CD Baby Folk Alliance SamplerIf you weren’t lucky enough to attend the 2010 International Folk Alliance, we don’t want you to feel like you completely missed out. CD Baby’s own Chris Robley bravely immersed himself in the proceedings to bring us this report.

Imagine 3000 folk artists and industry-types trapped in a hotel together for 4 days straight, with non-stop panels, workshops, lectures, concerts, and showcases keeping things swirling from 9am to 3am. (and I’m not even counting the Beatles-jam on the mezzanine that went until 5:30am!) You’re probably picturing a lot of tired eyes, shrunken shoulders, empty cans of Red Bull, and nervous bustle. And though that description certainly rings true, it doesn’t quite capture the inspiring and joyous sense of community that made the International Folk Alliance Festival in Memphis, TN such a magical experience.

I wouldn’t say I learned anything revolutionary while representing CD Baby at the festival, but I did have my suspicions confirmed about one very important thing: hustle is the key to success! Many of the acts who are “making things happen” in the folk world, the up-and-comers, the buzz-bands, the sensitive singer-songwriters we’ll wish we would’ve “known then”, they attend this festival with a focus and determination most other artists lack. To say they have a positive work-ethic would be the understatement of the week. These acts rise early in the morning to talk shop at breakfast. If there are multiple members in the band, they split up to cover more ground, meet more people, shake more hands, earn more fans, pass out more flyers, and generate considerably more excitement than the shy artists who sleep in.

Then they attend the numerous workshops and panel discussions throughout the day. When there is downtime, they set up in the hotel lobby and hallways to play an impromptu acoustic set. Then they’ll do an official afternoon showcase or network at the trade show. Then they’ll set up meetings with concert promoters, house-show bookers, managers, labels. Maybe a brief break for dinner. Then it is straight up to the 17th, 18th, and 19th floors, where each room is rented by different distributors, labels, and festivals to host showcases that go until 3am. Most of the best acts were playing a handful of late-night showcases every single night of the festival. Set up, put on a show, meet-and-greet, smile, run down the hall or up the stairs to do the same thing all over again.

This particular kind of hustle, the sprinting from opportunity to opportunity, is perhaps unique to the Folk Alliance Festival, and made possible because almost all the acts perform entirely acoustic with no need for a PA. No hauling big amps and drum sets. No blasts of immense volume to disturb the concert in the hotel room next door. However, the lesson is the same no matter what genre of music you play, no matter what the festival or conference is that you’re attending.

1. Hustle.

2. Determine what you want out of the experience before arriving.

3. Get a list of attendees and find out whom you need to meet. Meet them.

4. 75% of the acts will be incredibly talented. It is what you do with your talents and determination that make all the difference. Give it your all every time you play, every time you meet a new face, and then sleep hard for the few hours available.

5. And most importantly, don’t reach for success by climbing on other artists’ backs. It is a small world. Word travels fast. And the gatekeepers see through blind ambition anyways. Always remember the communal aspect of music. Help one another and the good turn will come back to you. Or as I heard one industry expert put it at the festival, “It’s simple. We help our friends.”

Overall, I left the International Folk Alliance Festival with enough feel-good warmth to last me a month. Sharing 4 days with 3000 supportive, talented, and enthusiastic artists will do that to you.

You can download CD Baby’s Folk Alliance Sampler for FREE!  Just click here!