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17th Millennium Music Conference Recap, Part 2
February 22, 2013 - Jim Price
The 17th annual Millennium Music Conference took place last weekend at the Radisson Penn Harris Convention Center in Camp Hill, and this is my recap of the conference’s second and final day, Saturday.
The business portion of the conference continued on Saturday, with more panels, seminars, mentoring sessions, the trade show and a unique finale.
Again, I spent most of the day staffing the Pennsylvania Musician Magazine table and acoustic stage at the trade show, taking in various acoustic performers along the way. I also got to attend one of the business panel discussions, “Future of the Music Industry for Independent Artists.” Staffing this panel were Dr. E. Michael Harrington of Berklee School of Music and Lebanon Valley Community College, Tony Robinson of Holland Entertainment, ReverbNation cofounder Lou Plaia, and Lawrence Gelburd of the Wharton University Small Business Development Center. Through this discussion, the panelists gave musicians advice on how to target potential audiences, market and brand their music to get it heard, recognized and sold. The panelists acknowledged that the music industry has drastically changed with the digital age and consolidation of the industry. Achieving the major label record deal is no longer the be-all-end-all for music industry success, and doesn’t guarantee that performers will achieve superstardom or album sales. The concept of the album or full-length CD as the best format for selling music is being relegated into the rear view mirror by digital downloads, music streaming and “the cloud.” Some of the advice offered to musicians by the panel included finding their own niche or angle to promote and market their music from – a niche that sets them apart from the rest of the pack. Gelburd related a story of a musician who marketed his creations as “music for dentist’s offices,” and ended up selling a lot of music – to dentists. Musicians were also advised to study and determine what customers want from music, and how to satisfy that need; and to envision where and in what situations they can envision their music being heard, and position their music so it can be accessed and available for those situations.
Traffic was considerably heavier at the trade show through Saturday, and I was able to see numerous performances on the Pennsylvania Musician acoustic stage. As I arrived, York-based singer/songwriter Dani Hoy was entertaining as she performed numbers from her CD “TropiGal,” including the title song and “Meet Me on the Boardwalk.” Informed by the vacation-themed folk/rock of Jimmy Buffett, Hoy’s songs were upbeat and bright, embracing themes of happiness and good times. Middleburg-based singer/songwriter Chris Whitmer then demonstrated a dark-toned style of acoustic folk through such original songs as “My Birthday Too” and “Mighty Thin Line.”
Then, with a brief lull in showcasing performers stepping up to perform on the acoustic stage, Pennsylvania Musician Magazine founder Whitey Noll – recently recovered following a battle with cancer – stepped to the stage armed with his ululele, and played several selections, including the title track from his 2000 CD “Between the Curtains and the Clouds.” As he performed, percussion vendor Fredrico – himself a recent cancer survivor – joined in on hand percussion from across the room, and the two musicians soon were jamming alongside one another to provide a sentimental highlight to the day.
Chris Whitmer then returned to the stage with fellow musician, Blue Knob native Tom Wentz; introducing their new duet collaboration, Lincoln Screws. After a member of northeastern PA’s Tombasco Band did a couple of numbers live, Harrisburg roots/blues favorite Nate Myers and Pete Netznik of Nate Myers & the Aces brought the trade show floor to full attention with their captivating performance of two soulful blues-based numbers, “It’s My Music” and “Chuck Taylor World.” Accompanied by Troy Walls, New Jersey singer/songwriter Kelly Carvin performed two songs, including a country-flavored number. After performances by two members of Williamsport’s Treehouse and Maryland’s Phairen, Delaware-based singer and keyboardist Noelle Picara dazzled onlookers with her clever song hooks and edgy lyrics.
The business portion of the conference closed with a new twist this year. In past years, a feature called “Smash or Trash” would feature a panel of music industry professionals doing spot reviews of unmarked recordings submitted beforehand, assessing and critiquing the recordings to determine if in fact they could be a “smash” hit on radio or if they needed more work and development. Instead of recorded music, this year’s edition – “Smash or Trash Live” – critiqued a live performance instead. During the course of the weekend, one band – young Harrisburg modern rockers Observe the 93rd – were selected to perform a 15-20 minute live set, which would then be critiqued by three music industry judges. The group – guitarist/vocalist Derek Henry, keyboard/vocalist Elliott 2T’s Hertzler, bass player Tyler Davis, and drummer Dylan Zepp – did a high-powered set of melodic hard modern rock originals, with a crowd of fans, friends, family and conference attendees cheering them on. Following their performance, conference director John Harris introduced each of the panelists: Jason Rubal of Seventh Wave Studio, Tony Robinson of Holland Entertainment and music attorney Marc T. Levin. All three panelists gave Observe the 93rd glowing reviews for their constant stage energy and intensity. A few minor suggestions were offered; Robinson thought the group’s overall stage wardrobe could look more the part of a rock show rather than street clothes, and Levin suggested that both singers should engage and maintain more direct eye contact with their audience.
