The IBMA Sessions

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Of all the events we attend during our bluegrass travels, there are two which require us to do extensive planning before we get to the site: Merlefest and IBMA. Each event offers a complex and varied selection of activities, many of which conflict with each other in terms of the schedule, forcing us to select from seemingly equally attractive alternatives. In the case of the IBMA World of Bluegrass week, including both the business conference and Fan Fest, there are good choices all day long, and the day is long. It is easy, desirable in fact, to arrive at the Convention Center around 9:30 in the morning. This year scheduled events last until 1:30 AM the next day. Active jammers, or those who wish to observe jams, visit hotel suites for private showings, or just hang out can easily keep themselves entertained until three of four in the morning. There’s a good reason that for many attendees IBMA is an acronym for “I’ve Been Mostly Awake.”

A few months ago, Irene and I sat down with a friend who’s retired from an active and highly successful business career. I expressed to him my amazement at how few members of bands appeared at the seminars and meetings during the day at World of Bluegrass. I noted that at these scheduled events I found good ideas flowing and my understanding of both the music and the business of bluegrass increased. I asked him how, during his business career, he approached getting the most benefit from attending a conference. “Before a conference,” he said, “I’d assemble my team [band] to examine the program and decide how we’d divide up the events. Each person would attend different seminars and meetings, take notes, contribute his own ideas, and bring away what he considered to be the best ideas offered there. Later, we’d meet and compare notes to share what we’d learned. Sometimes, for big or important meetings, we’d send two or more team members to make sure we were able to get different points of view included in our considerations. Once we’d compared notes, we’d begin developing a plan of action.” Our friend argued that such an approach helped to educate each member, improved the teams functioning, and put it in a position to improve its competitiveness in a highly competitive environment.

This leads me to ask a few questions. I believe whether you’re a performer, a promoter, a content producer, an agent, a fan or any of the dozens of other kinds of people involved in what we call bluegrass music, you wish to improve your ability to maximize competence, effectiveness, income, and enjoyment gained from your involvement. We live in challenging economic times where competition is often difficult and sometime cut-throat. It’s hard for individuals to assess their own place within what some resent calling “the bluegrass industry.” Many people claim “it’s all about the music,” resisting strongly the thought that they’re also engaged in a business. Performers, particularly, seem to believe they come to IBMA to perform, resenting the idea they should pay to attend the conference or stating clearly the cost isn’t worth the benefit. I’ve written an extensive preview designed to suggest ways of making sure you, whatever your role in bluegrass, get the most benefit from attending. You can read the entire piece on my blog here: The choices are there, and IBMA has widened them, adjusted the ways you can attend the events, opened the door to many more alternatives, and listened to the complaints coming from both the membership and the disaffected bluegrass people who don’t belong or who serve as internal critics.

As you begin your planning for IBMA, start by asking yourself a few questions:

Could you learn anything from others that would help you improve your performance?

Is there anything your peers and professionals from other fields have to say to you that could help you improve your performance?

Have you reached the place in your profession you saw yourself going fifteen years ago?

Is it more important for you to jam late into the night or to work to improve and develop your position within the “bluegrass industry?”

Your answers to these questions will help determine the choices you make during WOB week and help you to improve the cost to benefit ratio in your attendance. Planning your week at IBMA will pay dividends you can see, even if they aren’t immediate. All the specific information you need to start planning NOW is available to you on the recently re-designed IBMA web site.

In the end, it’s up to each person to decide whether it makes sense to attend IBMA World of Bluegrass from September 26 – October 2 in Nashville. Bluegrass professionals from all constituencies as well as fans can experience significant growth and have a good time. In terms of cost/benefit, the issue remains whether a person is willing to plan carefully enough and work hard enough to gain the most from attending part or all of the week. Many people resent the mere idea that bluegrass music can be conceived as a business, let along an industry. They resist professionalism in any form, holding that the heart of bluegrass lies in the jam and the festival field. Others maintain that “it’s all about the music” and choose to avoid efforts such as World of Bluegrass. It’s extremely difficult to make a good living playing bluegrass music. The multitude of resources made available through membership and participation in IBMA can only be a tool to growth and improvement of an individual’s ability to compete and prosper. CBA has been and remains a highly visible and vocal component of the World of Bluegrass. Participation by CBA members who attend provides a valuable adjunct to the success of IBMA. The Board and staff of IBMA have spent the past year assessing these issues and responding to the data drawn from their comprehensive survey. They’ve listened to what people told them and rebuilt the conference. This would be a good year to attend and and to see whether they’ve succeeded in adjusting to help you succeed more.

This is an abridged version of the longer preview I posted on my blog including detailed analysis of the conference with extensive links, analysis, and photos. Please visit there if you’re considering attending, especially for the first time:

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