert a CD or demo into one of the pockets. I hate to say this, but it's time to bite the bullet if you are still using cassettes and get a CD burner so you can make CD demos tailored to the audience you are trying to reach.

b. Loose extras of all of the above materials in case you need to throw together more packages or don't want the expense of handing out an entire package when selected materials will do.

c. Flyers of your performance time and venue if you are showcasing to hand out and leave all over the place.

d. A stack of business cards. It is worth it to spend a little extra on these, as they are truly your calling card, and will remind someone of who you are. I always like to have a photo on it, and color stands out. An unusual layout is important, and if you are a band, have a graphic designer (not your cousin's girlfriend) design a logo that will identify you. The most important thing here is to make it legible! A card that you need a magnifying glass to read already makes your contact frustrated. Business card basics 101: NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE NUMBER, EMAIL, WEBSITE.

e. Plaster your website on all of your materials. Everything you hand out should have all your contact information. This seems obvious, but how many CDs have ended up in the trash can because no one could find the envelope or cover it came in? A website is the most important business tool you can have. Busy industry people are inundated with wanna-be and would-be artists. They love to peruse your site in the privacy of their own office/home and get the important info at their own pace. Please do not have frustrating extra plug-ins, etc. that slow down your site viewing, just to say you have the latest whiz-bang technology. A slow-loading site is one that will not be viewed as they go on to the next one.

6. Take advantage of early check-in, arrive the night before so you are rested and don't have to fight a crowd. I always plan to stay one more day if possible too so that I can really enjoy the last day and night, which is when you are really feeling connected to the other participants and start making plans to get together for follow ups or collaborations.

7. Get the materials upon registration and go back to your room and plot out your schedule. Leave time for regrouping; non-stop seminars can be exhausting.

8. Networking is the name of the game. You will meet so many people that you won't remember them all when you leave, and the same of them remembering you. The single most important thing you can do is exchange and collect business cards. Write a note to yourself about what you talked about, or if you told the person you would like to follow up. I refrain sometimes from giving packages out with the throng that accosts the panelists after their presentation, and instead collect their card and ask if I can send it along in a week or two. This again separates out your stuff from the crowd. But use your judgement; seize the moment. If you have the opportunity to hand deliver a package to the producer you never thought you'd be lucky enough to meet, take it!

9. Practice remembering names; it will go a long way to be able to address someone you met by their name. Everyone wants to feel valued.

10. Find out where everyone is hanging out after the sessions. Definitely go to the "mixers" to talk to people in a more casual atmosphere. Sometimes there are informal "jams" or guitar-pulls late into the night where you hear some of the most compelling music. I ended up booking someone to share a bill with me after being astonished at her beautiful song during one of these sessions.

11. In the question-and-answer session that normally follows a presentation, be conscious of not wasting the time of the panelists or other attendees with your personal request. (I heard recently and saw many eyes roll when a participant used his chance at the microphone to go into microscopic detail about the steps he had taken to get his demo played on radio, naming deejays, etc.!). Ask yourself if the question you have would benefit everyone, such as clarifying a point, or if it would be better to get to the speaker later privately.

12. Take advantage of signing up for one-on-one critique sessions. These are invaluable and educational, not to mention making a personal connection with someone in the industry that may be able to help you. Here is where you can pick the brains of the experts. And if you ask for a critique, take it graciously; don't challenge the reviewer's advice or become defensive. This is how we learn and progress. You may not agree entirely with them (it is, after all, one person's opinion), but there is probably a grain of truth in there.

13. If showcasing, have your cards and demo CDs at the stage readily available for people to take. You never know when Miles Copeland will be in the audience!

14. OK, it's over and you are overwhelmed, but in a good way. When you get home, the real work begins, unless you were signed to a recording contract right on the spot.

a. Follow up with thank you notes to the organizers and panelists of the conference.

b. Organize the business cards you collected and assign action steps to them.

c. Put the packages together and send them to the people you said that you would (within a week or ten days while it is still fresh). Tailor them now that you know what they are looking for.

d. Keep a log of your contacts, what you did to follow up, and then call in about two weeks to follow up on the packages you sent out.

e. Schedule those co-writing or demo sessions you connected with.

f. Order the publications and/or resources that you discovered.

Good luck and enjoy the experience!

TAXI Member Valeria De La Cruz has won numerous songwriting awards including First Prize in the USA Songwriting Competition, Country Category, 1997 and 1998 Songwriter of the Year from the Northeast CMA, and 1999's First Prize in the Great American Song Contest (Country). Look for one of her songs, "I.M.Me," on BMG/Jive Records' newest artist, Britt Cleary's fall CD release in 2002. E-mail Valerie at: GirlSingr1@aol.com  /  www.valeriedelacruz.com


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