Millennium connects industry, grows Harrisburg's music brand
John Traynor's goal is to put Harrisburg on the map as a live music destination.
Jonathan Spirk hopes to lead his midstate rock band — Mileunder — to mainstream success.
Both got the chance to take steps in that direction as the 18th annual Millennium Music Conference and Showcase returned to the Harrisburg area last week.
The four-day event draws the bulk of its attendance on Friday and Saturday for business panels and showcase performances. It's held to help budding musicians learn more about the business, network with like-minded acts and industry professionals, and provide opportunities to play in front of new audiences in different venues.
Mileunder just rolled out its debut album and used the conference to network with other bands as it lines up a tour.
"I want to take this band national," Spirk said.
Event organizer John Harris received requests from 500 to 600 bands to play the showcases. Nearly 300 acts were selected to play about 30 venues in the greater Harrisburg area.
For Traynor, president of Stage on Herr at Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center, or HMAC, that not only meant more bands for a full-time live music venue but also acts from all over the country.
"It boosts our revenue. It brings out more people, even from the local community," he said.
HMAC shows already draw crowds from Maryland, New Jersey and other areas. That benefits local hotels and restaurants. The conference adds to that.
"I don't always agree with these type of conferences. We open our doors for free and the bands don't get paid," Traynor said. "(But) with the amount of talent coming through, it just seemed we needed to participate."
HMAC officials are trying to renovate their building on North Third Street to open a main stage and boost capacity to 1,200 from 200. That could happen this year.
National exposure is the goal, Traynor said.
"If we could become known as a city that really supports live music and live music venues, that would be great for the city, particularly in this economic climate," he added.
The conference side of the weekend is about helping the musicians learn how to be better small businesses and not just bands. Industry experts come from all over the country to serve as panelists, mentors and exhibitors. They talk about everything from legal issues and studio recording tips to booking gigs and marketing.
In return, there are business opportunities for those music professionals.
"It's not a big business thing. (But) it's not not either," said David Ivory, a Grammy Award-nominated engineer and record producer who owns Ivory Productions and Dylanava Studios in the Philadelphia area.
Ivory has been coming to the Harrisburg conference for nearly 15 years. It was here that he met a young Elizabeth "Lzzy" Hale, lead singer of Halestorm, a Grammy-winning hard rock band that started in Red Lion.
"It's important to keep a presence," said Jason Shaffer, owner of Full Tilt Productions, a recording studio and production services firm in Mechanicsburg.
Two years ago when he attended, Shaffer picked up a handful of new studio clients. Like other producers, Shaffer planned to attend showcase events to catch up with acts he's worked with and possibly recruit others to his studio.
This boutique conference, which is a model used around the country, isn't the silver bullet to stardom, said Joe Trojcak, owner of Progressive Enterprises Sound Studios in Conewago Township.
"Don't go with the idea of signing a big record contract. It's about meeting people," he said. "It's a tough battle out there and life is not fair. Try to make it fairer for yourself by giving yourself as many shots as possible."
Making connections for future shows — artists and venues — is arguably the biggest benefit of this event, said Jason Rubal, owner of Seventh Wave Studio in Lower Paxton Township.
"It's a good moneymaker for the area," he said, also citing the diverse entertainers it attracts.
For the musicians, the money is there if they treat it like a job, said Rome Gelsomino, who runs sound and manages Mad Men PA, a funk, jazz and hip-hop group from Carlisle.
"A lot of bands focus solely on the music," he said. "But there are a lot of other parts. You are providing a service for people. You have to know how to talk to customers and clients. A lot of stuff goes into it."