Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CMJ New Music Marathon Then and Now

It's the end of Day Two of the CMJ New Music Marathon (it feels like more!) and all of a sudden tons of memories are coming back from my three other trips to CMJ...way back in the early days of college radio. Here's a little comparison of then and now, based on my sketchy memories of past events.

Guitar in Lobby - 2008

CMJ in the 1980s:

In 1987 I was one of the Music Directors of WHRC (AM carrier current radio station at Haverford College in Pennsylvania) and I was SO excited to be taking a trip to New York City for CMJ. It was my very first trip to New York and a number of us traveled together and shared a tiny hotel room at the Roosevelt Hotel where the conference was being held. Back then, CMJ was held even closer to Halloween and I remember seeing costumed revelers in the Village.

In 1988 I trekked to NYC all by myself, as nobody else at the station wanted to go. Crazy, huh? Being an impoverished college student, I finagled lodging by staying with a high school friend's sister in SOHO. She was just out of college, working her first job as an investment banker. She wore fancy suits and it all seemed so high powered and exciting. I remember that she was kind of shocked that I was brave enough to go to shows by myself.

During those CMJ conferences in the 1980s, I remember the exhibit hall being packed with record label reps, sitting behind tables laden down with piles of vinyl, cassette tapes (anyone else remember Jim Clevo's compilations of Cleveland bands?), and occasionally CDs. After each conference, I came home with plastic bags full of heavy 12" vinyl LPs and cassettes. I also picked up some of my very first CDs at CMJ, including a tiny Kid Creole and the Coconuts CD.

I went to see Fishbone at the Cat Club one year, saw rap pioneer Schoolly D, and also saw bands at CBGBs and The Bitter End. Our CMJ badges also allowed free admission to dance clubs. I remember vividly going to the Palladium in 1987 and we all got in with our fake IDs crafted from our official radio station staff cards. The place was packed with older sleazy guys hitting on underage girls, so it probably wasn't the best choice.

I don't remember too much about the panels, other than than a great panel about the role of women (and sexism) in heavy metal music. I also have flashes of labels like SST and Homestead being panel members...but I could be wrong.

CMJ in the 1990s:

In 1996 I was Assistant Music Director at WBGU (Bowling Green State University, Ohio). Four of us flew to New York from Toledo to go to the conference. Again, since we were all very poor, we all crashed in one hotel room together. I remember it being kind of creepy to share a room with 3 guys in their 20s who were sort of like co-workers. In 1996, CMJ was held in early September and at the Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. They had some pretty major keynote presentations (Patti Smith?) that year in a large auditorium. I also saw the amazing film "Hype" (about the frenzy surrounding Seattle after "grunge" became a commodity) as part of the festival.

In terms of the shows in 1996, I hit several label showcases around town featuring artists on Matador (including Cat Power) and Lookout! Records (probably bands like The Smugglers, Hi-5s, and the Donnas at the club Coney Island High). One of my favorite shows was Cold Cold Hearts at The Cooler in the Meat Packing District. Despite the name of the club, it had to have been the most swelteringly hot show that I've ever been too. Regardless, they were awesome, and, I think some of their parents were even in the audience.

CMJ in 2008:

So, what's different today? This year CMJ is at NYU in Greenwich Village and takes place from Tuesday through Saturday, making for a very full week of music and events. As in the past, there are still panels (although keynotes seem to have gone by the wayside), tons of shows (at more than 40 locations today), and lots of schmoozing. As in the olden days, there are still musicians without badges hovering near the entrance to the conference, hoping to hand off their music to an influential label exec or radio programmer (and now you can add blogger to that mix).

In 2008, CMJ has definitely grown in scale. It's longer, larger, and has expanded to include a film festival in addition to the music fest. And, most notably, sponsors have hit CMJ in full force. The exhibitor room this year had booths featuring various products, including energy drinks, tools for musicians, music organizations, and a few regional organizations working to promote music from different countries (Ireland on one table, Western Australia on another). I wonder why the record labels don't exhibit anymore?

In the next few days I'll do posts specifically focused on some of the panels at CMJ, including tomorrow's "College Radio Day." I'll also give highlights of the shows that I attended and will do separate posts on my New York radio station field trips.

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