Editors Note: Now ten years old [in 2006], the Durango Songwriters Expo aspires to be what some industry insiders, like music journalist Dan Kimpel, are calling "one of the premier songwriting events in America...." Most industry folks who attend the event would likely agree that indeed, as co-founder Jim Attebery makes the case for below, small events like this one can offer some special networking opportunities.
For those of you looking to attend artist/songwriter conventions in the near future I have a few thoughts that perhaps can be beneficial in making your decision. With such a plethora of events to choose from it's important to research and make your decisions based upon what's going to be most beneficial to you. There are many great conventions out there, (and some not so great, I suppose) and when you're putting your hard earned money out it's important to select events that are worthwhile and career-enhancing. In this article I'll discuss some of the positives and negatives of various types of events and how you can really benefit from your convention experience.
First of all, let me say I'm the co-founder and president of The Durango Songwriters Expo. [As of 2006] We've been around now for 10 years and have two events annually, the fall Expo we've been doing for 10 years in and around Durango and the 2nd Expo, which we've been doing for 4 years now in the Santa Barbara [CA] Wine Country region, we hold the first of June each year.
The real essence of The Expo is its intimacy and the networking opportunities that abound as a result. At The Expo we limit attendees to 200 and there are over 40 music industry pros and hit songwriters present. I know of no other event that has that kind of ratio. The Expo is a combination of workshops, listening sessions, panels, showcases, and open mics, and everyone gets heard. Each attendee gets 3 listening sessions (on CD) regardless of whether they're chosen to showcase, and even if they're not chosen they have a chance to perform at the open mics. The Expo is also a writer's retreat so there's a whole bevy of hit songwriters there to write and collaborate, and two #1 songs have been written at The Expo by participating hit writers. At Santa Barbara this year we'll have Tony Scalzo (Fastball), Dan Wilson (Semisonic), BMI Songwriters of The Year Jeffrey Steele and Al Anderson, just to name a few.
That's a tremendous benefit -- and we now even have hit songwriters writing with attendees! We're very proud of that. Also, in each of the past several years we've had attendees signed to deals at The Expo.
Another reason The Expo has been so successful is we do the event in remote locations so there's no distractions and the showcases are fully attended by industry pros; in essence attendees have a captive audience, and we know how difficult that is to accomplish.
My point here is to illustrate the value of smaller events. There's no replacement for networking and at smaller events, especially like The Expo which takes place in one hotel and everyone stays there, high-quality networking takes place.
Larger events certainly have their place and I think can be very beneficial especially in the panels and workshops where networking is not as important as the educational aspects. There are certainly many large events that do that quite well. I like to think at The Expo we also have an extensive array of educational panels and workshops and I consider that to be a very integral part of any artist/writer convention. But I do think that the benefit of a smaller event over a large event is that you're not fighting with 2,000 other attendees for industry attention and you can actually sit down and have a drink with a music pro and not feel any separation.
So, when you're making your decisions, weigh the pros and cons of each event and base your selection on which one will most fully allow you to accomplish your goals. Are you just there to learn? Are you there to be heard? Most importantly, are you there to develop relationships and network? I think at The Expo we allow you to do all that and that's why I'm so passionate about it. Take all of the above into consideration and wherever you end up going, make the most of your time there. You're spending the money and you deserve no less.
"The Durango Songwriters Expo is one of the few places on earth that you can actually find an A&R person in conversation with an unsigned artist or songwriter."—Michael Laskow, President, TAXI