Thinking About Going to the ASCAP EXPO? Here Are My Thoughts.

Let me just put this out there now…I absolutely LOVED my time at the ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO earlier this year, so much so, that I’m considering returning next year. If you’re thinking about attending, start saving your pennies now. The experience comes with a hefty price tag, even at the early bird rate. The good news is, if you can secure the early bird rate, it is refundable, or at least it was for 2015. So if you’re unsure if your boss will approve your leave request so far in advance, you should be able to cancel your registration, or at least receive a partial refund, within a reasonable time frame. Be sure to read the specifics for the upcoming EXPOs.

I chose to arrive the day before the EXPO officially started to get registration taken care of and get some sleep after a full day of travel. Y’all know how LA traffic is… The day-before-registration line was LONG, but not without a share of chuckles from friendly attendees patiently waiting their turn. After I got my badge, I headed to a welcome networking event hosted by the EXPO. Tip #1: Take tons of business cards. This event was for attendees and everyone was exchanging business cards. Little did I realize, I wish I had a few of those business cards back by the end of the EXPO when the opportunity to chat with panelists presented itself.

I didn’t get as much sleep my first night as I hoped because I left the first networking event and went to another in the EXPO host hotel (Loews) lobby. It was worth the loss of sleep as I met even more early-arrival attendees and caught some extra zzz’s with the 2-hour gain from the time difference. Tip #2: Stay at the host hotel if your budget permits and you don’t live in LA or have a friend’s couch to crash on. Catching a cab or driving to a nearby hotel is the last thing you’ll want to do after 4+ sessions and a late night networking event.

Speaking of…the networking events were excellent! In addition to opportunities to meet industry professionals before and after sessions, there were formal networking events put on by reputable organizations like the Recording Academy and World Arts, for example, almost every night of the EXPO. Pair the experience with free wine, bites, and new contacts and you’ll be glad you paid the extra money to walk to your hotel room after the night is over.

Tip #3: Manage your time wisely and actually PLAN out the sessions you want to go to and GO to them. The EXPO schedule was available online well in advance and I was able to create a profile, create my schedule, and share it with others…if I wanted to. All of the sessions are available online, even the ones I missed. There was little pressure to take notes or fill up my phone with voice notes to record the sessions because I knew I could access them later. Planning is essential because the schedule can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many options for songwriters, producers, composers, rappers etc. No two sessions were alike and some provided a live music component while others were more like a class or a workshop. Although some of the sessions were for an audience a few steps ahead of the emerging artist, it doesn’t hurt to take notes. Attendees were also usually given the opportunity to ask questions during Q&A at the end of each session.

Planning my schedule based on topics and panelists and actually attending the sessions allowed me to figure out which panelist(s) I wanted to try to connect with afterwards. Relationships are key! There were legitimate industry mover’s and shakers facilitating session discussions. From Aloe Blacc to Bill Withers, Ingrid Michaelson, and the Music Supervisor for Scandal, lineup throughout the EXPO was superb. There’s no guarantee you’ll actually meet the panelists and some of them won’t stick around or share their contact information, but you never know until you try. However, many of them do or will at least take one of your business cards. It’s important to remember how many people are trying to meet them, shove a demo in their face, or sincerely have a legitimate question. I don’t blame them for hurrying off the stage as soon as they had the chance.

The Loews Hotel was incredibly accommodating and I had a view of the classic Hollywood sign from my room, at my request. Yes–I was a shameless tourist enjoying my first trip to LA. 🙂 All of the EXPO staff were friendly and helpful. Tip #4: Always be “on.” You never know who you’re sharing an elevator ride with, standing next to in line, or sitting next to during a session. I waited in line for over an hour for a free TAXI songwriter’s critique and met some talented artists, some of whom I still keep in touch with. I walked away happy with my critique and with a few additional people to follow on Instagram. This is a professional event and you’re liable to run into a panelist or artist anywhere on or around the premises.

Tip #5: Follow-up and APPLY the information presented. After coming off the high of attending the EXPO, the reality of following up loomed over my head. I had a sandwich bag full of business cards from artists, organizations, and panelists. I separated them by relationship and prioritizing those I wanted to follow-up with. I received a few emails from attendees who asked for my business cards and obviously had no recollection of the conversation we had. It was as if giving my business card was permission to be added to their monthly newsletter. Not so! I could write an entirely separate blog post on networking etiquette from this EXPO experience alone. Once I got into sending follow-ups, I received a few responses and some of my emails went into what seemed like a black hole. It’s okay, though—it comes with the territory of casting a wide net. I’m STILL going through the videos of the sessions I attended and those that I was unable to make. Trying to absorb all of this information and how it relates to my journey as an artist is a lengthy process. Other than a few technical issues, the EXPO site is easy to navigate and I really appreciate the access to review the sessions. You can do so, too, even if you did not attend–click here.

All in all, I certainly enjoyed myself. It’s not for everyone, though. It’s personally important to me that the information presented is relevant to me; I’m still gauging the return on my investment to see if going again in 2016 or exploring other conferences would be best for me. One of the tangible results I’ve experienced is hearing about the Women’s Int’l Music Network (WiMN). They hosted a showcase at the EXPO that was during a network event I attended. I kept up with WiMN on Twitter and submitted a video for their Summer NAMM showcase in Nashville for which I was selected. Who knows…maybe I would have heard of WiMN through some other means and it was only a matter of time…maybe not. There were several other excellent organizations who partnered with ASCAP and had reps throughout the EXPO. This, too, is another important component of the EXPO in addition to the artist showcases, one-on-one mentoring, group lunch roundtables, and jam sessions that attendees organically put together on their own. If I were you, I would keep up with the EXPO on FB or Twitter to see what 2016 has to offer. If you want in, I suggest you do so as early as you can.

P.S. This project was partially supported by an Individual Arts Program (IAP) from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events (DCASE) and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency through federal funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts! You can read more about how I obtained this grant in this blog post. The City of Chicago is accepting applications for their 2016 IAP grant. The workshops are now mandatory and the last one is being hosted on 10/22! Find out more and sign up here.