In a little under two weeks, downtown Nashville will be a hotbed for more than the usual music industry activity as the city’s Hilton Hotel and Ryman Auditorium host the 39th International Entertainment Buyers Association conference and honors.
This year’s conference events run October 11-13 and will feature the usual array of educational panels and networking opportunities. But, as in previous years, the conference’s biggest draw, according to IEBA Executive Director Tiffany Davis, will be the artist showcases.
“The driving factor is really the live showcases,” she told TicketNews. “We do several live showcases sponsored by both the small and large agencies. They can be as short as 20 minutes, but most showcases are two to three hours.”
Davis noted that the agencies are in charge of their own programming, sometimes even booking special venues in the city to stage their selected talent. The acts can range from the A-list to the local, but, as the second-year conference director noted, “It’s always eclectic.”
When the conference premiered nearly four decades ago in 1970, it was primarily as a country music showcase. For a few years, the event was held under the auspices of the International Country Music Buyers Association and was tied directly to the annual meetings of the Country Music Association.
But as venues and audiences changed, so did the name and focus of the conference.
“First it expanded because a lot of country venues will also book classic rock acts because the demographics are similar. Now, IEBA has seen representatives from a lot of the larger venues that book an even wider variety of acts,” Davis said, regarding the gradual programming change. “It’s a nice mix now. It’s a balance. We’re staying true to the country roots, but with a sprinkling of other acts.”
This year, that sprinkling will include a taste of urban (Boyz II Men), reggae (The Wailers), pop (Jessie James) and Christian music (TobyMac and Point of Grace), with additional presentations from agencies like Paradigm, Buddy Lee Attractions and William Morris.
However, as Davis noted, IEBA will preserve and pay homage to its Nashville home and history. In fact, two of the biggest names on the 2009 bill are pop-country crossovers Michelle Branch and Uncle Kracker.
Attendees can also expect another event staple with an evening at Ryman Auditorium for IEBA Honors. Held on the evening of October 12, the ceremony will recognize the buyer, promoter, agent, venue and event of the year. Additional honors will be bestowed upon iconic performer Chubby Checker and industry legend Barbara Hubbard.
Opening and closing keynotes for the mid-October conference will be given by best-selling author Dan Clark and renowned industry commentator Bob Lefsetz. Meanwhile, the panels that comprise the remainder of the day-to-day schedule will focus on contemporary hot-button issues.
One subject that Davis expects to dominate many minds at this year’s event is social networking. The topic will be discussed in the break-out panels for several sectors of the industry as they try to capitalize on the latest technological trend.
“Everyone has a link to their Twitter account or Facebook page that they’ll send out, but people don’t really know how to utilize all the different sites to sell tickets,” Davis said. “We’ll be bringing social networking full circle to convert it to promotions and sales.”
More conventional topics will also come into play over the course of the week, including an economy that still weighs heavy on many minds. In the realm of buying and selling entertainment, the tightening budgets of the masses have impacted how the industry does business.
“If tickets can’t be sold above a certain price point, there is a limit to what acts can be paid,” Davis noted. She added that, due to the financial restrictions of the audiences, many who attend IEBA “are selling and buying more of their smaller acts, only looking for the acts that are $10,000 to $30,000 a night, or they’re looking for more local acts.”
Registration for the 2009 IEBA conference will remain open through the event. Davis is expecting about 500 attendees, the average for IEBA, though the conference could sustain more. “But not 600 — that might be too much,” she laughed.
Regardless of whether attendees come out for the showcases, honors or panels, Davis said that the true charm of the annual IEBA conference is the intimacy of the event. With plenty of time set aside strictly for networking, she is confident that returning industry professionals will have time to meet with their contacts, while new attendees can mingle in the industry without finding themselves lost in a crowd.
“We encourage everyone to get their registration in and done, but walk-ups are accepted. We have limitations, but it’s all within reason.”