With the business portion of the Millennium Music Conference concluded, the Saturday night showcases around the Harrisburg area remained. I first headed to Gullifty’s Underground in Camp Hill, arriving as Harrisburg’s Gypsy Caravan was under way. Since their formation in 2009, Gypsy Caravan has carved their own style and sound, melodic rock informed by elements of blues and jazz. Singer Jen Brickner offers a distinctive voice that recalls both Grace Slick and Chryssie Hynde; bold with touches of soul and intensity. She, guitarists Dave Nott and Ed Nesbit, bassist Ed Ulerick and drummer Alex Lazarus spotlighted their original song arsenal; including several new numbers and one of their established originals, “Wish You Well.”
Next was one of the “buzz” bands of this year’s Millennium Music Conference, a rock band from Greece called My Excuse. Appearing at Millennium as part of their American spring tour, My Excuse quickly captured the attention of the Gullifty’s audience with a clear, concise and polished melodic modern rock sound and bright presentation. Singer Steven Triant was friendly and cordial with the audience, even joking about the venue’s name, Gullifty’s (“I thought they were saying ‘Ulysses!’”). My Excuse dazzled with various numbers off their new Ron St. Germain-produced CD “All I’ve Become”; such as “In Disguise,” the robust “Smoke a Cigarette,” “Silent Revolution,” “Always Hurts the Most” and more. For many observers including this one, My Excuse was the biggest discovery from this year’s conference.
Following My Excuse was York/Baltimore-based modern rockers Coal, who also exhibited a strong, melody-geared rock sound. Lead singer/guitarist Dal Dawn, guitarist Jay Cotter, bassist Alan Adams and drummer Doug Wolfe delivered a classic-rooted rock sound with catchy melodies and relatable, reality-themed lyrics about life and the changing world. Some of their song selections included “Shrink the World,” “The Edge,” “Better Man” and “Cry Wolf.”
After Coal’s set, I hit traveled north on Routes 11 and 15 to catch the remainder of the showcase at Tubby’s Nightclub in Duncannon. Taking the stage shortly after my arrival was a band I have experienced before, Pottsville-based party-rock juggernaut Gas Station Disco. Recently issuing their first EP, “Dance Floored,” Gas Station Disco spotlighted songs from that disc along with select cover material. Featuring founding Breaking Benjamin bassist Jonathan Price, former Poptart Monkeys drummer Rob Hampton, Mia Mania alumnus Jason Dumm on lead vocals and new lead guitarist Mike Reed; Gas Station Disco’s original sound blends modern rock and pop, infusing elements of electronica, hip-hop and funk into a driving sound that packs dance floors. Gas Station Disco quickly accomplished that feat this night, keeping Tubby’s dance floor occupied with original songs from the CD such as “Dancefloor” and “The Right Time,” plus hit covers such as Fun’s “We Are Young” and more.
Closing out this showcase were local Harrisburg area rockers Badd Seed. This group has a Blair County connection; guitarist Troy Wheland is a Tyrone product and former member of Bak2Bay6. He, singer Dusty Witherspoon, bassist Brad Combs and drummer Ron Mantinchek generated a hard modern rock sound, introducing several original compositions and select covers. Witherspoon worked the stage and eventually the room, confidently stepping out to the audience and drawing their attention to the action onstage. Badd Seed rocked with original songs such as “Wide Open” and “Let Me Run,” along with modern rock covers from Redlight King, A Perfect Circle, Seether and Rage Against the Machine.
This brought my 2013 Millennium Music Conference experience to a close. Once again, Millennium provided up to date information about the music industry and its ever-changing state. It helped musicians better comprehend where the music business is now, and how best to survive and thrive in the current music climate. It provided plentiful networking and learning opportunities, and chances for friends to touch base and meet new friends in the industry. And it again opened eyes and ears to exciting new bands and performers; and – hot on the heels of former Millennium showcasing group Halestorm picking up their first Grammy Award – provided hope to participants that it is still possible to build a successful music career, one that might even culminate in a Grammy Award.
York-based songstress Dani Hoy, performing at the Millennium Music Conference trade show acoustic stage.