If you were anywhere near a television or radio this past year, you undoubtedly heard the breakthrough hit, "Raise Up," from North Carolina's own Petey Pablo. In fact, Pablo even had the notoriously urban (and urbane) kids on MTV shouting out to their country cousins down South. But lest you think that artists like Pablo are the exception to the rule, all you need do is attend the First Annual Southeastern Music and Entertainment Summit this Saturday at Durham's Downtown Marriott Hotel, an event designed to bring artists from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia together to showcase their talents, as well as to discuss industry trends, marketing strategies and business management techniques.
The summit is the first in what could make this region a powerful force in hip hop. "The desire has been there for so long, but the infrastructure hasn't been in place," says James Heyward, organizer of the event as well as owner of Durham's Madd Waxx Records. "That's part of what we're trying to develop with this seminar. Our focus is to bring together DJs, radio personalities, radio promoters along with artists, producers, songwriters, everyone," he says. "We're trying to bridge the gap of all the various entertainment resources, trying to get everyone working together, sort of like they've done in Texas and Louisiana." (Heyward is referring to how the regional industries in those areas have heavily promoted their local acts, gaining a huge fan base and then pushing them to national status.)
The Carolinas face similar challenges in terms of bringing talent and markets together. "The biggest difference with our region being so spread out is that you don't see people day to day," says Heyward. "It's not like New York, Chicago, L.A., where you've got so many people but they still interact. Our geography is so widespread: Wilmington, Charlotte, Virginia Beach. Unfortunately, a lot of times these artists' progressions stall because they stay in their market and there's no outlet for them to branch out."
But if Heyward and event co-producer Tony "Chubbz" Marcus have anything to say about it, both artists and aspiring industry types will leave the summit with some solid ideas of how to "branch out" in the business.
"The music industry is so complex and nobody tells you what to do," says Heyward. "So many artists I've come across know the performance aspect, but they're really not clued in to the business side, even the day-to-day work of being an artist."
To that end, the summit is sponsoring a series of panels and workshops designed to give attendees insight into the entertainment side of the urban music industry. Topics covered will include the proper methods--including legal requirements and statutes--for setting up your business and tips on how to finance your company. For young performers (or anyone just starting out), a few hours spent listening to artists and executives who have already been there will arm them with strategies on how to negotiate with contracts, lawyers and agents to make sure they don't get taken advantage of--a hard reality of the entertainment industry.
In addition, there'll be a panel that will discuss whether or not radio really serves independent artists, along with workshops on creating demos and how to produce and sell your own material--the old-school "out of the trunk" method. Attendees can also check out the trade show, where equipment manufacturers will be offering cutting edge DJ supplies and recording gear.
Merchandizing specialists will discuss how to get involved in the booming urban fashion trend--a trend ultimately created around the hip-hop lifestyle. There'll even be several skateboard companies on hand. Skateboards? When asked why a skateboarding company would attend a hip-hop conference, Marcus says, "The music is cross-cultural and definitely urban. It's all part of the lifestyle."
But while the panels and trade show are key aspects to the summit, perhaps the biggest draw will be the performers themselves. Throughout the day, up-and-coming acts will hit the "Free Agents" stage, showing off their skills and hoping to catch the ear of industry execs like Marcus or reps from any of several regional and major record labels scheduled to attend. Later in the evening, a classic MC Battle will shift the conference's focus from the numbers to the number of hands in the air. The "Duel of the Iron Mic," a 16-MC battle that's been in existence since 1998, will hit the Marriott stage; it's certain that the flows will be live and the improvs off the hook. Winding down the evening, the area's hottest turntablists will take to the ones-and-twos and flaunt their skills. Events like these never fail to bring the crowd to their feet to marvel at these adroit artists' ability to shift beats, scratch at hyper-speed and flip tricky routines that would make magician David Blaine look like Captain Hook.
"Sometimes these competitions have the same people going against each other all the time and the performers get bored because they're competing against the same guys," says Heyward. "But if you make the talent pool bigger, you're adding some new elements to the same old thing. We're trying to bring the best in the region together to battle for bragging rights and to represent their particular area. You might be the best in your town, but put your skills up against these other guys and see who's best. It's all friendly competition."
When asked if the success of Petey Pablo--one of the first N.C. Carolina hip-hop artists to receive national exposure--inspired them to create the seminar, Marcus says, "It helped solidify it. Things were in motion prior to Petey Pablo, but once he was able to get some national attention it definitely helped." Marcus manages Pablo's turntablist, DJ B-Lord, an artist who's making a national rep for himself apart from his role with Pablo, who, incidentally, is slated to attend the event.
Marcus, now in artist management, has seen the business from all perspectives and he's ready to share his experiences with newcomers to the industry. "I had a chance to see a lot and wear a lot of hats so I understand their struggles, [both] as an artist as well as from the perspective of an up-and-coming executive," he says. "I think I would just want to give my honest opinion and as much encouragement as I can. We want the artists to leave here feeling good about themselves and ready to work hard."
Heyward agrees, but stresses that since this is the first urban-music summit in the region, they're basically introducing local artists and players to the idea. "A lot of people don't understand what we're doing yet, so they might be skeptical about coming," he says. "But when we put this together, we said, 'This is a beginner conference.' Too often I've seen--in the marketplace--people trying to do too much too fast," he says. "We've [he and Marcus] all been to several of these events and understand that most people haven't. We'd like to eventually emulate what they've done with South By Southwest in Texas. This is our introduction and it's only going to grow."
So whether you're just a kid with a boom box making mix tapes for your friends or you're a bona fide artist ready to take it to the next level, getting together with people who understand your position and want to help can't hurt your career. Like Petey Pablo says, "This one's for who?/ Us! Us! Us!"