It's a fairly typical Big Apple scenario, except for the fact that Hobart's set took place in midafternoon. Accustomed to playing in dimly lit dives that look as if the light of day has never invaded their space, Hobart must've been bewildered by the unfiltered sunlight peering in the open door. Hobart, along with artists such as Moby, P.J. Harvey, and Shivaree, played matinee sets to accommodate the packed schedule of the 20th annual CMJ Music Marathon, which stuffed 1,000-odd bands into 40-something venues. The early shift proved to be quite a blessing for Hobart, who was able to draw from an undiluted supply of music fans, record label representatives, writers, promoters, and college-radio DJs. If, for example, he had played at 8 the same night, Hobart would have been competing with more than 40 other acts.
As if the Marathon didn't supply enough excitement, its opening coincided with the first games of the World Series, meaning countless panelists and performers felt the need to interject statements of loyalty to the Yankees or Mets during their presentations or stage banter. Similarly, nearly every panel eventually evolved into a discussion of Internet distribution, which was unquestionably the conference's hot-button topic. Chuck D, frontman of music's most eloquently political group, Public Enemy, managed to incorporate both subjects in the speech that officially opened the ceremonies.
"They said baseball's a dead sport," he said, "but there's 50,000 people in the seats every night." The music industry, he added, also can prove that reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated by emulating the structure of sports. "In sports, if you're good, the cream rises to the top," he explained, noting how a talented athlete can rise through the ranks from high school to college to professional leagues. "In music, it hasn't always been that way. If you're a group in Akron, Ohio, you pretty much need to start an independent company to get your product out, no matter how good you are." However, he said, Internet distribution has leveled the playing field. "Now you're going to have a million bands on a million labels," he said.
Chuck D, an outspoken Napster supporter, maintained that "trying to stop file sharing is like trying to stop the rain." He proclaimed MP3-heavy Web sites as "the new radio" and declared traditional radio dead -- a gutsy statement that produced some gasps from a room filled mostly with college-radio DJs. Chuck had little sympathy for fellow artists who complain about lost profits, saying, "You should be making money for nothing (low production costs) and doing it for the love."
Following Chuck D's lead, record label representatives embraced (albeit reluctantly in some cases) the practice of using free downloadable tracks from CDs as a marketing tool. Seth Freed, publicist for the Blue Man Group, explained how the band's intense Internet fanbase has created a sizable buzz about an act that has never appeared on MTV or radio and whose album has been largely ignored by the music press. (The Blue Man Group's opening night show, which offered nonverbal performance art, percussive pyrotechnics, artfully splattered paint, and plenty of physical comedy, including a surprise spewing of banana pudding into the crowd, was one of the festival's hottest tickets.) Other tactics popped up in other panels: Sharon Loud of V2 Music explained how the use of Moby's music in commercials helped push his album to platinum status, while other panelists maintained that listening stations, while expensive (yes, the record labels pay to get their discs included), are effective.