Editorial: TUMF and the New Music Industry

Toronto Urban Music Festival Industry Conference 2010
A Must Read Guide for All Artists!

by Aaron Binder

While the Toronto Urban Music Festival has come and gone for another year, the closing weekend offered up a new event designed to promote communication between artists, label reps, promoters and established acts. The TUMF Industry Conference was held in an official capacity for the first time this year and it brought some top-notch panellists to the Fairmont Royal-York Hotel for two afternoons of industry insight.

The Urban music scene in Toronto has been running strong for quite a few years now, but TUMF planners Phil Vassell and Donna McCurvin noticed a disconnect between much of the younger talent and what has become a very tumultuous industry in recent years. The gap needed to be filled and the TUMF organizers decided that they would be the ones to help bridge that gap.

TUMF designed 8 panel discussions that ranged from artist management to the various stages of social networking as it applies to musicians and the industry. Each panel employed 3-4 experienced representatives from every facet of the industry to discuss their expertise in each field. I was able to attend 3 of the panels and learn about the state of urban music as it stands in Toronto today.

The Fairmont Royal York opened in 1929 to great fanfare and celebration. As part of the Grand Railway Hotel network, the Fairmont was designed to accommodate a burgeoning rail system and its many passengers during a major population boom in Canada. The Fairmont is also the hotel of choice for British Royalty when visiting Toronto. With such lofty accolades, it seemed fitting that the first official TUMF Industry Conference was held in the hallowed halls of the grand hotel. Present and potentially future Toronto hip-hop royalty were present and actively contributing to the discussion.

While Vassell and McCurvin had the intent of unity, it is wildly obvious that there is much discourse in the industry. Newcomers like Kaysha Lee are just happy to be in attendance and take it all in, but artists that have been in the scene longer are attempting to spur change. One of the more heated discussions going on is funding for urban artists and how to best approach it. Russell Kelly of Canada Council, Julia Train from FACTOR and Beverly McKee from MuchFact were all present to discuss funding from their end of the industry.

Before long it would turn into a circular discussion, everyone taking a seat on the floor to air any concerns. The major issue that popped up time after time was that bureaucracy was choking artists on one end; too much paperwork, ill defined guidelines in some cases and difficult communication lines. On the other hand, funding organizations require this type of screening to ensure that only the highest quality artists are able to access programs like FACTOR, not only to increase awareness of their organization but to continue the success of high quality Canadian music. It is always difficult to meet on common ground when both sides are right.

The issue is that in many cases funding is available, but many young artists aren’t sure how to approach acquiring it. The panel, while far from resolute, did provide some great insight into how FACTOR grants work, what is available and who can apply. For more information, click here – http://www.factor.ca/

From the 360 to Self-Promotion

While Friday night’s keynote speaker was touting the value of the 360 Record Deal in current times (as evidenced by Toronto golden-boy Drake), Saturday played host to the true independent artist, how to self-promote and utilize social media to build up a media empire. Speaking metaphorically, social media has the same abilities of college radio; the ability to build hype, promote new artists and push established underground artists into the limelight of commercial media. While social media’s ability to promote new artists is astounding, the most important aspect of the medium is the interactivity offered between fans and artist.

The ability to communicate with not just fans but other industry personnel properly is an asset that can’t be counted in currency but adds value to any artists’ brand. Before social media, an artist would either need to hire a booking agent or tour manager to travel out on tour. With Social media, it is now possible to book a tour completely online through your inbox with the connections you have made through your social media presence. One great example of this is Magnolious. They have embarked on tours across 5 continents by booking themselves through their inbox. The value of this? Cash. Quality. Instead of spending cash making connections through a booking agency it is much more cost effective to utilize your own interpersonal skills and inbox to book your own tour.

