Monday, October 13, 2014

CMJ 2014: 7 Tips to Survive CMJ

It's October, people -- which means three things: 1) ComicCon (which was EPIC, by the way). 2) Halloween. 3) the epic CMJ Festival.

Yup, it's almost time for CMJ craziness! After last year's insanity in which I somehow packed in 13 bands in four days, I couldn't be more excited for the new faves that this year will bring. (This year's goal: more than 13 artists during the festival's span.) Since we have a little bit of time before opening kick off and since several of you readers have approached me saying you'll be attending the festival this year for the first time ever, allow me to present to you Mel's Tips to Survive CMJ...

1. Listen to As Many Bands As Humanly Possible BEFORE the Festival Begins.
Over a thousand bands will be playing CMJ. Let that number sink in because it's freaking overwhelming. You're gonna want to get the most of out this experience and to do that you need to know where to start in terms of who you want to see.

Since this can feel a bit like you're suddenly black-and-white Dorothy in a bright, dazzling technicolor Oz, allow yourself some time to peruse who will be playing. This means picking apart CMJ's website and spending some quality time with your Spotify account. Don't bank on listening to everyone, but try hard (and keep an open mind).

2. Know the Banner Bands and the Buzz Bands.
Every year there's a handful of artists that are what a lot of bloggers like to label the "Banner Bands" and the "Buzz Bands". Banner Bands are familiar faces just on the precipice of a serious breakthrough in popularity. Perhaps they have a large following in another country. Maybe they opened for one of your fave bands. They are usually the bands that CMJ will use on a lot of their marketing material. Buzz Bands may not be well known outside of ardent scourers of The Hype Machine, SoundCloud and the general music underground. But without fail, a handful of bloggers will openly state they are "the band to watch" and word will travel and exponentially multiply.

Words to the Wise: When attending CMJ, know the bands that will be bringing the crowds. If you passionately want to see this artist, be prepared for the fight for prime audience placement. 

3. Plan Your Route in Advance & Be Realistic.
CMJ offers a fantastic scheduling service that allows you to really plan your "itinerary" so to speak. This is imperative for folks who like to party hop and head to more than one venue in one night. That being said -- especially if you are not New York savvy -- be realistic with your choices if you are wanting to do a multi-venue night. I wouldn't recommend trying to see a showcase at Webster Hall and Music Hall of Williamsburg in one day. General knowledge of NYC geography and subways is a must. If you don't know the area, download the Hop Stop app for your smart phone. It gives you subway/transit directions by plugging in two addresses. This also helps if you're looking for places to find a quick bite to eat, coffee, etc. etc.

Also, schedules are for the most part strictly upheld in terms of performance times -- don't bank on arriving late and being able to see your fave.

4. When In Doubt, Stick Around for the Full Night.
To some, this may seem like the lazy way out but heed my call. If you're unsure of where to begin, find an artist you're really interested in seeing (this is particularly useful if they are positioned to be a "headliner" or "mid-level" and not the first act of the night). Then head to that venue early and stay for the whole night. It's less stress, you'll definitely get to see the artist you were interested in -- and the bonus is you might get to know a handful of great new artists. CMJ itself is about music discovery, so keep an open mind -- you don't know who you might see play and really enjoy.

Perfect example: Last year, some of my favorite performances were of people I wasn't even there to see! AJR was a surprise opener at the top of the showcase that I attended solely for Neon Hitch. Strange Talk and ASTR played just before Betty Who. Panama Wedding performed just before NONONO. Genres are a non-issue and if a showcase is arranged under any kind of theme or heading, they would let you know beforehand. A lot of these performances are arranged somewhat haphazardly based on the open availability for the artist.

Also, you never know who might be a bonus late addition to the bill. AJR was added to the showcase set up last minute. Same goes for NONONO when I saw them for the (unexpected) second time while waiting to see Betty Who.

5. Wear Comfy Shoes.
Real Talk: I'm about 4'11. That's really short. While my first inclination in any situation is to wear a cute pair of heels, CMJ can be really exhausting. Like REALLY exhausting. This festival is much less about how you look and more about the people and artists you'll meet. Err on the side of being comfortable because you're gonna be doing a lot of walking/standing and waiting around.

6. Limit What You Carry With You.
This is especially true for the ladies. These showcases get packed. Don't be that girl with the ginormous purse. Here's the basics of what you need: your CMJ pass (if you have one), your phone, your keys/MetroCard, a mobile phone charger, and enough cash to get you through the night (paper over plastic, people -- a lot of these venues require a needless tab to use a credit card).

7. Know Your Venues & Get There Early.
Do some research on the venues if you've never been there before. The smaller they are, the quicker they will fill to capacity -- so the earlier you should head over if you want prime positioning.

Have something to add? Be sure to leave it in the comments!

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