Thursday, October 18, 2007

CMJ - where indie music dreams come alive

When I was in high school, I knew of two amazing music conferences - SWSW in Austin and CMJ in NYC. Austin was a bit far at the time but in my senior year of high school three friends and I made it our goal to sneak into as many CMJ shows as possible.

The CMJ Music Marathon is a festival masquerading as a conference where indie labels and radio station music directors meet, schmooze and booze. There are panels, yes, but everyone is really there to see the shows. You pay for a badge that gets you into the conference by day and hopefully into the shows by night. Since every show is first come first served, if the venue is full even badge-holders are SOL.

Questions like can I make it from midtown to alphabet city in 10 minutes gain importance as the schedule is pretty unforgiving and the crowds make speed important. The more popular indie bands (or is that an oxymoron?) require a mix of early arrival and finesse to even get into the small venues. But if you don't mind waiting in line to gain access or waiting through bands you aren't as interested in, it pays in catching future stars in an intimate setting.

They've gotten pretty stringent about checking badges the last few years but in the 90s you could work your way into shows with a the right mix of flirting, carefully planned clothing and a smile. I didn't develop my musical elitism until college so it wasn't important to me who I was seeing, just that I was there. I believe we caught Skunk Anansie, Filter and Mos Def. My friends and I just found some radio staffers who were overly friendly and gained admission with them, even though we had no badges. It was awesome. Being in a band, I was sure I would play CMJ during college.

That didn't happen, but surprisingly I never made it to CMJ as a radio staffer either. My senior year I was station manager of my university's station, but I chose SXSW over CMJ. I'd already been to Austin my junior year for the festival and had a great time. Plus, SXSW was during Spring Break while CMJ ran over my classes. Most of the shows were scattered up and down 6th street, a much smaller radius then CMJ.

I saw over a hundred bands between my two years at SXSW and I cherish some of my fondest college memories from there - Taking Back Sunday spilling their drinks on me and my friend A by accident, offering to buy us new ones and then laughing when they discovered that we had free drink wristbands and asking us to get them drinks instead; Gavin DeGraw winking at my friend J from onstage and then crowd-diving to us at the end of his set at Antone's; late-night cruising with Copeland; and becoming makeshift roadies for Minus the Bear.

Still, with the CMJ conference happening now in the city, I kinda feel like I'm missing out. I thought that I would always be the music connoisseur I was in college but once I'd graduated I completely fell out of the inner circle. I could not even tell you who CMJ's top 10 is anymore. I caught some festival attendees walking by me the other day, with their badges flapping in the wind. I could only smile - it's one of the best experiences a college student could have. I think the music you love in high school and college stays with you forever. Long live the soundtracks of our lives.

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