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October 9, 2009

I'm not excited about the Baltimore Music Conference

On paper, the Baltimore Music Conference is a great event. It features showcases of a ton of Baltimore bands, as well as seminars covering nearly every aspect of recording and promoting music.

This is something Baltimore desperately needs -- especially considering how visible our music scene has gotten, lately.

The BMC's founder, Lisa Suit, has the best intentions. But intentions only go so far ...

The conference, which runs Oct. 14-17 at various locations around the city, has been poorly managed from its beginnings several years ago. Remember the debacle at last year's conference?

In order for the conference to realize its full potential, it needs fresh leadership and a new focus. With the right person at the helm, the BMC could become more like South by Southwest or the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.

I really want the BMC to draw more attention to Baltimore's music scene, and help local musicians further their careers. But until it's retooled and better organized, the BMC will continue to be a mess. And that's a shame.

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:44 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Local music


it's the most pointless of all music festivals.

Hell, even Starscape has a better representation of Baltimore music than the BMC, and that's a one day, mostly electronic and jam band festival.

"It features showcases of a ton of Baltimore bands, as well as seminars covering nearly every aspect of recording and promoting music."

That sounds pretty good. But I don't know much about the local scene and I've never been. What would you improve? What do you mean by "full potential"? I have never been to the others you mentioned. Does it not feature major local acts? Is it a compiling of acts that do not really represent the scene or sound of Baltimore?

I would love to hear more on this.

Wow, I've been an avid follower of the local band scene for a few years, and i never heard of this event, nor has any of my friends that are musicians in bands around town ever asked me to attend or even commented on it, and some of them play in 2-3 different groups. It doen't seem like it should be all that difficult to put together a successful event, especially with all the passion for music we all seem to share. I will have to read up on the past years before commentaing on how it could be different, but i am optimistic it can be better!

Yeah...I've added it to the (growing) list of regular or annual events that I've sworn off going to again just because I feel like I'd end up writing something negative about it more than once and would look cruel.

We tried our best to dissuade other bands from signing up this year, but it seems like they have a full lineup again.

Nothing about our debacle was resolved; Lisa never got us a make-up gig, the promo packs we spent a ton of money on were MIA, and the people from Fletchers stopped returning our calls.

Altogether it was a really bad experience, and I hope it goes better this year, for the sake of the bands that paid their hard-earned money to participate.

This is unbelievable.

In the same paragraph you say "This is something Baltimore desperately needs ..." and then follow up by dissing the one organization that is actually trying to pull that off. I'm sure that they appreciate your support.

Putting on an event like the BMC is HARD. There is never enough money, volunteers are too busy and the logistics are monumental in scale. I seriously doubt that sponsorship is easy to come by this year and if parking tickets are any indication, I expect that the city is taxing the crap out of the event.

But hey - you get to sit on your ass, do nothing and talk about how somebody else is not doing their job "good enough". Maybe thats why I always envision bloggers as working in their underwear.

If you're really as concerned as you say then I'm sure that the BMC would accept your assistance as you showed them how to do it properly. Failing that, a kind word and a show of support from a journalist might be the lift that the BMC needs to achieve greatness.

As a dance music fan, I'm really excited about the BMC this year. It appears to be more focused and organized, the line ups are tighter and I think that the organizers have learned from past mistakes. I sincerely hope that the fans give them the support that they need so that someday we can have an event that lives up to your standards.

Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with the BMC but I do know Lisa Suit and I know how hard hard she works at pulling this off every year. Given that nobody (and I mean nobody) else is trying to do what she's doing, it seems clear that she's the best person for the job and I, for one, will give her my total support.

Any word on the sudden and quiet closing of Fletcher's? Another Baltimore venue gone.

That's sad about Fletcher's. The guy (Evan something?) who played drums for Liars Academy & Cross My Heart bought it about 2 years ago, & when I briefly chatted with him about it a few months back, he implied that it was dangerously unprofitable.

As a bar owner, I can attest that the economy has been pretty brutal for everyone. Fletchers has the disadvantage of being (a) a destination bar (fewer regulars) (b) being fairly large (high overhead) and (c) an appeal to a younger crowd, may of whom can't legally drink.

In an age where everybody wants discounted drinks, you have to sell a whole lot of $2 beers to recover the costs of running a club.

The lesson: Support your local venue. If you have a place that you like, go there often, bring your friends and leave some money at the bar. Most people never realize how little money there is in this business.

The average customer will leave $10-15/night at the bar. 20 customers x 7 nights x $15 = $2100/week. Even the tiniest hole in the wall dive bar needs more business that that to survive. When you look around the club on saturday night, remember that saturday doesn't represent tuesday.


Can we assume that your well clad butt will get in gear and helping Ms. Suit in her pursuit of an event that people don't vote with their feet and stay away?
Their previous efforts have such bad word of mouth that they have more to over come than if it is a first time event.

