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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Yellow Phone Music Conference calls out to indie bands, fans

The Ballroom Thieves are just one of the more than thirty bands performing at the Yellow Phone Music Conference this weekend. Photo courtesy of Livingston Jones.

In a time of instability within the music industry, aspiring musicians have a right to question their career choices. Every day, more song covers and band profiles appear across the Internet, their creators desperate for just a taste of the attention all too familiar to performers like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.

So how can new artists get an edge on their competition? The answer may be surprisingly far from the bright lights of Hollywood.

Milwaukee’s Yellow Phone Music Conference is a four-day conference from September 6-9 that gives musicians the opportunity to connect with leaders in the music industry and showcase their talents in front of large audiences.

Doug Johnson, David Silbaugh and Scott Ziel, all partners in the Midwest booking agency Pursuit Live, started Yellow Phone last year. While there are numerous music conferences around the country, Johnson, Silbaugh and Ziel wanted this conference to be more accessible to new and unsigned artists. They felt Milwaukee was the best place for it.

“We love (Milwaukee) and love sharing it with other people when they come to visit,” Ziel said in an email. “It’s big enough to be interesting but small enough to get around.”

The conference starts with a kick-off party on Sept. 6 in the Polaris Room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. This event is free to the public and lasts from 7 to 11 p.m.

The next two days include numerous opportunities for musicians to meet and mingle with important figures in the music industry. There are eleven panels a day on both Sept. 7 and 8, held in various ballrooms of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, from which artists can pick and choose which to attend.

These panels feature professional musicians, producers, managers, agents and music executives, all of whom are willing to share their insight and advice on succeeding in the music industry. Kevin Lyman, producer and creator of the wildly successful Vans Warped Tour, will give the keynote address, sharing his experiences with touring festivals, record labels and corporate projects. Other panelists include Patrick Stump, lead singer/guitarist/composer of Fall Out Boy; Peter Cohen, talent producer for the hit reality show “The Voice,” as well as talent buyers, entertainment lawyers and management executives from around the country.

After the panels comes a networking reception, where conference attendees can meet the panelists and discuss the topics covered earlier in the day over free refreshments. This kind of opportunity is invaluable to up-and-coming musicians. They can get questions answered by professionals that have experience in the field, getting a leg up on competition who may not have attended the conference. The panelists may be more willing to give advice to attendees as opposed to musicians they meet outside of the conference. If artists are willing to take the time and pay the costs to go to the conference, they are showing commitment to their career choice and a readiness to learn how to succeed in the business.

To conclude each night, the conference hosts an artist showcase in the Third Ward, featuring more than thirty bands from around the country. Conference managers search for talent all year long to fill these spots. They take recommendations from agents and managers and send twenty representatives to various cities throughout the Midwest to find the best unsigned acts. Most of this year’s musical talent comes from the Milwaukee and Chicago areas. Just a few of these are the folk duo Blessed Feathers from West Bend, Wis.; alternative rock band Ikarus Down from Milwaukee and soulful singer Jamie Lono from Chicago.

Some musicians, however, are traveling much greater distances to perform. The Boston folk/pop group The Ballroom Thieves will also be performing, after being invited to the conference by David Silbaugh. They met at the Launch Music Conference & Festival in Lancaster, Pa., this past April, where Silbaugh heard the band play at a small showcase. After listening to the performance and meeting up with the group for drinks after the show, he decided to invite the three musicians to perform in Milwaukee.

Livingston Jones, the band’s manager, said in an email that conferences like Yellow Phone are terrific networking opportunities.

“The panels are a great way (to hear) advice from folks who have invaluable experience,” he said. “And the showcases give the band an opportunity to be heard by those same people later in the evening.”

Jones added that attending music conferences is also a great way to gain the publicity needed to book shows. A representative from Steamtown Music Showcase also heard the band at Launch, and like Silbaugh, invited the group to perform at his own showcase. The Ballroom Thieves will play at that festival in Scranton, Pa., before coming to Milwaukee for their performance on Sept. 7.

Musicians can get access to panel discussions, networking receptions and artists’ showcases by purchasing a conference badge for $149, available online or at the Hyatt Regency Hotel starting Sept. 6. For $20, members of the general public can purchase a wristband to gain access to all of the performances in the artist showcase event, held on various stages throughout the Third Ward. However, guests must be 21 or older to attend the showcase.

Even though it is only in its second year, the Yellow Phone Music Conference has a lineup of successful panelists and diverse performers that would grab the attention of any up-and-coming band or music lover. It may only last a few days, but participants will leave with the information and experience needed to survive in the music industry.

For a complete list of panelists and performers, visit the Yellow Phone Music Conference official website:

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