A.V. Club Milwaukee – Yellow Phone Music Conference 2012 Feature
Yellow Phone Music Conference gets back to basics
For unsigned artists, music conferences like South By Southwest once presented a surefire way to get noticed. But as these conferences grew larger, the focus seemed to have shifted more toward established acts than unsigned ones. Wanting to get back to the basics, entertainment company Pursuit Live created Yellow Phone Music Conference last year to get things right.
With the conference returning this year—Thursday, Sept. 6 through Sunday, Sept. 9 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and various venues—the conference’s organizers feel confident their intimate and hands-on approach is working. The name Yellow Phone, in fact, references the one-on-one attention they’re looking for. “When you pick up a phone, it’s one-on-one conversation and interaction, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this conference,” says organizer Doug Johnson. “It’s more of a one-on-one situation instead of some conferences where it might be a moderator talking to 50 people.”
The conference provides an optimal environment where artists can easily approach members of the music industry during and after panel discussions, and gain exposure in music showcases. The panel runs the gamut of music professionals, including people like Kevin Lyman, producer and creator of the Vans Warped Tour; Mollie Moore, A&R for Atlantic Records; and Peter Cohen, talent producer for NBC’s The Voice. “These people have the ability to get them in contact with their management or agency or publishing, or getting a song on TV or movies. These people are the people who make things happen,” says Johnson.
The conference is a valuable opportunity for each of the 30-plus artists playing, including many local ones. Some of these artists are hoping for something specific, while others enjoy the added exposure. Milwaukee singer Gina Barrington jumped at the chance after her experience searching for a small label. “They gave me great insight and advice, and in the end I made the best decision for me. The fact that those people alone were part of Yellow Phone was enough for me,” says Barrington. “I am really still getting familiar with the fact that it’s new and different every time. It really teaches you what you need out of yourself, your band, and the venue. Hopefully, if all that is in place, you make friends with a new audience.”
While YPMC badges are available to the public for $149, a $20 wristband grants access into all the music showcases at the various venues. (There’s also a free stage at Catalano Square Sept. 7 and 8.) Whether you’re a businessperson or a fan, the showcase schedule provides an easy way to see multiple bands. “We made sure that all the clubs are within a three-block walk of each other so if you’re a music business person coming to discover new music, you can walk in one club and hear a few songs from one band, and walk down the street and see a couple songs from another band,” says organizer David Silbaugh. “It gives the bands the best possibility of being seen by as many people as possible.”
Below is information about some of the local artists playing the YPMC:
Gina Barrington’s vocals conjure an intimate atmosphere that’s hard to ignore. She’s constantly working towards finding her identity as an artist. “Although I’ve spent a lifetime surrounded by gifted and trained musicians, including my classically trained grandfather, I’m self taught, and have developed a way of writing with sound, a select few instruments, and feeling to get the song out,” says Barrington. “Technically, I don’t know what I am doing.”
Some of that frustration came through in last year’s Cupid EP. While she had previously contributed to other projects, Barrington desperately wanted to put out something of her own and take music seriously. Cupid has proved to be a good decision, as it’s opened the doors to many opportunities. With a full band and set, she’s excited to see what a full record might sound like.
Kane Place Record Club
With thoroughly soulful melodies and frequent tempo changes, Kane Place Record Club puts no limits on what it can achieve with its sound. “I’m hesitant to give a concrete definition of our sound, only because I feel like every time we start to develop a ‘sound’ we go and change it,” says Nick Tovarek. “We all come from completely different musical backgrounds: classical, jazz, hip-hop, folk, electronic. But we somehow find a way to include our different influences in a cohesive way.”
Releasing its debut EP To Our Friends last year, Kane Place Record Club feels it’s just getting started. In fact, the band is currently preparing to record a new EP this October at Howl Street Recordings.
Occasionally, a small-town music story becomes a sensation in the larger music scene. For Blessed Feathers, who are based in West Bend, the release of two albums and their latest EP Peaceful Beasts In An Ocean Of Weeds has won the folk duo many fans. Consisting of Donvian Berube and Jacquelyn Beaupre, Blessed Feathers’ sound is intimate and dynamic. “We’ve been told we give off some ’60s cosmos-funk mystic baby-soul banana heartbreak flute-rock spook-jam vibes,” says Berube.
The band recently spent two weeks in New York recording Peaceful Beasts. “That trip was ridiculous, and the result of it is what comprises the new album,” says Berube. “We’ve basically been working our asses off.”
The Cranberry Show
Self described as possessing the raw energy “equivalent of an illegitimate child of the Beastie Boys meets N.E.R.D,” the duo behind The Cranberry Show has quickly gained popularity with their alternative hip-hop sound. The band draws from a wide range of music influences, including Lupe Fiasco, The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, and Marilyn Manson. According to its Facebook page, “The Cranberry Show is on a mission to prove that you can gain respect by just being yourself.”
Deletah is originally from Milwaukee, and features Justin Richter and Jeff Alberts. Inspired by their time growing up amongst a family obsessed with electronic music, the two cousins have made big strides with their music in recent years. Deletah’s music offers a wide variety of influences from the organic synths of The Chemical Brothers to the sharp, unforgiving drums of Pendulum. Recently, the band released their first full-length album, From Here.
The Demix weaves the line between experimental musician and DJ, with a creative collection of electronic songs, soundscapes, and mixes. His work has a uniquely cinematic feel, and it often jumps between genres, utilizing whatever the songs require. The Demix has also provided the monthly MELT series, which has featured a number of rising electronic talent.
With its recently released album Friction, Ikarus Down continues to explore what it can do with its alternative rock/experimental blend of music. “Some of our songs are quite structured and polished, but we definitely have a fair share of tunes that are a bit obscure,” says Jonathan Ferrer. “We try to keep the excitement and energy moving when we’re writing, and let the structures fall into place later on down the road.”
The band recorded Friction on-and-off for a year at The Mystery Room with Justin Perkins, a process that allowed for more creative control and freedom. With the album’s success, the band is already writing its next and gearing up for some big shows.
While he might be labeled a hip-hop artist, Frankie Flowers doesn’t want to put limits what he can achieve. “Initially, I started off writing hip-hop and rap songs which was okay in the beginning,” says Flowers. “Over time though, I’ve developed a new passion for expanding my craft towards more of the contemporary genres like soft rock and even a little bit of country. Most of my songs are driven by emotion, but I’m known for being ‘the storyteller.’”
The past few years have been quite busy for Flowers, with solo and contributing projects as well as starting his own company and being a full-time student. Most importantly, his journey from Milwaukee to Los Angeles and back to Milwaukee helped strengthen his identity as an artist. “The saying is, ‘If you can make it in New York or L.A., you can make it anywhere,’ but I truly believe if you can make it in Milwaukee, you can make it anywhere,” says Flowers.
With a mixture of blues, funk, soul, and Latin melodies, Herman Astro has quickly won over new fans during the past year with club and festival shows, and the release of its debut album Chico last year. “We all bring something unique to the table, but are constantly selfless when it comes to the song,” says singer Zachary Pluer. “Gritty at times, sly and funky at others, we constantly think about dynamics and try to make dramatic songs.”
With this confidence, the band is ready to tour nationally. These opportunities have given the band an outlet to test out new material, which differs from their former “lock ourselves in the bunker and write” mentality.