As sort of an appendix to the “Indie Musicians, Publishing and Song Placement” series of interviews we conducted with several industry professionals last fall, we felt it would be a great idea to get a perspective from someone who helps coordinate connections between musicians and the industry. One such person is Jim Attebery, who coordinates the Durango Songwriters Expo twice a year.
One great way to for artists to network is at industry conferences and events, and among these, the DSE has earned a solid reputation for helping artists connect with industry professionals in a laid-back, intimate setting, with a variety of events including panel discussions, music showcases and song listening sessions where musicians can receive personal critique from industry pros on their music.
Currently, the Durango Songwriters Expo offers conferences in the fall and in late winter/early spring. The next DSE event takes place February 27-March 1, 2014 in the Santa Barbara, California area, at the Marriott Santa Ynez Valley. The event will feature dozens of industry reps including music producers, music supervisors, label representatives and more. In between preparations for the event, Jim Attebery was kind enough to speak with MIMO for a few minutes.
MIMO: Thank you so much for being willing to answer a few questions for us.
Jim Attebery: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
MIMO: A lot of indie musicians are readers of our publication, and we’d like to give them an idea of what the Durango Songwriter Expo is and what it’s about. Maybe we could start with a little background—how it got started, and what the basic vision of the DSE is.
Jim: It got started when I left California and moved to Durango, [Colorado]. I had done a lot of things out in California, alot of writing for film and TV…been involved in a couple rock bands, done a lot of things. When we moved to Durango, I wanted to try to maintain those relationships since we had a three year old daughter and it was really difficult for me to go back and forth under the circumstances. I had been to a lot of conferences, and generally most of these conferences were good for disseminating information but they were really too big to be personal and to really give artists/writers any chance to really be heard or network and develop relationships. The basis of the Expo was to do something that was completely different, in fact, just the opposite of what was happening in the early days in some of the big conferences. So this was set up in such a way that everybody would get heard in listening sessions and get a lot of attention, and everybody would have the chance to either to showcase [their music]. Later on, once we started getting so many good people, the quality of artists over the years as this thing developed has really become an industry standard. The quality of people performing got really, really good. It came to a point that we couldn’t showcase everybody, and so we started the open mics following the showcases on Thursday and Friday nights. There’s a lot of great people at the open mics. In fact, we’ve had a couple people signed deals out of open mics, and so it just became important that we added that to the showcases to give everybody the opportunity for live performance. But essentially the idea and the vision behind everything was to really give people a legitimate opportunity to get heard and meet people that they would otherwise have a very difficult time being able to meet. So that was kind of the vision and the story behind it.
MIMO: What do you think sets the DSE apart from other industry conferences? Is it pretty much the relationship basis that you were talking about?
Jim: Yeah, I think that that’s part of it, and I think a big part of it is the spirit and the low-key vibe that kind of permeates the whole event. The industry people love to come to this event because first of all, the talent’s really good. Secondly, it’s very comfortable and easy for them. There’s a lot of business that takes place too, especially as all these genres have become much more connected, it’s a great opportunity for industry people and hit writers to get together. There’s been a lot of partnerships, and a lot of writing, hit writing…songs written at this event over the years. I think that what sets it apart more than anything else is that everybody is very comfortable at this event and knows that it’s going to be viable for them, and it’s just a very comfortable setting. It inspires people.
MIMO: How many years has the DSE been going on?
Jim: Eighteen. The first eleven started in Durango obviously, and [then] we moved the fall event to the Front Range [Denver]. We started the Santa Barbara Wine Country event, the second Expo, nine years ago. So there are two events, two Expos: the one in Colorado in the first week in October, and then the last week in February in the Santa Barbara Wine Country, which is coming up here pretty quickly.
MIMO: In all the time that you guys have been doing this, obviously the music industry has changed a lot. What are your biggest observations about how the industry has changed and how the DSE has adapted to those changes in helping artists connect?
Jim: Well, we certainly had to. As it did evolve and change and technology and etc. changed, we had to increase not only… we changed scope a little bit, industry people who were invited. We started five to six years ago having a lot of film and TV, music supervisors, ad agencies, video games–we started incorporating all of that stuff because the revenue streams changed with diminishing CD sales. So you had to adapt; we saw this, and I think we’re kind of in front of it in the sense of creating viable opportunities, Now obviously we’ve had a number of people who have got publishing deals at the Expo, and record deals, and that’s still a part of it, but you have to address the issue as far as social networking, indie artists, for them to really find a path in understanding the dynamic of what’s out there. Because the truth is, it’s very difficult for somebody to just go out and tour relentlessly and create a following. It [now] takes all of these things, all of these potential revenue streams. We try to encourage artists that there are a lot of additional revenue streams, and you really need to take advantage of them in order to survive, in order to make your presence felt.
MIMO: Where do you see indie musicians finding the greatest amount of success these days in the industry?
Jim: I see a combination of factors. What we’re seeing is people coming to a realization that if they would happen to get a record deal, that’s not the end-all. In fact, for some people, it’s not the right deal at all. Same thing with publishing deals. Publishing deals can be very viable and oftentimes are, but it has to be the right situation. But let’s say even if somebody is not able to get a record deal or a publishing deal, a lot of people aren’t exploring those other revenue streams like film and TV, advertising, etc., all those things are really crucially important. I do think whether somebody’s doing a completely indie project or whatever they’re doing, they have to realize that they have to network, and they have to find like-minded people in the industry, other artists that they can work with, and do everything possible to try to expand their horizons as far as what’s available to them…It’s just really difficult to do without developing relationships, networking with not only industry pros but other artists and songwriters who can be helpful. As I say, maybe somebody at the Expo who is known really takes a liking to somebody. It happens, it happens quite a bit, and they’ll develop [that artist] and maybe have them open for them, stuff like that. So all these things are a direct result of relationships, and having a chance to develop those relationships and network are really a big part of it, I think.
MIMO: The Santa Barbara Wine Country Expo is coming up at the end of February. Let’s say I was an unknown artists coming for the first time to a DSE event. What would you suggest that I do to get the most out of it?
Jim: I think a big part of what we do is educational. One of the reasons this event works so well across the board for people… we have a lot of young people who come, and sometimes people will come initially and not even really be heard in listening sessions. They might not be ready to be heard in listening sessions, but they can go to all those listening sessions, get the feel of it, [hear] the feedback from the industry pros and hear the quality of the stuff throughout these listening sessions and live performances. It’s really inspiring, and what we’ve seen for newbies, for people who come to this for the first time, they’re just inspired and they learn really quickly. People who come to this event should be coming with the idea, and this goes from hit writers on down, that they should be coming to get better, and that’s really the idea behind it. If you come here with the right attitude, to do everything possible to do get better, it’s a great, great vehicle for that. We’ve seen people just improve dramatically once they kind of “get it,” once they understand what’s going on and what they need to do as a writer or an artist to get better. I think that’s a big part of itm and it really works well for people who are just starting out. People can go to the website, durango-songwriters-expo.com, and on the front page, it’ll say, “Click here to download registration form for Santa Barbara Wine Country.” That’s the brochure. That gives all the information on who’s coming, special guests, scheduled events, etc. They can kind of get a feel for the event through that brochure, and certainly they can get in touch with me, and I’m happy to help them.