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Music Marathon Seeks Next Big Thing

November 11, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ If an athletic marathon is 26 miles long, what exactly is a music marathon?

Spread over four days, the College Music Journal’s annual Music Marathon presented over 1,000 bands performing live, 17 film premieres and 93 panel discussions. All of it was attended by more than 8,000 registrants representing all sectors of the music industry and college radio.

From rookie program directors at small schools to veteran record label executives, almost everyone found something useful _ and that’s not just free CDs and magazines.

The panels covered everything from on-the-road touring horror stories to new promotional strategies for major and independent labels, to genre-specific discussions on the state of heavy metal, hip-hop and electronic dance music.

At night, attendees packed clubs around the city to check out established acts, overseas curiosities from Japan, Holland and Sweden, and dozens of unsigned bands eager to land a record deal.

The scope of the conference represented the eclectic world of college music, which has expanded since the days of guitar-centric bands like U2, R.E.M and the Police.

Since the multiplatinum success of Nirvana, major labels have looked to the college charts as a barometer of new tastes and trends and as a testing ground for younger bands.

At the same time, hundreds of independent labels rely on the college airwaves as a crucial outlet for their acts, with commercial radio stations increasingly limiting their playlists to guaranteed hits.

Today’s college radio stations are a patchwork of specialty music shows and styles. In this crowded marketplace, getting bands heard is a challenge, but translating radio spins to sales can be even tougher. Several panels advocated using the Internet as a way to get around traditional marketplace structures.

``Retail is dead,″ said Paul Stark from Minneapolis’ Twin/Tone records. ``There’s no reason to spend thousands on pumping the retail market.″

Stark was one of several speakers on the .Com Before the Storm: Is Digital Downloading in Everyone’s Future? panel.

Stark sees digital distribution of music over the Internet as a necessary means of survival for smaller labels that can no longer afford the costs inherent in manufacturing CDs and cassettes. Plus, larger retail chains will no longer stock low-selling artists, Stark said. Digital distribution has the potential to put music directly into the consumer’s hand without having to go to a store.

Stark is pairing with California-based Liquid Audio, a company focused on distributing CD-quality music over the Internet, which was one of many high-tech outfits at CMJ.

Two Web sites, CDnow.com and Amazon.com, offered their services to smaller bands hoping to sell their CDs on the Internet.

Billboard magazine advertised its Billboard Talent Net Web site, an online showcase for new artists that promotes their music to industry professionals and music enthusiasts.

Technology’s influence on music was apparent in many of the nighttime shows during the Nov. 4-7 conference. The opening night party focused more on DJ performances than live bands, with some acts blurring the lines between both.

British producers Coldcut performed from two laptop computers with their music synchronized to video clips. One nightclub offered four floors of DJs representing techno, drum and bass, house, big beat and other genres of the international electronic dance scene.

However, the Music Marathon’s meat and potatoes was based on live bands, and rock fans had hundreds of gigs they could attend. The Cardigans, Afghan Whigs, Morphine and Sunny Day Real Estate were some of the better-known bands. Also performing: The Donnas, a quartet of female rockers from California, and the Hellacopters, a hard-rock metal group from Sweden.

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