Today, any kid with a laptop and a dream can record, promote and sell his or her own album. And in Portland, everyone seems to be doing just that. In the past decade and a half, the meteoric rise of digital technology has allowed artists to reclaim music from the biz. Right? Or are there fundamental limitations to DIY? The pre-Internet recording industry may have been cocky and bloated, but it was still stocked fulla professionals with the expertise to turn a catchy chorus into a pop-culture phenomenon. Can a kid with a laptop really compete? MusicfestNW aims to find out.
To that end, we've cajoled, bribed and threatened an elite gang of industry insiders into joining us for two free, open-to-the-public panel discussions, as well as an open forum. But first, we'll be screening the new Kurt Cobain documentary About a Son—quite apt, considering that Nirvana's mid-'90s demise coincided with the emergence of such DIY technology. Then, in two simultaneous panel discussions (followed by a big, open chat), our panelists—whose combined expertise spans the entire life cycle of a record, from recording to promotion—will try to pinpoint where artist and industry meet today.
THE CD QUESTION
The following experts will tackle the limitations of DIY recording, production and distribution, from sound quality to exposure, in an effort to give Portland's working musicians a realistic idea of just how far they can go on their own.
Paul Anthony: Founder and CEO of licensing and branding company Rumblefish—which counts Adidas, Red Bull, Pabst, Umpqua Bank, HBO and 20th Century Fox among its clients. Anthony has also manned the boards working production for Grammy winner Sarah McLachlan and king of funk George Clinton.
Eric Elbogen: Elbogen makes records in his bedroom and releases them under the name Say Hi to Your Mom via his own Euphobia Records. He frequently tours North America and Europe. He also contemplates whether 30 is too old to be doing such things. He hopes to come to a conclusion before turning 31.
Tim Ellis: Founder of Kung Fu Bakery recording studio, Ellis has been a professional musician since the age of 13. At Kung Fu Bakery, he's worked with the Decemberists, Tegan and Sara, Pink Martini and the Shins.
Michele Flannery: Manager for YouTube Music, Flannery took the leap into video from programming at Radio@AOL. She's also directed several "terrestrial" community radio stations.
Wes Howerton: As one of Barsuk Records' main men, Howerton oversees radio promotion and marketing strategies for bands like Nada Surf, the Long Winters, Viva Voce, Menomena and Mates of State.
Dylan Magierek: Magierek co-owns Badman Recording Co. and Type Foundry Studio; he's worked with artists such as Hayden, the Innocence Mission and the Bell, and issued vinyl releases by Low, Sigur Rós and My Morning Jacket. His production and mixing credits include M. Ward, the Gossip, Norfolk & Western and Spoon.
THE BAND QUESTION
Here, our panelists will address the business of music, attempting to sketch a map through the confusing world of "representation." What should bands expect from managers, bookers and publicists? Is such outside help necessary at all?
Johnny Beach: A talent-buyer and booker for the Big Apple's legendary Bowery Ballroom, Beach has worked with acts like Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and Panda Bear; he's also booked for cutting-edge NYC venue the Mercury Lounge.
Ben Dickey: Founder of Constant Artists, the L.A.-based management and booking firm that reps Spoon, Eric Bachmann, Explosions in the Sky and Mates of State, among others.
Amy Maxwell: Co-founder of Patrick Lamb Productions, Maxwell manages Portland saxophonist Patrick Lamb and sits on the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival's board.
Dawn Pierson: Pierson is a representative for Bigshot Touring, a Portland-based booking agency with a roster that includes the Decemberists, the Walkmen, the National and Brian Jonestown Massacre. Prior to moving to Portland in 2004, Pierson spent 12 years as a music-video commissioner and art director at record labels including Elektra, Island Def Jam and London-Sire.
Matt Wright: Founder of Matt Wright PR and co-owner of the Holocene Music record label (the Shaky Hands, Swan Island, Alela Diane), Wright also manages critically acclaimed Sub Pop artist Blitzen Trapper.
THE BIG QUESTION
After the first two panel discussions (which will take place simultaneously), panelists and public alike will have the chance to debate the fundamentals of self-driven music in an open, town hall-style forum. We'll ask where DIY is now and where it's going. We'll discuss the technology-enabled rise of indie music and how it's changed the industry. We'll expect definitive answers—or not. Either way, it's worth talking about, right?
Steve Fisk: An experienced producer and engineer, Fisk has worked with elite Northwest bands like Low, Beat Happening, Negativland and Nirvana. He's also recorded over a dozen records alone and with former bands Pigeonhead, Pell Mell and Cut Out. And Fisk co-wrote the score to About a Son with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard.
Ben London: Executive director of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences' Pacific Northwest chapter, London also consults for the Seattle mayor's Music Advisory Board. As the former senior curator of public programs for Seattle's Experience Music Project, he's produced video with more than 150 musicians and industry professionals. He was also the associate producer of the Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.
Connie Wohn: Marketing director for MusicfestNW, Wohn is a music industry multi-tasker. She founded Portland's premiere DJ collective, Stylus503, and lends her event-promotion skills to nonprofits like World Up, Jefferson High School's "Hip Hop 101," Willie Mae Rock Camp and Portland's Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls.
Maggie Vail: Vail is a musician and activist who's worked at Kill Rock Stars for over 13 years and is currently the label's vice president. She was also one of the original organizers of the first Ladyfest in Olympia, Wash., and helped to assemble Bands Against Bush. She's played in over 10 bands in the past 15 years and is currently a member of both Leti Angel and Romancing.
About a Son