Making music and getting down to business

August 25, 2007|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun reporter

Mother Nature hasn't been kind to the Baltimore Music Conference.

Florist Lisa Suit founded the BMC in 2005. She scheduled a handful of seminars and booked more than 100 bands and DJs to perform in the parking lot of M&T Bank Stadium.

It rained all weekend, ruining the event.

Unfazed, Suit set up a second BMC in Druid Hill Park last year. DJs, bands and speakers were lined up. She had changed the date of the conference so the event would not coincide with the Virgin Festival.

It rained again, and the event was canceled.

This year, Suit's not tempting fate. She and the other organizers took this year's four-day BMC indoors. Sonar, Club One and the Talking Head host this year's conference. Initial events were held Thursday and last night, but the conference gets in full swing today and tomorrow.

The 2007 BMC features about 125 music acts, two dozen seminars, dance performances, movie screenings and vendors. Band sets run 40 minutes, and seminars are a little more than an hour each. Proceeds will benefit the music departments of the Baltimore City public school system.

There will be some outdoor performances in the 400 block of E. Saratoga St., but tents can be set up if the sky threatens, Suit said.

"I'm not sweating the weather at all this year," she said. "I want to see this event happen, and I want to see this event put Baltimore on the map."

Though not a musician herself, Suit is a lifetime music lover. A couple of years ago, she read on a DJ message board a statement that said Baltimore's music scene consisted largely of isolated pockets of musicians around the city, and that there was little communication between the various circles of bands, DJs and fans.

"Here it's a divided scene," said Chris Schafer, the drummer for the local instrumental drum and bass outfit To the Moon.

"It's very compartmentalized," he said. "Everybody has their own thing going on."

Suit agrees with the DJs and Schafer, and she organized the BMC as a response to the city's musical situation. If hip-hop acts and their audiences don't normally interact with rock bands, she would bring them together through the conference.

"People tend to stay with what they know," Suit said. "So if they go to see DJs, they only go to see DJs. ... That's why I present all genres."

Most of the bands in this year's lineup were scheduled to perform in last year's canceled conference. Suit and a committee of volunteers sorted through piles of CDs to find acts to fill out the roster.

To the Moon played the first BMC under the Hamburg Street Bridge in the rain. They'll perform on Sonar's main stage tomorrow night. Schafer said the conference has the potential to become a major player on the Mid-Atlantic music scene in the coming years.

"Hopefully, third time's the charm," Schafer said. "They've got the right venue and the right location to make it happen."

Booking a main venue for this year's BMC was a trickier task than Suit expected. She hoped Gardel's restaurant and nightclub would host the conference, but a deal fell through at the last minute, she said. Instead, the nearby Sonar became the conference's main hub.

The conference is a testament to the city's growing arts and cultural scene, said Evan Weinstein, Sonar's marketing director. He plans to stop by and check out some of the performances this weekend.

If an act or band puts on a particularly solid show, it might earn an opening spot at a future Sonar concert, he said.

Growing a band's audience and opening up a dialogue between different genres are among the BMC's top priorities. But the conference also aims to help educate bands about the music business, Suit said. Seminar topics include how to release your own records, self-promotion, studio-recording techniques and navigating major-label deals.

"The showcases are great to build [a band's] fan base and get their names in front of people, but there's also the business aspect of the music industry," Suit said. "These seminars are geared to help them understand and navigate that road."

Suit said she plans to keep growing the conference for the foreseeable future. She's already started working on next year's event.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is going to keep going and it's going to get bigger and bigger," Suit said.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

The Baltimore Music Conference continues at 2 p.m. today and tomorrow at multiple locations, including Sonar, 407 E. Saratoga St., Club One, 300 E. Saratoga St., and the Talking Head Club, 203 Davis St. General admission is $17.50; all-access passes to the seminars are $22.50. Go to baltimoremusicconference.com.

Conference highlights

Today

2:50 p.m.:

Acclaimed local DJ Adam Auburn spins in Sonar's lounge area

8:40 p.m.:

Hip-hop group the Unison Collective performs at Sonar's club stage

10:50 p.m.:

Americana rockers the Payola Reserve play on Sonar's main stage

12:05 p.m.:

Drum 'n' bass/hip-hop act MC Illy Emcee performs on Club One's Earth level

Tomorrow

2 p.m.:

Southern rock act the Perfect Poor plays on Sonar's club stage

4:30 p.m.:

Edge of the Wheel, an Americana band with a new album, plays Sonar's club stage

7:50 p.m.:

Drum 'n' bass DJ Rev E performs in Sonar's lounge

12:10 a.m.:

The Mayan Factor, ambient alt-rockers, plays on Sonar's main stage

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