I would think it behooves the performers and bands to take some time and help make, what in theory, an event that would helpfurther careers.

Expecting a lot of particpation from the potential audience is like expecting a diner to go into kitchen of their favored eatery and help prepare their own meal.

"Failing that, a kind word and a show of support from a journalist might be the lift that the BMC needs to achieve greatness."

well, apparently it's poorly run, as well as thought out. why put a blue ribbon on a horse that's going to the glue factory?

Allan -- heh. Too true.

Also, Alex, about that show of support from a journalist, I did a quick search of the Baltimore Sun archives. As it turns out, we (me, mostly) have written about the Baltimore Music Conference no less than seven times. I've also blogged about it on Midnight Sun at least five times.

In the beginning, I was one of the BMC's biggest supporters. It's just been a disaster year after year, and I've soured on it.

Sam Sessa is a pathetic excuse for a night life reporter, always has been....

A reporter is not a cheerleader. Sounds like Lomez needs more fiber in his diet.

Show me one interesting story from Sam Sessa and I'll tip my hat!

The irony of this situation is that there is one true fact in Baltimore: Staffing is very difficult.

That's probably why Sam Sessa has a job at this paper.

Lisa Suit might be scatterbrained, but she's passionate. She continues to pick herself up, just like many others who try and have failed yet eventually prevail. It's nice that you want to be able to say "I told you so" after this weekend, but I'll go with the underdog. Because you're a douchebag.

Someone wrote bad things about something we like! You get the pitchforks, I'll get my keyboard, and we'll attack at dawn.

No, the bottom line is that this event is not meant to be like South by Southwest, or whatever else Mr. Sessa has read about on twitter. Modeled after the winter music conference, it presents opportunities for the local djs, and promoters to step forward and work to contribute to be a part of it. there are seminars, workshops, and people party in the evening. Sessa compares apples and oranges.

Let's just take a second to clarify -- Mr. Sessa can't read, OK? That's what his secretaries are for.

As for apples and oranges? He eats (and enjoys) them both. Next question, please.

"the BMC will continue to be a mess. And that's a shame."
- Sam Sessa Quote

I dont want to fight, but you took the first jab at a person who many people could learn alot from. problem is it's easier to talk poorly about someone i guess.


"Lisa Suit might be scatterbrained, but she's passionate. She continues to pick herself up, just like many others who try and have failed yet eventually prevail."

Passion may cause her to preserve which is commendable, but how many scatterbrained (your description) success stories can you support your argument with.
She may be precisely the wrong person for the undertaking she is undeniable committed to, but either she needs to select better help or turn over leadership and decision making to someone else.

Last year’s blog traffic would indicate that BMC succeeded in created a horde of malcontents, or your favored word, douchebags*.

No one wants her to fail, but past history makes one skeptical, at best, about this year’s being a smooth running success this year either.

I find it highly unlikely that Sam has any particular axe to grind that he is awaiting the moment to pounce and say “I told you so”.

Why don’t you put the energy of your offensive defense of this Ms. Suit and her overwhelming undertaking and put it to more profitable use, making this underdog have her day.

* douchebag from Wikipedia
“The term implies a variety of negative qualities, specifically arrogance and engaging in obnoxious and/or irritating actions without malicious intent.”

GDA, I couldn't have said it better myself.

Of course I don't want her to fail, nor do I have an axe to grind. After seeing how poorly run and disappointing the first few years were, I think it's time the BMC was reorganized from the top down.

So...since there seemed to be so many supporters of the festival here, how was it?

Interesting comments here I must say but I give mad love and thanks to those who have supported me and/or the BMC both here and at the event.

Scatterbrained? Quite possibly... I manage/own a bar that has to be booked & filled 6 nights a week in order to pay me so I can pay for the BMC as you're right.. there is no sponsorship money involved and the $10 application fee to submit to play only goes but so far.

I organize this entire event on my own. All the performers, speakers, scheduling, securing venues, getting permits, trying to raise money, hosting fund-raisers, promotion, advertising, & execution of the event which involved 25 different things going on for 4 days. Could I use some help? You're damn right I could!

I also have chemo brain from a 2nd bout with Cancer several years ago & that's something that remains so yes, I have to write things down & then remember where I put it.! That would def put me in the scatterbrained category.

But let's go over the history of this event and see why it's so hard to pull off successfully.

From day 1 I have received no support from the city itself, from the media or a large majority of the musicians, DJs, venue owners, music bloggers or music fans in Baltimore.

WTMD, who was our 'major' media sponsor last year, did very little advertising for the event. Starting out wanting to be a big part of selecting the speakers & 'The Sessions' aspect yet never 'had time' to get me contacts, suggest people or seminars and ended up not even attending the event... how is that supportive?

The city.. ha! I've gotten no response from all of the times I asked them to be involved. I can't even get the Baltimore Fun Guide to post it on their calendar even after submitting it 3 times.

