Sync Summit NYC - is it worth the money and hassle to attend? Will attending this conference foster those all important working relationships and opportunities for future prosperity? Well read on as I give you the run down on my recent visit to Sync Summit; a music conference focused on the synchronisation of music with media.
Sync Summit NYC is advertised as The world's music in media marketplace, and the website is keen to express the many virtues of attending the conference, such as 'Ample networking opportunities' and 'A real dialogue between attendees and speakers'. Sounds good huh! So after a round of emails and telephone calls I managed to get myself invited as a guest speaker on the 'Making Music For Media' panel.
So far so good! Off to New York armed with exciting new material, an extensive, specially crafted website to demonstrate said new material, two tightly edited videos featuring said, said new material and some, even if I do say so myself, bitchen business cards and promotional CDs to share in these ample networking opportunities!
With flights, transfers to and from the airport and my hotel booked everything looked rosy. Bring on that networking! However, on May 23rd, just two and a half weeks before my flight to NYC the dates of the conference were changed from 14/15th to 15/16th June along with the venue! Fortunately, due to decent planning, my schedule could accommodate these changes. I wonder however, how many people were hit with expensive rescheduling fees for flights and accommodation? So lesson one, plan a comfortable trip with ample time in the schedule to accommodate any unforeseen problems!
After arriving in New York and spending a couple of touristy days cruising around Manhattan island on a rented Citi bike (gotta watch out for that crazy NYC traffic) taking in the sights, sounds, museums and galleries I arrived at the venue about 20mins early to find that the 'Summit' was still mostly in boxes! A couple of staff were setting up tables and chairs. "Looks like that's a soft 9am start then" said a fellow attendee that I'd just met, so we took off round the block for a coffee whilst the Summit people arranged chairs and unpacked stuff. Lesson two, roll with the punches!
On returning to the venue I picked up my name tag and a copy of the day's agenda. At this point things start to look a bit more troublesome. Every panel of the day was segued directly to the next panel with absolutely no time in between! I mean absolutely none! Forget networking! There wasn't even a brief interlude for Mark Frieser, Sync Summit's mastermind and host, to even take a leak! As I thumbed through the agenda looking for a silver lining I discovered that the all important 'ample networking time' I'd been planning for had just been eaten up in that aforementioned 9.00-9:45am registration period, which had just been redeployed as chair arranging time! How does that saying go? Under promise and over deliver.
As day one unfolded the 'Superstar' I can change your life music supervisors began to talk and were interviewed by would be chat show host Mark Frieser on topical areas of the music business, often illustrated with anecdotes and the occasional, sometimes humorous quip. Questions were fielded by the audience before inevitably rapping up with the mantra of Sync Summit - "I'm sorry, I'm just so busy (too important) I couldn't possibly listen to any of your music and I'm sure it's quite good! Perhaps you can try emailing my team who will be much better at fobbing you off because it's much easier to do via email. Why don't you get back to me when you're famous already" Next!
Now I'll admit that's a little harsh if not somewhat of a generalisation. Some of the supervisors were well prepared and generous with there time, although they were inevitably overrun with a line of musicians, publishers and agents desperate to make a pitch! 'A real dialogue between attendees and speakers' was echoing in my mind! Now where did I read that again? Lesson three, be patient and grab those opportunities when and indeed if they come along.
After watching a few panels and with the sinking feeling that this was indeed how the conference was doomed to unfold I decided to retire to the bar, which incidentally had now become the best place to have a meaningful conversation. Chatting with people over the cacophonous sound of a metal band sound checking in the venue below about life's minutia and sharing a coffee was perhaps the most useful and certainly the most enjoyable part of the entire summit. It seems unfortunate that in order to actually have any networking time at Sync Summit, attendees had to choose between listening to talks for the all important knowledge or hunkering down in the bar to try and do some real networking.
