Things don’t stay the same very long in the music business.
When Capital Region musician and producer Sandy McKnight and his Columbia Arts Team organization first began hosting the Hudson Valley Songfest in 2006, Internet radio was just starting to take off, digital distribution was beginning to overtake physical music sales, and Myspace was at the forefront of online music promotion. Today, there are myriad options for online radio and promotion, from Spotify to ReverbNation, and the market has continued its gradual shift away from albums to single-song downloads.
The Songfest has changed, too — over the past six years it has evolved from a single panel of five musicians into a daylong event with more than 20 musicians, music lawyers and other industry professionals, featuring topical panels, song critiques and performances throughout the day. With the rapid and continual evolution in the music business, Songfest has been able to help New York musicians keep up.
Hudson Valley Songfest
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Helsinki Hudson, 405 Columbia St., Hudson
How Much: $75; $10 for buffet lunch
Chance to network
“We started out really just songwriting-oriented, and we still do that, but now we’re also more [about the] music business, and also performing aspects of the business — how to put on a better show, which people don’t think about much,” McKnight said recently from a restaurant in Albany. “And the other great thing about this event is . . . it’s not that easy to get ahold of people in the music business, so to have 20-something of them in the room right there, you can kind of say, OK, well this guy could actually help me if he hears my stuff.”
The seventh annual Songfest, which takes place Saturday at Helsinki Hudson, will continue to expand upon previous years’ events. For the second year in a row, the Songfest is being held at Helsinki, after having bounced around different Hudson venues. The day before, Columbia Arts Team is also hosting a Best New Artists showcase at Helsinki at 7 p.m.
So far, the announced panelists include musicians Robbie Dupree, Tim Moore, Marc Black, local Albany player Michael Eck and Donna Lewis (known for the 1996 No. 1 hit “I Love You Always Forever”). From the music industry side, guests include music lawyer Wallace Collins, career coach Debra Russell, engineer Stephen George, music supervisor Jeff Zahn, studio owner Paul Antonell and producer Michael Pillot. A full list of events and panelists can be found at www.catevents.org.
“Obviously, not everyone’s going to be of interest to you,” McKnight said. “But say there’s five people that you meet in the day — that’s certainly worth the price of admission right there.”
The day starts off shortly after 9 a.m. with three rounds of panels — announced topics include “Recording Studio vs. Home Studio,” “Copyrights and Contracts” and “Get Your Recordings on TV,” among many others. During this time, attendees can consult one-on-one with music business lawyers for a $30 15-minute session, or $50 for half an hour — a new feature for this year’s Songfest.
“Try getting a lawyer for that,” McKnight said. “Some people might want to just say, ‘I’m confused about some issue,’ or, ‘Would you be willing to sit and listen to a few new songs I have and give me some feedback?’ ”
A buffet lunch follows, which also features a performance showcase for the musician panelists. Another round of panels, free song critique sessions and an open mic in the main ballroom close out the day.
“No guarantee that people are going to stop and listen, but you get up there and do a couple of songs, you might catch somebody’s ear,” McKnight said. “We also will sell for you any [merchandise] that you have, and give you all the money for that.”
Attendance has been steadily growing for the event, topping out at about 70 or 80 last year. McKnight hopes to reach 100 attendees this year.
“I think it’s really a must attend if you’re in this area, because you don’t have a lot of access to these people around here,” he said.
“Some people spend a couple thousand dollars to go down to South by Southwest, let’s say, but they get essentially the same information there as they’re going to get at Songfest. It’s not the big party that South by Southwest is, but if you want to really learn about the music business, or you want to learn about songwriting, or any aspect of music, and you live in this area, I don’t understand why somebody wouldn’t come to the event.”