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Day in the Work Life: Money for music

Marketplace Staff Feb 2, 2007

TESS VIGELAND: Had enough of the red carpet already? Too bad. The Oscars are less than a month away. And before that, next weekend in fact, the Grammy’s. That’s where pop musicians get a pat on the back.

Lots of musicians won’t be there of course, but you can find them on small music labels, in independent record stores and on college radio stations. Their industry magazine is the College Music Journal, or CMJ. And every fall in New York City, CMJ hosts a conference for acts from around the world to show off their chops. They call it a music marathon. On this week’s a day in the work life we go to Lincoln Center to meet the guy who books the bands.

Hi, welcome to CMJ. You’re going to go straight that way, make a left, go to the coat check. You can get your gift bag and festival guide.

My name is Matt McDonald and I’m the CMJ showcase director. Well, as the showcase director, I’m responsible for all the nighttime showcases. Twenty-six years ago it was one night and two bands. And this year it’s five nights, over 1,050 bands. It’s 50 to 60 different clubs.

Well the first part of the process is to get all of the bands to submit their music. This year we had over 4,500 submissions. The second step is to evaluate them all, pick the goods and then the fourth step is to actually find something for them all. So inevitably there’s a lot of bands who deserve to have a show for one reason or another but at the end of the day we have limited space.

In terms of deciding who gets a show, there’s no real calculus. You know I guess at the core, it’s the quality of music. But you know, there could be the best band you’ve ever heard but nobody’s aware of them yet. Are you doing them a favor or the clubs a favor by putting a band on and there’s nobody who’s going to even be there to see them at that point. You’ve got to just strike the balance between the established ones and the emerging ones.

A big success in the recent years — 2004 The Arcade Fire played Mercury Lounge, which is a 250 capacity club. Last year they came back and did Central Park Summer Stage, over 5,000 capacity.

A lot of people were interested in Girl Talk this year. Girl Talk’s a guy from Pittsburg who takes snippets of the last 20 some years of popular music and puts them together to make a cohesive and very fun kind of amalgamation.

My hours, well when the marathon’s happening, I’m here at artist registration from 8:30 until 6. After that I go out and make the rounds at the various venues until 2 to 3 in the morning. It’s pretty brutal.

Salary for, you know, this kind of gig . . . on the low end I guess you can count on $25,000 a year. It goes up past $100,000 depending on where you’re at – major concerts, Madison Square Garden.

Do I play music? I play the jug every once in a while. And I own a guitar, but can’t play it very well. So in some ways I think that’s kind of good because I’ll never get bitter about booking all these bands who are going to be much more successful than me.

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