CMJ Music Marathon strides to NYC
NEW YORK CITY - I go up to New York every month or so, usually with no purpose other than to drink myself silly and see how many days I can go without sleep. I usually come back with little of substance - maybe a few good stories and almost always a hangover, but rarely something more positive than a good time. Last week, however, one of my crazy New York trips had a purpose, or at least the guise of a purpose: the CMJ Music Marathon.
CMJ, one of the year's biggest music industry events, takes place over four days and nights every October (this year Oct. 13-16) and boasts well over 100 bands playing showcases at every venue in New York City. Daytime speakers and panels (Brian Wilson was there this year, although I was actually sleeping when he spoke) add a sense of greater legitimacy to the event beyond just going out for four nights and partying. CMJ is directed at college radio personnel, but people from all over the industry attend to see what bands are up-and-coming and which ones are worth the buzz.
Badges for the event, which get you into every panel and showcase, are almost as expensive as my rent, but luckily when you're press, you don't pay. Last week I was Harp Magazine's little CMJ representative, spreading the gospel of our illustrious publication and putting on my most perky face for the music publicists we work with. And, of course, as a Harp representative it was also my job to score as many free drinks as possible (one of the main reasons I love New York so much is because I have yet to pay for a drink there).
Since I will take any opportunity to skip school and work (although technically I was working ... right?), I went up to NYC on Tuesday night to attend an opening night party put on by the Syndicate. The party featured performances by the Features and Murder by Death, and everyone's favorite party trick: the open bar. It was also on Tuesday night that I met the Upwelling, a band I am going to discuss not only because I think they are greatly talented and because their approach to the industry is quite impressive, but also because their lead singer aptly charmed me at 2 a.m. while I was waiting in line outside the Bowery Ballroom to see the Donnas and Dogs Die in Hot Cars.
I saw more than 20 bands play in five days, some of the bands, like Coheed and Cambria, I have seen multiple times before, while others, like Frausdots and Inouk, I am only vaguely familiar with. The emphasis of my week, however, was not on these mostly-signed bands that are established enough to be playing CMJ. I spent time with one member of the Upwelling every day I was in NYC, and the truth is, I think that I gained more from watching them pass out close to 3,800 promo CDs to CMJ attendees than from any panel or label showcase.
Because on most days I come home with about five new CDs and I average about three to four shows a week, my normal mode of functioning is on music overload. I thrive on that, but as a result it takes significantly more to impress me than I imagine it does other people. Very few bands at CMJ impressed me, though I thoroughly enjoyed all the shows I attended. The showcase put on by Warner Bros (the only major label to put on a showcase, though not the only major to have bands play one) at Plaid is high on my list of favorites, as is Coheed and Cambria's acoustic set at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night, but I was more enlivened to see the Upwelling play at 4:30 p.m. in the caf? at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square. There is something more real about a band that has not yet been molded by the marketing department of a record label, and I swear I am not just saying this because the ever-charming singer told me I have a soul.
I expected a very different week than I had. I thought I would be drunk every night, while in reality I only had about 10 drinks over the course of five days (that doesn't technically make me an alcoholic, does it?). I expected to follow the cute little CMJ schedule I had made up for myself before I left, but I saw fewer bands than I initially hoped and went to fewer panels than I anticipated.
When I was thinking about how to write this article, I had first thought that I would write it like a schedule, noting how many bands I saw each night, what street corner I was on at 3 a.m. and how many drinks I had under the assumption that would make for a more interesting feature, because who doesn't love drunken debauchery? But in truth, I came home with something more valuable than a hangover this time: the knowledge that despite some of the music industry's bullshit, it's the one place I've ever felt truly at home. And that realization is worth the 500 bucks it would have cost to buy a CMJ badge ... if I had had to pay.