Mind you, this is A recap. THE recap would be impossible to write, since there were dozens of workshops and panels, hundreds of mentoring sessions, and hundreds of friendships being made last weekend at the Congress Plaza Hotel in Chicago — and I can only be in one place at a time.

My conference experience at a glance

So here goes: It was CD Baby’s second DIY Musician Conference, and this year — with help from sponsors like Gig Salad and Berklee Online, plus our friends at rock paper scissors — we took the programming to the next level.

I was speaking at a different session each day, so I didn’t get to take in quite as much as I’d have liked; but from the programming I WAS able to catch, here are a few of my favorites:

  • Charles Alexander giving super specific and actionable recommendations for artists who want to get their songs into more playlists and build their profiles on Spotify.
  • Gregory Hyde providing a solid framework for gigging artists to go from amateur to pro in less than a year.
Gregory Hyde: DIY Musician Conference
Gregory Hyde speaking like a pro about being a pro musician.
  • Pandora teaching artists how to make the most out of their expanding Artist Marketing Platform.
  • Becky Yee taking hundreds of free band photos for a line of artists that snaked its way through three big conference rooms.

Becky Yee taking artist photos at DIY Musician Conference

  • The sounds of the legendary Lee Oskar filling the hallways as he absolutely shredded on the harmonica.

I was also psyched to see many of our keynote speakers spending solid time with attendees throughout the 3-day weekend, making themselves not just accessible, but welcoming to over a thousand independent artists.

Keynotes included:

  • NPR’s Bob Boilen and Tiny Desk Contest winner Gaelynn Lea (who had quite a few folks in the crowd crying as she played a haunting rendition of her song “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun“).
Bob Boilen, Gaelynn Lea, and Dmitri Vietze
NPR’s Bob Boilen and Gaelynn Lea (winner of the 2016 Tiny Desk Contest)
  • Kevin Breuner (who kicked off the conference with a rousing pep talk for artists who are sick of self-promoting, focusing instead on being of service to your listeners).

Kevin Breuner at DIY Musician Conference

  • Tom Jackson (whose live band makeover was even more engaging, entertaining, and educational than last year).
Tom Jackson Live Band Makeover
Tom Jackson doing a live band makeover with Running Red Lights.
  • Patreon’s Jack Conte (whose inspirational finale to the conference brought folks from tears to elation — no joke).

There was also a big sync licensing through-line, with heavyweights in the world of licensing and music supervision (Alexandra Patsavas, Chris Clark, Bonny Dolan, Melissa Chapman, and many more) giving talks and hanging out with artists, occasionally even handing out their contact info, which might be worth the price of admission right there.

It’s all about the artists

Just like last year though, the best part of the conference was the awesome community of independent artists who were brave enough to put themselves out there, make friends, meet industry leaders, and share their music.

Many of the musicians I met last year returned — Sean Ardoin, Matt Wheeler, Vixen Noir, Mary Bue, Bisi Obateru, and dozens more — but rather than breaking off into their own clique of conference veterans, they welcomed newcomers, created Facebook groups to share tips, and formed little lunch groups to keep the conversations going during breaks. Some even kept the party going with jam sessions that ran all day and into the early morning hours:

Jamming at DIY Musician Conference


Honestly, this generous artist community is the thing that I’m most proud of, and if you were there with open ears and an open heart, thank you so much (from me and everyone on the CD Baby team) for making the DIY Musician Conference so special.

I suppose I’m biased, but it really does feel unlike any other musician conference I’ve been too. More actionable, more affordable, and more welcoming. That was the goal from the beginning. I think we achieved that and more, thanks to a fantastic group of artists who value their independence and one another.

See y’all next year in Nashville for the 2017 DIY Musician Conference!

Here’s what attendees are saying:

“The 2016 edition of the CD Baby DIY Musician Conference took all of the things that were good about the 2015 version & improved on them. The speakers – most notably Benji Rogers, Bob Boilen, Gregory Hyde, and Shannon Curtis & Jamie Hill – shared some truly insightful advice & actionable steps. The best aspect of the conference was the tremendous sense of community, among everyone – my fellow DIY musicians, the speakers, and the CD Baby staff.” — Matt Wheeler

“I would say that again, the DIY Musician Conference was exactly what we needed to give us the next year’s worth of actionable steps toward building our career. Last year, Seth and I barely met anyone, we were so focused on attending sessions and squeezing every last drop of info out of the experience. This year, the best part was connecting and talking with, and in some cases, jamming with, my fellow DIY’ers. There were so many talented people there who make great music and who understand the power and importance of building community. I feel honored to be a part of this tribe. As for sessions: I just LOVE anything Benji Rogers does because that man is so far ahead of the curve. I have come away from his sessions twice now wanting more time learning with him. And of course, Jack Conte was exceptionally inspiring.” — China Curtiss Kent of Alright Alright

“I think you guys really ratcheted up the quality of the presenters. My favorite sessions were the ones with Mark Hornsby and Steve Seskin. Mark could explain ProTools to my wife, and Steve made songwriting sound so simple that even I could do it! Let’s just say I have a hard time trying to think of a favorite, or even one I didn’t like.” — Paul Purdue of Rites Reserved

“The DIY Musician conference exceeded my expectations on many levels. Everyone was so supportive. The speakers were inspiring and accessible. The sessions were fun (Martin Atkins was hilarious!) and I came away with lots of things I could do immediately to help my music career get to the next level. But probably the best part was all the incredible people I connected with.” — Eric Sorenson of G3NERIC

Conference photos by Becky Yee:

Trumpet Girl at DIY Musician ConferenceDIY Musician ConferenceBenji Rogers at DIY Musician ConferenceDIY Musician Conference attendeesMentor sessions at the DIY Musician ConferenceDIY Musician ConferenceThe Great Hall at DIY Musician ConferenceArtists meeting at DIY Musician Conference

Were you there? What was your favorite moment or session from 2016’s DIY Musician Conference? Let me know in the comments.