How to be a Fan at the Folk Alliance International Conference
I had the opportunity to spend a fantastic four days holed up in a hotel with several thousand musicians and music lovers at the Folk Alliance International Annual conference in Kansas City. My wife and I were two of the only 181 fans out of over 2,700 hundred attendees. So here’s some tips for fans who attend FAI’s spectacular weekend.
It’s a conference, not a festival.
I could say that it was one of the best music festivals I’ve been to; but it really wasn’t that at all. It’s a conference. Musicians connecting with musicians, connecting with concert promoters, record distributors and festival organizers, and vendors of cool stuff, radio DJs and others who can help them play music and support themselves and their families.
You’re a fan (musicians love fans) but remember why they are there (in addition to playing great music)
I asked artists, agents and others in the elevator and at the tables in the exhibit hall about their music, the name of their bands and when they were playing. I told them I would go listen and tried. I missed some given the overwhelming amount of music. But I made it to some and I’m sure glad I did – they turned out to be some of my best finds.
Tell musicians you meet that you are a fan. We always felt a little guilty in the private showcases that artists would think we were presenters, radio DJ’s or others in the industry. Tell artists how much you liked their music, but don’t linger – they are running from showcase to showcase till 3 am to perform in front as many industry people as possible. If they want to talk to you and tell you about their music, by all means, listen. And learn. And support.
One of the musicians I met wrote about the experience that’s worth sharing to give us a better understanding of what this conference is like for artists and what it’s for:
“The hallways of the hotel were swarming with conference attendees wearing name-tags, red for artists, orange for industry, green for presenters, yellow for media etc., which meant we all looked each other up and down as we walked past, because you might know who they are, or they might know who you are, or you might benefit from knowing them. That is the nature of a networking conference. Are you useful for someone’s career advancement, and is someone useful to yours?
Let me tell you, it is a special kind of exhausting to be walking through hallways both looking and being looked at that way. Eyes and hearts hungry for success, competing for attention in three floors of a hotel, a performance going on in each room, people walking in and out to both enjoy and evaluate, I’m not sure in which order.”
And don’t take the CDs in the private showcase rooms. They are for the presenters, radio DJs, and other industry folks. Real fans buy music.
Learn about the challenges and struggles of working musicians.
Musicians are working people who have to pay the bills. Many are their own managers, booking agents, webpage designers and social media specialists yet still need time and space to write new music and spend time with their families. The more fans understand “the work” of being a musician, the more likely we are to understand how important our support is. I went to workshops about the challenges of being a parent and a touring musician, about fundraising and crowdfunding new albums and about the challenges artists of color and indigenous artists face in the music industry.
Be a pro-active fan
Hear as much music as you can. Even one song (as bad as it feels to leave in the middle of a showcase) helped me find new music that I’ll track down and buy. But don’t just go to listen to music, do your part after the conference to support music and musicians. Here’s a few ideas:
· Follow, share, like, retweet (and whatever you do on Instagram) their social media pages and posts
· Tell your friends about them, buy gifts of music
· Buy their albums and “merch” (from their websites is best)
· If they come to your town help them build audience by bringing friends, family and other music lovers.
· Find and support their crowdfunding projects for their next album (or just find them and cut a check for it if they don’t do crowdfunding. Fundraising is a lot of work)
· If you have friends that run venues, do house concerts, have radio shows, or organize festivals, urge them to book the musicians you heard for the first time (or tenth!)
Note: it is mathematically, physically, emotionally impossible to see more than a fraction of the fantastic artists who performed. So, read articles and posts by others about the great music they saw and check them out. Listen to the FAI playlist on Spotify and/or just keep looking thru the showcases schedules and check others out. It’s a gold mine of music.
Go to Canadian festivals.
One of the best things about FAI was the chance to see so many Canadian artists. I learned that many don’t tour in the U.S. because securing visas for working Canadian musicians can be complicated and expensive So, they go to the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and we miss out. (Another WTF U.S.?)
Plan a day of post-conference rest.
I can only imagine what it’s like for the artists who performed and networked for four days. We were exhausted and sleep deprived after hearing great music until 2 and 3 am every night. So, plan a day of rest if you can (and so you can let the music continue to ring in your ears before you go back to work.)
The bottom line
I saw great music, was introduced to several dozen new musicians and groups, learned a ton about the world of music and left with a powerful respect for the musicians who do the hard work of putting their wonderful music out in the world for us to hear, enjoy – and share!