Volunteers... as good as their intentions may be, there is little to no follow up. For the 1st few years I gave responsibilities to others which they offered & would end up having to do the work myself anyway as they wouldn't/didn't follow thru.
Could I use a 'staff'... you're darn tootin' I could but I can't afford to pay one so I am the staff & I work 24/7 on the event for many months.
I can't tell you how many times I'm told 'let me know what you need!', tell me what I can do' and/or 'how can I help?' and then never hear back from that person so until I can afford to have a staff, it's just easier to plan it all out myself.

I began the BMC to unite those in the scene, if you will, to highlight the music, musicians & DJs in the area and to educate those that are serious about being in the industry & advancing their careers.

I have tried to set it up similar to WMC, SXSW & other conference/festivals that exist already, that do the same.

My original hope was that others (promotion companies, media, sponsors & venues, etc) would host the showcases so that I could concentrate on the conference part which has been extremely hard to have done but is what I thought I finally had somewhat in place this year.

At these other conferences, hosts are all responsible for everything that goes into their show/party. The WMC or SXSW doesn't provide sound or the talent or the venue, and certainly don’t have reps at each show/party going on.

Realizing we aren’t those places, I try to help secure venues and try to have a rep present if possible as we’re def going thru growing pains each year being a new event but the BMC is not responsible for everything that goes on at a hosted showcase/party. I include that party under the ‘ umbrella’ of the BMC and help with promotion by providing full information on the website about it and include it in all promo while the host of the show/party is responsible for the actual production of their event.

Now, for whatever reason, as I said, the overall of people of Baltimore have not supported this event from day 1, which I don’t know why since it’s aimed to benefit them the most, but here’s why I think basically Baltimore & the people here just don’t get it.

It pains me that during this event I had venues and promotion companies that said months ago they would be a part of the BMC not only not participate but then throw parties the same nights against what I already had in place. Other venues that pulled out with no notice to me or the performers scheduled there or they changed the way things were to be handled a week before the event or even as the night was going on in some cases.

Leading up to the overall event, getting many of the locals to help promote was like pulling teeth! I still have a bunch of fliers sitting around as people never even bothered to get a single one to pass out. Seriously, do people think events promote themselves? I reach a lot of people with my promotion but a combined effort reaches a whole lot more! And if you don't help promote & tell people that you're playing a party, how can you complain when attendance is low?

During the seminars some local speakers, considered to be some of 'the big guys' here in the area, didn’t even bother to show up for their panels & I’ve not even heard from them as to why. No apology of sickness, car trouble, etc… no excuse, no nothing.

In the mean time, Pitbull’s manager, a Sony Records rep, Rachael Ray’s music director, a prominent NY entertainment attorney, and others who were all here as speakers, and LTJ Bukem, MC Conrad, Dynamix II, Onionz, Skam?2, Get 'Em Mamis, Mullyman, and a large amount of bands & DJs, some that came in from out of town, not only promoted beforehand but have commended me on what I’m trying to do, offered to be involved in the BMC every year and/or have offered their services or to play any time I want them involved in anything.
How does any of that make sense? It boggles my mind and I certainly don’t have an answer for it.

I believe passionately in this event and it’s need here in the Baltimore area or I wouldn’t continue to spend thousands of hours and dollars on producing it.
I now believe however that I should only involve those that also believe in it and stop trying to force the overall scene to be a part of it.

My original idea to unite everyone in order to do it with the premise that working together for 1 single event/week would benefit everyone in the overall throughout the rest of the year does not work as obviously egos and fear of competition outweigh the overall good of the scene in this area which is, I think, a crying shame.

Bottom line for me, and what should be for everyone, is that the music scene is in trouble, not only here in Baltimore but everywhere. Musicians, DJs, promoters & venues are having a harder & harder time trying to succeed as technology makes it easier for people to get free music, sit on their a** at home to listen to it & not come out to support a live event. That doesn’t help the performers, the promoters or the venues to succeed and will eventually put everyone under. And that’s when you all will be saying, ‘damn, I really liked that club/DJ/band/etc… wonder why they couldn’t make it?’

Think about it… we all need to support what IS going on in order to keep other things going.
That is exactly what the BMC is really about... supporting & nurturing those in this industry & those looking to get into it.

I’d like to thank the people who truly were involved this year for all of their hard work and constant support even when things were not at their best. as the weather def hurt. The outdoor festival is being rescheduled and I hope you'll all come out for that!
These are the people I continue to do this for & that have my full fledged support in all they do.

To those that don't want to support it, that's fine, but if you're not going to lift a single finger to help out, not attend, not get involved, please don't trash me and/or the event until you've tried to do something similar to what the BMC is.

And for those that think they can do it better... you are more than welcome to hit me up anytime & we'll chat! and yes, I'll write things down : )

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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