Why Your Money Might Be Better Spent At Small Conferences & Festivals

The following post is the latest in an ongoing collaboration between Haulix and the fine folks at Muddy Paw PR.

It’s almost that time again. Time to fill Lancaster, PA with enthusiastic young minds, passionate musicians, and eager industry folk, all thrilled at the opportunity to hear some of the best and the brightest speak—with no idea that there’s also a powerful networking component that’s about to take place. Of course, I’m talking about this year’s Launch Music Conference, kicking off this Thursday-Sunday in Lancaster, PA. No, I don’t work for the festival—but I am a strong advocate for it and others like it—and I think you should be too.

I have a confession to make. Up until this time last year, I’d never been to an industry conference. For nearly six years I’d watched others flee to festivals like SXSW or NAMM, and I’d think “yeah that would be cool. But…” and it was never long before I could fill in the blank. Too expensive, too much time away, I don’t know anyone, etc. I chose to ignore for years what ended up being one of the best ways for me to network.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love larger conferences like SXSW. But it’s easy to love the majors—they’re filled with top-tier panelists, A-list musical talent, showcases galore, and everyone you know is bound to be there. It’s a breeding ground for inspiration and creativity—but so are the smaller conferences.

And let’s not forget that many of the major conferences are also expensive. Very, very, expensive.  And It’s crowded. And it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to feel a little in over your head. The panelists, though you may catch them right after their set, are not always easily accessible, and while you might bump into the people you meet here and there, there’s no sense of intimacy, because you’re sharing a few blocks of Austin with hundreds of thousands of people. There’s not as much time to truly get to know those around you, because you’re already rushing off to the next panel or show. There’s a constant sense of urgency, and a need to go, go, go.

Not so with a smaller conference. The panelists, though accomplished and esteemed, are also approachable and oftentimes, more open to collaboration than some of the major players at a larger conference. In fact, there is a sense of community that is practically built in. Everything feels so tightly knit, from the location of participating venues, to the panelists roaming the room after they speak. You’re more likely to form bonds with the 100-200 people that show up each morning to delve into the panels with you, than you might when you’re constantly bumping into strangers amidst an enormous conference. In those few days, you become a part of something. You have a real shot at making friends and making connections, based off the simple fact that you are in such close proximity to the same small group of people for 3 days straight. That bonding and sense of common ground are what relationships are built on. So before you turn your nose up at the smaller conferences, remember that while there’s a ton of value in the SXSW’s of the world, as a growing artist, you should be partnering with other growing artists, entrepreneurs, and yes, even festivals to forge relationships and grow together. It’s going to make all the difference.

Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, a public relations firm specializing in personalized campaign initiatives for independent artists, as well as music blog Infectious Magazine. She is also the curator of several chapters of the music community Balanced Breakfast, which currently operates in 12 music cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Nashville, Toronto, and Portland. She loves hanging out with her dog, eating ice cream, and a good book. Read more at https://angelamastrogiacomo.wordpress.com/

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.