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MixMaster Music Conference fosters community, demystifies music industry

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Although Lawrence is known as a music town with popular live music venues and a continually growing roster of artists, the local music community can seem opaque to new or younger musicians. Artists less “in the know” may miss out on some opportunities and find it challenging to connect with other musicians and industry professionals because they don’t know where to start.

Rachel Chang, a Lawrence artist who records under the name lizardgal, said that she had only recently started engaging in the local music community and was not very familiar with many artists, organizations or events in the scene.

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“It’s hard to market yourself, I guess, and I haven’t heard a lot about the type of music that’s coming out of Lawrence and the Kansas City area,” Chang said.

After attending a meeting with the Lawrence Music Alliance, an organization that aims to support working musicians and the music community, Chang became interested in learning more about the local music ecosystem.

“I went to one of their meetings, and they mentioned MixMaster,” Chang said. “It was free to register, so I thought I should just go and meet some artists in the area.”

The MixMaster 2023 Music Conference, held Saturday at the Lawrence Public Library, was designed to bring local artists and music industry professionals together to share resources, learn from each other, and strengthen the local music ecosystem. 

Abby Bayani-Heitzman Panelists Tricia Spencer, Sean Hunt, Erin J. McGrane, and Nick Carswell share a laugh during the “Careers in Music” breakout session.

As a free event, anyone was able to attend the conference to learn more about the music industry and network with other community members.

The conference, a project of the Lawrence Music Alliance supported by a Community Arts Grant from the City of Lawrence and the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, offered a keynote address and a variety of panels, workshops and networking sessions. 

The event kicked off with a presentation by Erin J. McGrane, a Kansas City-based musician, actress, author and real estate professional who has worked with several arts organizations, including the Heartland Song Network, the Midwest Music Foundation, Artist INC and the Mid-America Arts Alliance. 

McGrane’s presentation, called “What Works for Artists,” drew on her own experiences to illustrate that a career in the arts is not always linear, and artists often have to diversify their revenue streams in order to sustainably support themselves while continuing to do the work they love.

“The bad news is that there is not one path,” McGrane said during her presentation. “The good news is that there is not one path! There are as many paths as there are people.”

McGrane highlighted resourceful ways to support a music career, such as placing music in films and commercials or applying for grant funding. Describing a balanced, sustainable career as a “table,” she explained that artists should support themselves with as many “legs,” or revenue streams, as possible.

Abby Bayani-Heitzman Chris Haghirian, Max Indiveri, Maria Elena Cuevas, and Mark Manning discuss the importance of building your community during the “Get Booked, Get on Stage” panel.

The session “Get Booked, Get on Stage” featured Mark Manning of KKFI 90.1 FM, Maria Elena Cuevas of the band Maria the Mexican, Max Indiveri of the band the Whips and Funkhouse Productions, and Chris Haghirian of 90.9 FM The Bridge, who is also the co-founder of Middle of the Map Fest and does booking for the Kansas City beer, food and music festival Boulevardia.

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Throughout the session, each panelist emphasized the importance of engaging with and supporting your local community.

“You should focus on making friends because this industry is just as much about who you know and the community you bring together as it is the music,” Indivieri said. “It always comes down to the community you’ve built around yourself.”

Abby Bayani-Heitzman Panelists Nick Carswell of Silly Goose Records, Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (KCAIC) Assistant Director Kaie Van Steenhuyse, City of Lawrence Economic Development Director Britt Crum-Cano, and journalist Fally Afani of I Heart Local Music describe the connections among the music community, arts organizations, and local government in the “Music Ecosystems with the Lawrence Music Alliance” breakout session.

The final workshop session, the “Demo Dip,” invited local artists to submit demo recordings to be reviewed by a panel of judges.

The tracks that were submitted included everything from electronic music to classical piano, pop and R&B to punk rock, and singer-songwriter indie pop to experimental noise music. 

After each demo played, the judges would discuss the entry and then ask the artist to stand up and introduce themselves. The panel of judges praised all of the submissions and gave the recording artists notes and tips for future work.

The Demo Dip not only showcased the wide spectrum of music being produced in the area, but also the diversity of the artists themselves and the type of work they do.

Abby Bayani-Heitzman Ali Madden (center), music director for the University of Kansas’ student-run radio station KJHK 90.7FM, expresses her love of punk rock music during the Demo Dip.

Demos were submitted by enterprising young performers like Zee Underscore, a Kansas City artist and electrical engineer, as well as more experienced participants who were experimenting or branching out from their usual work, such as musician and educator Beth Watts Nelson, who performs with the Kansas City-based Konza Swamp Band and facilitates the Notorious Chorus group singing workshop for adults.

One of the last submissions was a sparkling, atmospheric synth track that captivated the room. After noting the music’s layered effect and masterful mixing, the judges asked the artist to stand up.

Chang stood up proudly, introduced herself as lizardgal, and announced her demo track’s title as “Pink Matter.”

The panelists asked if Chang was performing her music, but she said she only had music available to stream for now.

“I’m a recording artist right now, but I’m looking to get more into performing — starting to ramp up to that,” Chang said.

With the positive experience of the conference to buoy her, Chang is excited to dive more into the local music community and begin working with other artists.

“I think the conference is great, and I’m really glad it exists and that it’s so accessible to anyone who wants to come,” Chang said. “I’ve met a lot of really cool people, had a lot of cool ideas for collaborations with people, and learned a lot about what it takes to really build a music career.”

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— Abby Bayani-Heitzman is a staff writer for the Potawatomi News of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. In her free time, she enjoys writing about local art and music.

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