IBMA Update - A Message from the President

 It’s great that spring is in the air….except, I guess, for our members in the southern hemisphere!  I hope you’ve enjoyed some wonderful music the first months of the year and are looking forward to a special festival season.       

Spring here in the Boston area where I live is always a time of renewal and as I’ve shared in previous messages to our members, I believe it’s a time of renewal for IBMA and great expectations for our music’s future.   I’m writing today to update you on some activities within IBMA that I know you’ll want to know about so please bear with me and this long message.  

YOUR INPUT IS IMPORTANT     

As you may have seen in earlier messages, IBMA initiated a major survey of the bluegrass community to gather input about the events we host.  It’s been important to our leadership in shaping future events and especially the 2011 World of Bluegrass.  I’ll share more on that in a moment.        We’re also preparing a second survey to get your input soon on the benefits we offer and how the organization can best serve you throughout the year.      I’ve also been impressed with the ideas received through our new “suggestion box” and encourage you to keep them coming.  Remember that you can send ideas and concrete suggestions for how to improve what we offer as an e-mail to ibmasuggestions@gmail.com.        Your input is vital to understanding how we can best work together, and while I can’t promise we can implement every idea or solve every issue, I can certainly assure you that you’re being heard.

WORLD OF BLUEGRASS 2011 – WHAT’S NEW!       

Members who serve on a host of committees and who participate in roles important to creating this year’s World of Bluegrass week are shaping a variety of ideas gleaned from your suggestions to create an experience that we hope is more responsive to your needs than any previous event.  I list several changes below.    

You can expect to see and hear more great music than ever as we’re expanding the schedule to include more “after hours” showcases and have rescinded the registration requirement for artists performing in those functions to make the opportunity completely accessible.       

Also at members’ request, we’ve asked the committee responsible for the official showcases to lean toward selecting more emerging talent.  We’ll be announcing a stellar lineup of exciting new music to present to you soon.  The IBMA Awards and Fan Fest will also, as always, give you one of the greatest lineups of the year as we celebrate the year’s achievements and enjoy great fellowship with friends the world over.     

And to comments that in recent years the events haven’t been as friendly to networking, socializing and jam sessions as they could be, we’ll be opening the common areas of the convention center to the public during the business conference and making seating and gathering areas more user friendly.  That’s right!  Those who simply want to hang out at the events can access the heart of the facilities at no charge.  (Of course, we can’t put on the events completely for free so we hope anyone taking advantage of a more open door policy will see the value and sign up to attend other events as well.)       

And once inside the convention center, we’ll offer more ala carte pricing on entrance to many of the most important aspects of the conference.  Admission to the Exhibit Hall will be $20 per day and the official evening showcases will be a mere $25.      

Those wanting admission to a full day of activities, including the exhibit hall, showcases, valuable seminars, Gig Fair, showcase luncheon, special awards program and other networking functions can still register for one day or the whole week….and those prices are lower by as much as 17% in 2011.       

There’s other news but I don’t want to scoop it all in one message.  So let me stop here on that subject and say simply that the excitement is back and at rates that we hope are more affordable.  We realize it’s a significant commitment to attend the events, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.      

I look forward to seeing you there!  

BOARD LEADERSHIP     

Your board of directors participated in a unique planning retreat a couple of weeks ago and in addition to addressing the business of the association, planning events, dealing with finances, organizational matters and proposals for a couple of days, we also invited about 20 bluegrass leaders to spend one of those days with us for an open discussion about the opportunities and challenges in our world.  In short, we wanted to step back and look at the big picture for a moment.       

It was obvious that everyone is keenly aware of the impact of the current economy and the fact the music industry confronts a sea-change in our business models.  I was heartened that there was also a high level of consensus on the path forward.     

Following are some highlights.

WHOM DO WE SERVE?       

There was significant discussion from our guests and the Board about the importance of embracing a broader constituency (i.e., the big tent model).  While IBMA has never defined bluegrass narrowly, we may have inadvertently paid less attention to related forms, thereby making some feel less than welcome.  In particular, it was noted that some young musicians may be included in this group.  It is neither good for the music nor the IBMA to exclude artists whose work is closely related to what many of us would call traditional bluegrass. Of course, if we are to expand our tent, we must do so in a way that protects, nurtures and promotes our core.  We must honor and respect the pioneers and the generations that went before and those carrying those traditions forward.  Great music of any kind is rooted in the traditions that preceded it.  It grows from these roots instead of being created from whole cloth.   Let me assure you the traditions and the foundations of our music will continue to be celebrated, embraced and nourished by IBMA in ways they so richly deserve.  But we do them no favor by hiding them from a world more anxious and open than ever before to discovering them through connections with other styles of great music.    

The history of bluegrass tells us it has survived and grown in respect as each great artist and new generation interprets it in their own voice and style and the traditions keep growing stronger.  As a traditionalist myself, my confidence in the greatness of our music tells me it’s time to celebrate the influences we’ve had on the world music scene and to acknowledge the influence other music has had on bluegrass.  We will grow because of it.       

While the group that met endorsed the “big tent model,” we did not identify specific plans to implement it.  The devil is in the details, and the Board will continue to study this as we go forward.  I invite you to help us think through the details of how to best approach this important but complex issue.

ADJUSTING TO NEW BUSINESS MODELS     

Another topic that occupied a large part of the discussion was how business models are shifting as a result of new technologies.  Regardless of the type of music and entertainment one promotes, technology has and will continue to change the means of doing so.  One industry leader that joined us for the meetings used the analogy of the shift in the early 20th century from consumers using ice boxes to the availability of refrigerators.   Many ice box companies had access to the technology to begin building refrigerators but chose not to.  Those that didn’t weren’t long in the industry.  IBMA, as your trade organization, must play a major role in helping its constituents successfully adapt to changes in the business of music.     

That’s not to discourage anyone, because there’s a great opportunity in front of us. IBMA can serve as a clearing house where ideas and new skills can be shared to help each other adapt to the new business models.       

We can find ways to work more closely together to enhance the relationships we enjoy between those who create our music, the businesses that promote it, and the community of fans that have a passion for it.     

One way of accomplishing that is through a new online “community” IBMA plans to launch this fall called Bluegrass Nation.  We talked about Bluegrass Nation at last year’s conference, and the construction of the new website to support it is underway.  You’ll be hearing more about Bluegrass Nation this summer and how to get involved.  And we need more ideas like this that invest in ways we can work together,       

As an added bonus, we will also be using this opportunity to modernize IBMA’s website and to offer more benefits to you via this new on-line platform.

IBMA IS YOU!       

Your board and the IBMA staff are working very hard to make IBMA the 21st century trade organization that is responsive to your needs.  As I have said before, this goal can only be reached if you help us to identify areas for improvement and to take on the challenges of a new world order.  We are committed to seeing this happen.  Let’s move forward together and show the world the energy and spirit of our great music.

Thank you for being an active part of IBMA  

Stan Zdonik IBMA President & Board Chairperson