The Truth About Producer Showcases
|By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)|
At most producer showcases, here’s the typical scene:
Three to five judges — usually with notable production credits or an association with a reputable record label or some other music industry insider post — sit conference panel-style on a stage and observe as producers come up (usually one by one) and play their beats, typically three to five of them in 60-second snippets. As each producer’s beats play, judges presumably take mental notes, showing approval with head-knods or dead-serious study faces. For their part, producers stand on stage doing their best version of their own hype man, which incidentally makes for an odd live performance aspect to all of this. (In fact, there is indeed often an audience in attendance, albeit 95% guys!) When all of a producer’s beats have been played, the judges give feedback to him or her. Most of the time, this is a compliment or feel-good criticism of some sort, followed by a cliched, “keep up the work” or “keep doing what you do,” but it’s not out of the norm for judges to plainly say something is whack. In any case, the producers thank (and sometimes praise) the judges, then leave the stage. After the actual production showcase is over, there is often a mingling period, which is usually promoted as a “networking” opportunity. During this period, people have drinks, socialize, reveal current projects, and, presumably, trade contact info.
Since 2006, I’ve attended more than 20 different producer showcases, including ones in New York, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and California. I’ve met a number of different producers (well-known and not) and music industry insiders at some of them. I’ve been invited to participate as a a judge and sponsor on several different occasions, and I’ve donated hard copies of The BeatTips Manual to at least five different producer showcases. All of this experience has given me a sharp understanding of the good and bad — the overall effectiveness — of producer showcases. And what I’ve found is that producer showcases mean less and less in terms of new artist (rappers and producers) introductions or success pathways, since people can easily learn about new artists online in advance of their participation in any showcase, and since more and more artists are realizing that it’s much easier (and less expensive) to put out their music rather than get “permission” or approval from industry insiders. Thus, for most people, most of the time, I don’t believe producer showcases are worth it.
Of course, there is perhaps an exception to every norm. Which is to say, it depends on what each person considers it to be “worth it”. While producer showcases are largely not the pipeline to success as some make them out to be, they do seem to give a sense of achievement to some of the producers who participate in them. However, I believe releasing your own music and establishing a production presence and fan base — without the tacit approval of a producer showcase — gives one a greater sense of achievement. Further, producer showcases, depending on the operators and location, can provide some foot-in-the door kinds of connections. But here again, the proverbial “door” is opened much wider in today’s music industry, which is flanked by an increasing number of different tools of distribution for artists to make their own way through. So while meeting a celebrity judge (producer or A&R) at a producer showcase might be a chance to make a new contact, glean a random piece of advice, get a compliment or even a great Instagram moment, I don’t believe this makes producer showcases invariably worth it.
Now, will some people benefit from attending producer showcases? Perhaps a handful, but not most. Will some people make useful connections at producer showcases? Perhaps a handful, but not must. Will some people receive constructive feedback on their music? Maybe — depends entirely on who the judges are and their level of objectivity and articulation.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that, in recalling their experiences to me, some former associates, judges, and producer showcase participants have described such showcases as “shakedowns”, “gimmicks,” and “useless” endeavors that do nothing more than “make money for the people putting on the showcase.” To be fair, not all producer showcases charge entry fees. But the truth is, a producer showcase is not a sustainable business model anyway. So some producer showcase operators have now moved into beat brokering, re-branding themselves as beat shopping houses. But given the wide open nature and unpredictability of beat placements, that’s not much of a sustainable business model either. And so now leading producer showcase operators have moved into production info-seminars and workshops, another indication that production showcases are not as influential or effective as some think they are.
Ultimately, the main problem with producer showcases is that, like other hold-overs from the old music industry, their power and influence paradigm is broken and near useless. This is because the very premise of most producer showcases, particularly the more established ones, still essentially defer to the notion of a closed music industry, where only a handful of people get the chance to be picked. But it’s no longer a handful-of-people industry. It’s no longer about getting picked. Literally anyone from any corner of the world can put themselves on in today’s open music industry. Moreover, it’s certainly never been about low-level industry insiders (with bloated or misrepresented track records) playing the role of king makers.
Special Note: The producer showcase circuit has helped to cultivate a different class of producer: A class that has a romantic view of the music industry; a class that believes in permission access — the idea that you need permission from music industry experts to take action; a class that sees commercialized networking as a suitable alternative to finding useful business and creative connections; and a class that mostly sees making sample-based music as an ill-advised creative path.Articles, Beatmaking, Beatmaking Education, Editor's Choice, Features, Sa'id