During my conversations with the hoi polloi of the conference I started to sense other attendees disillusionment and I began also to feel that the entire Sync Summit was strangely upside down. The creators of music gathered here are somehow reduced to grovelling for the attention of music supervisors who are ultimately so inundated with music that they can't possibly listen to everything pitched, let alone remember any of the all to brief conversations, although it's music written by people just like those attending Sync Summit on which their careers depend! Lesson four, don't expect too much!
By the time the 'Making Music For Media' panel came up on day two, any impetus to discuss my own work had vanished! Those tightly edited videos featuring 'my exciting new material' became a casualty of that hyper unrealistic schedule and were abandoned by Mr Frieser in short order, along with any hope of sharing my work with the rest of the conference. I now realised that there was no room to discuss music, composition or indeed any artistry at all. In fact as close as the summit got to this subject was a brief 'of course the quality [of the music] has to be good', mentioned in passing during one of the on stage conversations and without any qualification of what 'good' actually means! A small verbal fight broke out on stage as two fellow panellists got gladiatorial, vying for dominance in the 'who's most important' competition and then finally the mic got passed to me...
Whilst journeying back to the UK and nursing a thoroughly bruised wallet, I had two really important epiphanies. Important because perhaps they represent the real value of attending such a conference. Surprisingly what I valued most about attending Sync Summit was some perspective. Let me expand on this a little:
- Learn to value your own music. It may never be valued by anyone else! Indeed it may remain obscure for your entire lifetime and beyond. This however doesn't devalue the notes or artistic impulses to create them. The real value of music and the arts more widely isn't accurately measured in dollars or pounds sterling. Indeed we need only turn on the radio or television to know this to be true. The real value of music is passed down the generations, it nourishes and inspires listeners, performers and composers alike. It imbues life with meaning and develops a sense of identity and belonging in the people that choose to listen, perform or write it.
Drive a taxi, clean windows, tutor your instrument, in fact do anything necessary to support the music because there is nothing more important. You'd be in the fine company of many of the worlds most brilliant composers and musicians.
- The world is full of exquisite music! However, it's positively overflowing with dull and uninspiring music. Indeed it's so full of the average or sub average that finding the good or exceptional is becoming harder and harder. This is where the role of curator comes in. We would do well to support the resurgent indie label phenomenon that has sprung up, like a wild meadow, in the fallow ground left behind by the collapse of the world's major labels. Looking back to labels such as impulse or ECM it's easy to see the creative vision behind the releases and the importance of strong curatorship. Thankfully a similarly strong vision of music is currently demonstrated at labels such as Warp, where their releases have changed the landscape of music with albums from artists such as Aphex Twin or Flying Lotus
So after all that was it worth going to Sync Summit NYC? No, in a nutshell! I made no new work connections, learned very little that I didn't already know and spent an inordinate amount of money and wasted valuable time for the privilege.
However, I did manage to reconnect with why I make music in the first place and putting a price on that is hard to quantify!
If you're feeling brave and are still interested in attending a music conference and want to see if it can help develop your career then here are some pointers:
- Plan your travel conservatively to avoid costly rescheduling.
- Do your homework! Research everyone that will be attending. I had photographs of all the attendees on my iPad with descriptions of what they do and who they work for. This way it's easy to recognise people at a glance.
- Don't expect too much! The amount of time you have with people at a busy conference is limited and getting something to stick will be hard.
- Have a clear idea of what you'd like to achieve and who you'd like to talk to but don't expect things to work out how you've imagined. You'll have to roll with the punches and adapt to circumstances as they arise in order to take advantage of any positive situations.
- Enjoy yourself and the conversations that come up. Some of the most valuable time I spent at Sync Summit was actually just connecting with people on a personal level, so relax, have a coke and a smile an enjoy the conversation. It's a good way to establish a rapport and build a good working relationship.
You'll probably collect a nice stack of business cards and make a bunch of follow up calls and emails and this may or may not work out for you. But don't believe for a minute that because no-one returned your call and your music hasn't been tipped as the next 'big thing' that it is somehow less valuable than it was before.
Concentrate on your craft, consistently build a body of work and remember that making music is a worthwhile endeavour, even if it hasn't yet made your fortune!