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Cover Story: Parties, Panels and Workshops ... Oh My!

There's more action at MidPoint than just independent artist showcases all night long

By Mike Breen · September 26th, 2007 · Cover Story
  Superdrag with frontman John Davis, well, in front

Superdrag with frontman John Davis, well, in front

One of the cooler aspects of the MidPoint Music Festival, the thing that keeps it from being "just" a festival and more a "music conference" is the collection of daytime panels and workshops. Organizers have worked hard to keep the educational aspect of MidPoint -- something much-needed, considering the amount of motivated unsigned musicians in town this weekend -- fresh, interesting and, most importantly, pertinent to the interests of the indie musician.

Besides the panel discussions, this year MidPoint has added an ambitious "workshop" component, providing artists with the opportunity to literally record a song with some professionals who will offer advice and tips to get the most out of their sound. Artists will be able to sign up for a slot, record their tunes and get a copy to take home with them for further mixing and mastering. The songs will also be played on Radio MidPoint (accessible through mpmf.com).

All conference attendees are welcome to watch the recording in process -- kind of like a zoo with real-live musicians (a wily species if there ever was one). Judges will also pick a few artists to record songs in the state-of-the-art Sound Images studios downtown.

Local studio whizzes Dave Davis, Brian Niesz, Andrew Hamilton and others will also provide recording workshops, directly discussing audio issues with participants. The sessions are more intimate than the panels, offering one-on-one sessions with the pros. The first session takes place at 11 a.m. Friday on the Contemporary Arts Center's fifth floor (the CAC is again the headquarters for sign-ins and all other things MidPoint this year) dealing with mixing and recording issues from gear to the actual sound.

On Saturday at 11 a.m. at the same location, the production crew will discuss issues with design and mastering. At 1 p.m. both days, the staff will be on hand to critique pre-recorded demos and CDs and offer advice.

Also new this year are the CityBeat-sponsored "pre-parties" featuring performances by nationally-recognized bands. On Thursday, get downtown to The Exchange on Main Street when the original lineup of cult Power Pop icons Superdrag plays their first show together in more than seven years. Friday, it's Nashville's Forget Cassettes, a mesmerizing Indie band that's been amassing a large regional following, particularly in Greater Cincinnati.

Both pre-party shows require a three-day MidPoint wristband to get in (available at mpmf.com or at any of the venues during the event). Pre-parties start at 7:30 p.m., but it's advised to arrive early -- admittance isn't guaranteed but is first-come-first-served. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Oh yeah, there are the always entertaining panels taking place Friday and Saturday at the CAC.


INDIE MBA: 10-11 a.m.

Is it as easy as gassing up the van and hitting the road? Uh, not quite. No matter how much an artist claims to not care about business, the fact is you need to know something to get beyond the basement, into the clubs, out of the city and even further. This session helps independent artists come up with a game plan, with a discussion about business, licensing, law, information technology, accounting, touring, booking and management.

Panelists: Robert Mendelsohn Esq. (Cincinnati); Lou Panacia (Artist Relations, SonicBids, Boston); Lee Stanley (Ernst & Rabe, Cincinnati)


Is it really all about the music? Sometimes people in the business need a little more about the artists with whom they are thinking of working. Like audio recording, video technology has gotten to the point where it's an affordable option for musicians when it comes to promotional tools.

Videos can paint a fuller picture of your project and give management, A&R and other suitors a sense of what you are all about.

Panelists: Jeffrey Smith (Crash Avenue Publicity, Louisville); Robert Fugate (Mind Ignition, Cincinnati); Tiffany Lusht (Mind Ignition)


Lyle Preslar got a pretty good lesson in integrity with his first "big break" in the music biz: He was the guitarist for legendary Punk band Minor Threat, a unit that did things on its own terms, all the way.

But when the band broke up, Preslar actually entered the machine Minor Threat resisted and fought against, becoming an A&R man and working with everyone from Peter Gabriel and Ben Folds to Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim. Preslar later entered marketing and label management, working for Virgin Records, EMI, Elektra Records, Sire and Caroline Records.

For his MidPoint conversation, Preslar will talk about his years as a performer and musician as well as his experience behind the scenes. He has insight into the great RIAA debate, having written about the industry's battle against XM Satellite while attending Rutgers School of Law.

Host: Gil Kaufman, MTV.com


More cowbell is usually all you need when you're looking for a better sounding recording. But not always. This panel -- featuring engineers and producers who have worked on everything from platinum-selling mega-hits to small-label releases -- will discuss how to get the most out of your recording project, from pre-production to mastering.

Panelists: Ken Lewis, moderator (Producer/Engineer, New York); Dave Davis (Sound Images, Cincinnati); Duane Lundy (Producer/Engineer, Lexington); Erwin Musper (Producer/Engineer, Bamboo Room, Highland Heights, Ky.); Ronnie Thomas (Producer/ Engineer, VisionGate Entertainment, Nashville)


Who hasn't wanted to say, "Just talk to my manager," when someone asks you a question (I use it often on telemarketers). Musicians, believe it or not, can't always handle every aspect of their career -- they're often busy enough with that stuff called "writing" and "recording" and "practicing." This collection of managers, bookers and publicists will discuss what a manager looks for in a potential new signee as well as what the artist can expect the management company to do for them.