While Magnolious was not on the panel for this topic, there was a wealth of knowledge flowing from Moderator Rez, host on Flow 93.5, DJ Lissa Monet, soul-artist AKA Subliminal and social networking star Famous. Where Magnolious may be popular outside of Ontario, the panellists have all created an interactive experience for their fans and anyone hoping to contact them.

At one point, Lissa Monet had the opportunity to explain how a number of her tour gigs come from the connections she has made on her Myspace and Facebook pages. On the flipside, being a Toronto native, she has also been able to help promoters hook in with touring artists from other cities. The ability to build an interactive network of friends across the world is key; making sure you keep in contact with them is even more important.

To maximize the assets of social media, it is integral to learn how to use the networks. While most artists are on one form or another of social media, often it is misused; data misconstrued and the quality of most networks, while large from a physical standpoint is low in the perspective of quality. It is one thing to have 50,000 friends on a Myspace page that means nothing, however, if only 2% of them ever visit your site. Famous was ever vigilant to expand on this thought more than once and it truly is one of the most important parts that can help build a high quality network.

There are more musicians in the world than there are restaurant jobs, which mean that if you’re in a group setting, at least one member is probably the guaranteed stay-at-home caretaker of all things marketing for the group. While the intent is self-promotion (and let’s be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that), it is usually bungled in a way that turns off new listeners from actually tuning in.

The perfect example is the event invitation. It can be used as a great indicator of how popular a concert might be, it might also be the perfect way to turn fans off of ever wanting to hear from you again, or even worse, taking themselves completely out of your news loop by de-friending you.
How often have you seen this: “AWESOME SHOW THIS WEEKEND!!!! ROLLY’S PUB!!!!! AWESOME BANDS!!!! ONLY 5 DOLLARS!!!!!!!”

Not only is it an eyesore, it often has the exact opposite intent and will only help create a lack of interest in any future event. One of the most important points any artist should learn when they’re posting an event on social media is to take their finger away from the caps lock button, stop shouting at everyone. How awesome would it be to have some dude with a megaphone walking down the street yelling at everyone he sees to go check out a concert? About as awesome as having someone spamming your inbox every other day for that same ‘huge’ concert coming up this weekend. The quality of your message is far more important than the frequency and quantity of it.

In a similar vein, the quality of your audience is integral. Famous was once again adamant that you need to build a quality network before you will actually see any kind of return. While Uncle Joey might add a person to your friend count, is he ever going to add anything to your bottom line? Is Uncle Joey the kind of guy that’s going to head out to every single one of your shows and creep everyone out by starting every conversation with “Yeah…I’m with the band.” And then unsuccessfully try to pick them up? You probably don’t want him there. When you are choosing your friends, they should be adding you 90% of the time instead of the other way around. As mentioned earlier, it looks great to 50000 friends, but are they high quality? Is your message actually being read before the delete button is pressed?

If your friends aren’t interested in your message, you are attempting to appeal to the wrong demographic. Fear not, there are ways to bring up the quality of your friends list. Incentivize. Offer free downloads or make a video about the show instead of just posting the event. Just talking to them is enough in a lot of cases. It shows you’re actually interested in your fan-base. By bringing up the quality of your friend list, you can begin to target your message a lot better and receive higher and higher quality response rates.

According to Famous, part of creating the right fan-base is tracking who is viewing your site. Platforms like Google Analytics and bit.ly are great tracking devices which allow you to see who is clicking where, how many hits you receive and where they are coming from. Analytics even allows you to create strategies and goals to optimize the current and new hits you receive. He also brought up a great point about using humour. He noted that whenever he twitters a new track or video link, he’ll use humour to announce it instead of saying “New exclusive” or “hot new track” to get more people to click the link.

What you put into your social media is also important, cut and dry will not help optimize what you are trying to do. If you add personality to your networks, you will attract more people because they are seeing a glimpse into what is important to you as an artist. Chances are that most of your fans and listeners will connect with what you’re promoting outside of music too. If you’ve seen an interesting link that might not even be related to your project, you may want to consider posting it if it is something you believe in or happens to be humourous without alienating your audience.

