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But every record exec had to
deal with the fundamental "how do I get signed?" question—it’s what brings the pilgrims in to every conference.

EAT’M & WEEP: ROLLING THE DICE

HITS’ Simon Glickman Hits Vegas, Where He Hears the Sound of Money and Rides the Music Biz Roller Coaster: An exclusive report
There’s a roller-coaster directly outside my hotel window.

This means that every few minutes or so, a plummeting car full of Vegas revelers swoops within earshot, the rush of the machinery and their fear/pleasure screams interrupting my thoughts.

On my way to the panels, speakers and exhibits of the Emerging Artists and Technology in Music (EAT’M) conference this week, I’ve trudged what seemed like several carpeted miles, past row upon row of one-armed bandits, banks of tense blackjack tables, roulette wheels tossing the ball of fate in the air. Money going out. Money coming in. Waiting.

Everywhere, the push and pull, exhilaration and fear, loss and hope—these things seem in much sharper relief now, as the industry casts its wary eyes on the future. The question of where we’re going and what the business will become was everywhere.

I appeared on two back-to-back technology panels, both attempting to navigate the next direction for those of us who still believe that "new media" and "making money" are not mutually exclusive terms. In the "Building Online Communities" forum, Fanscape’s Larry Weintraub, consultant Scott Ross, DigitalMaven.com’s Annie Van Bebber, TheMusic.com’s Coleman Brice and I offered an intimate group of artists and entrepreneurs some ideas about gathering a crowd in what we geeks still call "the space." A bit of a free-for-all, but it was heartening to be told by some musicians afterward that it was helpful and—get this—interesting.

During the "Devices of the Future" panel, moderator Ted Cohen of EMI defied the rest of us—including ArtistDirect’s Marc Geiger, SONICblue’s Gil Miller and myself—to define a path between rampant piracy and untenable digital "protection." The only clear answer was that anything, at this point, is a gamble. But Cohen’s tenacity served as a pointed reminder to the digital doubters that there are folks on the label side who are pondering these issues 24/7, with intelligence, passion and wit.

HITSRodel Delfin moderated the main A&R session; the conference’s biggest ballroom was filled to capacity with music hopefuls who wanted to shove their gaudily Photoshopped demo CDs into the hands of weasels like Atlantic’s Tom Storms, Maverick’s Berko, Jeff Blue of Warner Bros., Eric Hunter from Geffen/Interscope, Epic’s Pete Ganbarg and American’s Dino Paredes.

It’s an annual ritual, the tattooed and fucsia-haired, the pierced and the knit-capped hoping to roll the lucky number and get one of these label types to recognize their genius. The A&R dudes did their best to offer general advice, and promised to listen to mailed-in submissions. Then began question time, with all its passive-aggressive overtones of "Why won’t you listen?"

"You don’t understand," declared one participant to the panel. "You guys are like kings to us."

"Great," said one of my weasel friends in the peanut gallery. "That’s all these guys need to hear."

But every record exec had to deal with the fundamental "how do I get signed?" question—it’s what brings the pilgrims in to every conference. Atlantic Co-President Ron Shapiro heard it repeatedly after delivering an address full of specifics about challenges faced by the biz. Self-styled gadfly Miles Copeland tried to reinforce the removal of "obstacles" to getting signed (i.e., get off your lazy ass), and told stories of cramming as many musicians as possible into one cheap hotel room. Furthermore, Copeland declared, "The Internet is bullshit" and big labels are "ossified."

But between sessions, in bars and restaurants, what I heard overall was guarded optimism. And at Thursday night’s HITS-sponsored bash at the Hard Rock Cafe, which neared capacity within minutes, I was told repeatedly that in spite of all, people feel lucky to be in this business. Quite a few of them—no doubt boosted by the free spirits—declared they’d been enjoying the hell out of EAT’M, and even said nice things about HITS. I fear for their hangovers, but I relish their praise. And I’ll never forget the sight of elegantly attired conference organizer Lisa Tenner onstage, telling the assembled masses, "You fuckin’ rock!"

After the party, the showcases began. Buzz bands Bombchild and Point Defiance made a strong impression at the Hard Rock, while Mike Galaxy’s showcase at the Mandalay Bay House of Blues drew a nice crowd to see rock acts Cage 9, heavily courted Teraplane and one of my faves, hard-charging hookmeisters Super Human Strength, who even got some girlies dancing on the tables.

The rest of the night, I confess, is something of a blur. But I remember some money being placed on red, and, to everyone’s shock, we won.

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