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Band on the Rise

The music scenes in Seattle and Minneapolis and Miami and Phoenix and Atlanta and other cities large and small are vying for one essential commodity: ATTENTION!


These cities yearn to become a regular stopping point for record-label scouts, to get artists signed to contracts, to produce some stars.

To become the next hotbed.

Tampa Bay is no exception. Our musical community, like the aforementioned burgs, has jumped into the new growth industry of music seminars and awards shows. The Tampa Bay Music Awards has endured some rough sledding but seems to have found a stable course. The tight-knit heavy metal community has spun off its own awards program.

And the Southeastern Music Conference, held today through Sunday at the Holiday Inn Ashley Plaza and three concert venues in Tampa, enters its second year after a more successful debut than just about anyone expected. The SMC, as it's known, hands out no trophies. Rather, it presents seminars that educate musicians and music-biz types, as well as staging evening showcases that present a variety of acts from throughout Florida and southern Georgia.

The concerts can serve as a convenient crash course on the developing Florida pop landscape. Perhaps more important, a number of A&R (Artist & Repertoire) people, the folks responsible for signing new acts to recording contracts, are expected to be in attendance. Representatives from song publishing companies, management firms and entertainment lawyers _ the usual complement of movers and shakers _ also are expected.

Says Rob Vessenmeyer, guitarist/vocalist for showcase band Men From Earth: "SMC is a schmooze-fest, a learning experience. And you also get to play."

All told, 48 acts will perform half-hour sets at Tampa Theater, the Ritz Theater and Friday Morning Musicale. An additional six acts will play in the Holiday Inn lobby during seminar hours. The performers include alternative rockers, metal-heads, blues groups, solo folkies, jazz ensembles, funksters, rappers and even a St. Petersburg duo, Yuko Daiko, that specializes in traditional Japanese drumming.

While the showcase musicians are most excited about strutting their stuff for people that matter, SMC organizers are more focused on the educational aspect. "The whole things started out in my mind years ago as an educational opportunity," said co-director Tom Morris, who owns Morrisound recording studios in Tampa. "In watching the scene rather closely over the last 10 years, one of the main things that holds bands back is a lack of business expertise. Our goal is to educate musicians, and the support structure surrounding the musicians _ to provide a focus for business knowledge.

"The showcases came about as a necessity to bring industry people here. Without good talent to show off, there's no reason for them to come down and serve on a panel."

The SMC panels (see schedule) will tackle major areas of the music business. The emphasis is on practical, useful information. This differs from some of the more established symposiums, like the New Music Seminar in New York, where the topics (censorship, alternative vs. mainstream, etc.) oftentimes become a forum for philosophical debate.

How does a new band make an effective demo tape? What should you look for in a manager? When is the right time to seek one? How do you start creating a "buzz" about your band? How can you capture the attention of A&R folk? What does an entertainment lawyer do, and is one necessary? These and other down-to-earth questions will be dealt with by panels of specialists in each field.

Morris and co-director Lynn Norton, education director for the Hillsborough County Arts Council, view SMC as good for the long-term health of the Tampa Bay music community, even though no profits from the event itself are in sight.

"There's been some really creative artists here for a long time," Norton said. "But perhaps the right ears haven't been around to hear it. Maybe it hasn't clicked. But by giving a few quality artists exposure, more and more of them come in, and your standards keep getting higher and higher. Sooner or later the momentum will kick in."


The Southeastern Music Conference, today and Saturday at the Holiday Inn Ashley Plaza and at three concert venues in Tampa. The conference features daytime seminars for musicians and evening showcases of bands at Tampa Theater, the Ritz Theater and Friday Morning Musicale.