Social Media is a huge topic and statistics have shown that it isn’t anywhere near saturation, so as an artist this means that you have the ability to maximize your use of Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and any other networks you feel comfortable with to bring in new fans and increase the value of their interactions and experiences with your brand.

To connect with the panellists from this particular discussion, you can look them up on Twitter:


Festivals and Tours

Listen up artists and bands because this is the other area that you really need to know about. It is very hard to become successful right now without touring, especially considering that revenue streams are becoming closely related to touring whereas before it would have been more closely related to album sales.
Neil Forester is a partner with Substance Group and takes care of a number of their major tours and festivals. Recently he set up national tours for The Game, Drake and many other well-known artists. His expertise is some of the best in the country and Substance Group is well known for promoting high quality concerts that don’t leave any margin for disappointment.

When it comes to booking your tours, you probably won’t have much cash to throw around and do a ton of traditional promotion. You will need to figure out how you can play an event that people will be at without spending the money to get them there. One major avenue that a lot of successful artists start with are weekly and monthly showcases. Most cities have promoters that throw these events and they are always looking for new talent.

One of the most lucrative options is the college/university circuit. According to Neil, the student councils that put the events together are designed to spend money, for you this means that you will get paid well if you negotiate properly and have any level of notoriety. The best part about this type of show is that if your performance is well received, you will probably be asked to play again and the student council may even recommend you to other colleges and universities around the country.

Be professional. Your reputation is all you have to sell before you gain a fan-base at each stop on your tour and if you ruin that reputation before stepping on stage, no promoter from that area will invite you back. Being on tour is fun, so is drinking, getting trashed and partying like rockstars. However, partying like a rockstar is not exactly how you see it on TV or in Motley Crue documentaries. Until trashing a hotel room actually becomes a positive thing for your image, be very careful with how you handle yourself.

Ontario Arts Council actually supports touring acts; they will pay you to play if you meet certain criteria. If you check out the National and International Touring program you can learn more. Presenter/Producer Projects is another program that is less known where you have the ability to get paid to rehearse if you have two or more collaborators on a project.

Touring and Festivals are both important ways to get noticed but a really important way of getting noticed is your fan-base. Are you maximizing them to their largest potential? Get them talking, once you know you have a high-quality network, ask them to promote for you. Get them to send emails to promoters in their local city. Since the internet will probably garner you fans outside of your homebase, this is a lot easier than it sounds. Once a promoter receives a few emails, they may even invite you out instead of the other way around.

Larger tours can be more difficult to attach yourself to, but once again, if you can gain buzz, and this is one topic Neil was adamant on, you may be invited to open for a major artist as local support. How cool would it be to see your name on the same bill as Pennywise or The Roots? It could actually be easier than you think. Find out who the promoters are for bands that your style would match and get to know them. Don’t harass them, but whenever you have some cool news coming down the pipeline, let them know. Keeping in contact with your contacts is integral if you want to keep your name in the top of their mind.

There is support out there for artists looking to tour, while it may be difficult to access, it can be worth applying for. If you plan properly you can tour while making a profit as well, the key is to never lose scope of exactly what you are accomplishing. It is easy to gauge a tour on a system that may be completely out of line with your actual resources so be very careful how you plan.

Parting Remarks

The opportunity to sit in on the TUMF Industry Conference was incredibly valuable and the conference performed exactly in the way it was meant to for many of the artists in attendance; the puzzle is still on the table, but the pieces are coming together far more easily than before.

The collective knowledge espoused on those in attendance was valuable beyond measure, every topic completely relevant to the current state of not just urban music, but musicians in general. After the success of the first Industry Conference and seeing how many people it brought out, there is no doubt that next year will be even bigger and better. If you’re in the music industry, whether its punk, rock or R&B, mark it down on your calendar for 2011, this is an event that nobody should miss.


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