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VOL. 124 | NO. 87 | Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Summit to Promote Music Opportunities in Memphis

By Tom Wilemon

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MUSIC RESURGENCE: Arthur Mitchell, vice president of business development for Urban Network, is spending lots of time in Memphis because the Los Angeles-based music industry magazine will hold its 21st annual Urban Network Summit here June 10-13. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

Memphis is reasserting itself as a “perfect hub” for the music industry and a breeding ground for talent with homegrown artists such as the cast of MTV’s “$5 cover” and American Idol contestants Lil Rounds and Alexis Grace.

That’s the assessment of Arthur Mitchell, vice president of business development for Urban Network. The Los Angeles-based music industry magazine will bring its 21st annual Urban Network Music Entertainment and Marketing Summit to Memphis June 10-13. Mitchell spent last week here, preparing for the conference and setting aside time to meet with Rounds and with moviemaker Craig Brewer, the creator of “$5 cover.” The MTV series, which premiered Friday night on the network, showcases young Memphis musicians.

Changing landscape

The spotlight on Memphis, a city with famous and established recording studios, comes at a time when the industry is changing, Mitchell said. These changes bring the opportunity for breakout, independent labels in the tradition of The Sun Record Co. and Stax Records.

“As the industry has shrunk – labels have merged and gone out of business – the music industry has really become independent-friendly,” Mitchell said. “The major label is no longer the catalyst in the music industry. It is now the young cats who can make a track with Pro Tools at home and set up their own label because of the advent of digital distribution and MP3. You can do more on your own.”

However, musical talent and business acumen don’t always go hand in hand. The Urban Network summit will offer networking opportunities and educational workshops.

“We still have major label support, but now we’ve become a lot more independent-friendly,” Mitchell said. “We’ve opened up our conference to the general public, to the aspiring entrepreneurs, to that band or that rapper or that R&B singer who is not signed to a major label who wants to come to that conference and learn what’s going on in the music industry and learn how to work the new mediums and learn how to position themselves to get that distribution deal or label deal.”

The summit participants will include label executives, marketing experts, radio programmers, music retailers, producers, songwriters and artists.

Heavy lineup

Brewer, whose use of music in moviemaking has achieved box office success and critical acclaim for works such as “Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan,” has agreed to take part in the conference, Mitchell said.

Teddy Riley – the maestro behind hits such as “My Prerogative” and “Just Got Paid,” is also on the lineup. Riley has worked with Keith Sweat, Michael Jackson and Heavy D.

“He’s going to do a workshop for two days to teach these young producers how to produce a hit song and what goes into a hit song,” Mitchell said. “By coming to an Urban Network event, you can get exposure to people that the average aspiring artists couldn’t even get through to on the phone.”

The summit will take place at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. The cost is $200 for a four-day pass or a $75 individual day rate.

It was held in Los Angeles for 19 years. Urban Network wanted to move it to a more central and affordable location, Mitchell said. A couple of years ago, Kurt “KC” Clayton, a Memphis songwriter and producer who serves on the executive board for the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission, approached Mitchell about bringing the conference to the Bluff City. Mitchell has ties to Memphis because his wife, Deborah Webb-Mitchell, is from here.

“We want to expand what we do,” Arthur Mitchell said. “A lot of people in the Southern region and the East Coast, they can’t get to us. You have $400 or $500 plane fare. Then you’ve got four days of hotel plus registration. It makes it cost prohibitive for some of the younger and smaller and less funded people to get to our event. We figured that if we got centrally located, we could expand our brand and reach out to more people.”

Memphis is an area influenced by several musical styles, including blues, jazz, bluegrass, country, rock and gospel. The conference welcomes artists from all genres, Mitchell said, pointing out that country singer Kristy Lee Cook performed at a past conference.

“Music is kind of a breeding ground for talent and its tentacles really reach nine surrounding areas,” he said. “It’s just a perfect hub.”

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