Panelists: Michael Creamer, moderator (Creamer Management, Boston); Laura Hamlett (BigFatCat Management, St. Louis); Jeffrey Smith (Crash Avenue Publicity, Louisville); Brian Waymire (DreamScapers/ RedGorilla Music Fest, Nashville); Larry Webman (Paradigm, New York)


John Davis, the pivotal force behind Pop/Rock juggernaut Superdrag, has seen the music biz from many different angles. He's been on an independent label, then a major label, then an indie label again. He's explored the Christian music market. And he does session work these days in Nashville.

Superdrag has an unmade Behind the Music that could compete with the best of 'em. After some EPs on an indie, the Knoxville band's full-length debut for Elektra, 1996's Regretfully Yours, was a great noisy Pop album, with My Bloody Valentine-esque guitar by Davis and original guitarist Brandon Fisher (bassist Tom Pappas and Don Coffey, Jr. held down the unbreakable rhythms). Legend has it that Davis was pissed when Elektra told him they "didn't hear a single," so he knocked out "Sucked Out," a rally cry against "not hearing a single."

The song became the band's biggest (and only) "hit," getting heavy MTV and radio play. Yes, Alanis, that is irony.

The follow-up, Head Trip in Every Key, was the band's Sgt. Pepper's, but it apparently didn't sell enough, because the band left Elektra afterwards. And they also lost Pappas and Fisher.

That didn't hamper the band too much -- Davis and Coffey carried on with ex-V-Roys guitarist Mic Harrison (now involved with his own solo career) and Sam Powers (who eventually split to tour with Guided By Voices and others). The band released two more fantastic indie releases, The Valley Of Dying Stars and Last Call for Vitriol, and continued to tour ceaselessly, playing for an ever-growing cult following.

Davis also continued to drink. A lot. Eventually he turned his life over to God, became reborn and began releasing testifying spiritual albums that retained Superdrag's melodic mastery and his impeccable, creative songwriting but featured lyrics dedicated to spreading the "good word."

Though he's found a niche in the Christian music market -- he released a self-titled solo album in 2005, distributed by Warner's Christian music wing, Word -- Davis spent some time with his original bandmates and decided it would be fun to hit the road with them for a handful of dates, the first of which takes place Thursday at The Exchange.

Davis, Pappas, Coffey and Fisher will be on the road sporadically throughout the fall, offering fans a rare chance to see the original Superdrag, one of the finest (and most unheralded) American Rock & Roll bands of the past 20 years.

Host: Mike Breen, CityBeat



With the rise of the Internet as a promo tool, is there really any need to tour anymore? Spending a few days on the computer vs. 30 in a van with a lot of sweaty, cranky people certainly sounds like a better option. But this panel will discuss the importance of touring, as well as guide you on what opportunities (like fests and comps) you should eagerly sign up for and which kinds you should avoid at all costs.

Panelists: Brian Waymire, moderator (DreamScapers/RedGorilla Music Fest, Nashville); Ken Glidewell (WEBN, Cincinnati); Tony Dotson (The Poison Room, Cincinnati); Dan McCabe (Thigmotrope, Cincinnati); Larry Webman (Paradigm, New York)


Along with Net promotions, another key component of the music industry is that more and more artists are turning to is licensing. Besides the promotional element -- Lord knows it's impossible for an indie artist to break through on radio anymore -- licensing for film and TV can also provide a great, low-labor source of income for the struggling artist. Indie music often gets placed more on TV than most signed music, so those in charge of placement are increasingly looking for new songs and sounds to fit their visuals. This panel will go over what to look for in a deal and how to solicit licensing companies.

Panelists: Jon DeLange, moderator (Tinderbox, Minneapolis); Tiffany R. Almy (Sedlmayr & Associates P.C., New York); Ward Hake (20th Century Fox, Los Angeles); Joe Rudge (New York); Jen Schwartz (New York)


I have to imagine more than a few owners of successful independent labels have had numerous hearty chuckles over the struggles of the major label infrastructure. Many are predicting that model will be completely obsolete in the near future. Less affected (and more open to changing with the times) are independent labels, which appear to be thriving as they adapt to the move towards downloads more effectively and efficiently. These indie label owners will discuss the pros and cons of signing with an indie. Do people actually aspire to be on a major label anymore? That's like betting your life savings that Pete Doherty will live to see 30.

Panelists: Darren Blase, moderator (Shake It Records, Cincinnati); Michael Bond (Datawaslost, Chicago); Aaron Hartley (Theory 8 Records, Nashville)

MPMF DEMO DERBY: 2:45-4 p.m.

Like American Idol with better music? Nah, this is much more fun than even that. One of the conference's most popular panels, the Demo Derby allows artists to have their song critiqued by industry pros. But be sure your upper-lip has been stiffened if you plan on participating -- the panelists are (refreshingly) brutally honest. For artists interested in being ridiculed ... er ... critiqued, you must drop off a disc with one track selected for dissection at registration Saturday beginning at 10 a.m.

Panelists: Jon DeLange, moderator (Tinderbox, Minneapolis); Ken Glidewell (WEBN, Cincinnati); Ken Lewis (Producer/ Engineer, New York); Erwin Musper (Producer/ Engineer, The Bamboo Room, Highland Heights, Ky.); Lyle Preslar (Artist, Newark, N.J.)



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