5 things you MUST bring to your next music conference

Tips from an independent artist (and 3-time conference attendee) on how to best spend your time at the DIY Musician Conference.

CD Baby’s 2019 DIY Musician Conference is right around the corner (August 16-18 in Austin, TX). I’ve been for the past 3 years and this is one of the best conferences out there for independent musicians. From the amazing speakers, to the on-site consulting, performance opportunities, and special freebies, you can tell CD Baby’s one objective is that musicians get the most out of this 3-day experience.


After each conference I made a list of things I could do the next time around to ensure I’d get the most out of the event the following year. I’ve compiled the best five below.

1. Plan your conference around your career.

The great thing about the DIY Musician Conference is that there are so many talks and they’re all amazing. The problem is there are so many sessions and so many experts, it’s impossible to to take advantage of it all (especially since many of the talks are happening at the same time).

A great way to get around this is to take some time before you get there to assess your career. Evaluate the areas where you’re excelling and be honest about where you need improvement. Then see which talks/sessions are dedicated to those areas where you’re deficient, and prioritize them.

Also keep in mind that some of the talks in the big room are live-streamed (and archived on YouTube) but the sessions in many of the smaller rooms are not, so if you’re torn between two, consider the talk in the smaller room and watch the recording later.

If you’re in a band or came with a group, you can split up and cover multiple sessions; then compare notes later.

2. Get there early and stay through Sunday.

I always enjoyed getting there at least a day early because I could get settled in, check out the convention space, get a feel for the town, find spots to eat, develop travel routes, etc. This way I felt less frazzled and more prepared when the conference actually started.

During the conference, especially on the first day, it’s a good idea to get there 30-45 minutes early, which will help you avoid the long registration lines. You can also get a good seat for the first session. I’d suggest you show up early for another reason too; often there are freebies they give away, and you’ll miss out if you arrive late. Last year I showed up early and got in-ear molds onsite; two weeks later I was sent a pair of custom molded earplugs (I looked online and saw these earplugs cost over $200).  The one time I didn’t wake up early, I missed out on getting a free photo shoot with an award-winning photographer.

If you can, I would highly recommend staying thru Sunday — so really Monday morning — and attending Sunday’s afterparty. It’s a great chance to perform/catch fellow artists perform, meet fellow attendees, and network. I was blessed to perform last year at the afterparty and I got to meet so many amazing artists I respected, many of whom had also performed at the afterparty or during the conference.

Also, one of my favorite things to do at the afterparty was to introduce myself to the awesome CD Baby staff who put on the event, learn their names, look them in the eyes and tell them how grateful I was for the conference. These guys put in a lot of work around the clock before, during, and after the conference to make sure it’s epic, so it’s always cool to stop by and say thanks (more about this in #5).

3. Take some time to review, reflect, and rest.

I found it incredibly helpful at the end of each day to go over the notes I took. It’s much easier to decipher my scribbles the day of rather than trying to decode the notes when I return home. If you’re in a band or came with a group of musicians, it’s SUPER awesome to have “download sessions” where everyone shares the notes they took. Even if you were in the same session, there’s a chance the content will have hit them in a different way and they’ll have a unique perspective.

When it comes to getting the most out of these sessions, I’ve found my capacity to capture, absorb, and retain information is significantly higher when I get a full night’s rest. Everyone has their number of hours of sleep to function well (mine is 8 at least) and I would recommend striving to get the sleep you need every night.

I know that a lot of networking happens in the evenings after sessions conclude and I’m not saying you should totally skip out on those. What I’m saying is strike a balance where you can take advantage of those opportunities, but not sacrifice too much sleep. For me, my main goal was to gain information and tools that would further my career, and the primary way to do that was through being sharp and alert during the sessions. I’m not saying I didn’t take in the town, network, try all the amazing food, and have fun, but those things were secondary to the primary thing (it’s also easier to get there early if you get a good night’s rest).

4. Sit as close to the front as you can.

When I go to concerts I try to sit as close to the front as I can afford. That’s where all the action is. I want to experience the artist up close and personal.  It’s the same thing with the conference sessions. Sitting in the front, you aren’t distracted by people coming in late.

Another reason why it’s beneficial to sit in the front is because the speaker is more likely to notice your question because you are right in front of them.  Lastly if you aren’t able to get your question answered, or you have a follow up/more in-depth question, you have a shorter path to ask your question and meet the speaker afterwards.

5. Say Thank You.

There is a saying that “everyone in this world owes you absolutely nothing, so anything you get should be considered a gift.”

It’s tough to emphasize the importance of gratitude. Gratitude can take you further in your career faster than talent. It will take you further faster in your scene, and in your personal life. CD Baby puts on a premier conference that in my opinion isn’t matched by anything else. They spend the year planning it, ands come out early and put in a LOT of work behind the scenes to pull this thing off.  One of the simple, yet most significant things you can do is when you see a CD Baby employee, look them in the eyes and say “thank you.” Tell them how awesome/amazing it is, or describe something fun about your experience. Taking a few moments to do this goes A LONG way because you are taking a moment to say “you’re appreciated, your hard work is valued, and I’m grateful.”  It costs you nothing, but can really make an employee’s day.

If you REALLY want to express gratitude in an AWESOME way, consider taking the time to meet/learn a few employees’ names (like the people who work the open mic, Kevin and Chris from the podcast, etc.) and send them a handwritten thank you card. There isn’t a feeling quite like getting an unexpected thank you card from someone in the mail. More than that, how cool would it be, when recovering from the hangover of all the stress of putting on such a huge conference, to come back to work and find a throng of thank you cards from people at the conference? If you only do one of these, I would HIGHLY suggest doing this one.

BOUNUS: Apply the info!

All of the game changing keys, info, tips, tricks, tools, and gems are absolutely WORTHLESS if you don’t put in the work to apply what you’ve learned.

When you get home, or on the way home, go over the things that stood out most to you, what was the most impactful, and develop a plan to work the info you acquired. You’ve spent hundreds of dollars to be at this conference, and it’s a great investment in your career. Don’t let it go to waste by leaving those gems in your notebook. Make a real, practical, incremental plan to IMPLEMENT them.

I love this conference so much. Every year it’s been such a game changer. I believe if you bring these ideas to your conference experience this year, it’ll be your best conference yet! Enjoy it!