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Saint John's First Urban Music Conference Draws Big Names, But Small Crowds

People from all around the world came to Saint John, New Brunswick last weekend to attend the first ever Urban East Music Conference. Unfortunately, local fans were in short supply.

The few locals who did come out to support the evening showcases were dwarfed in number by the conference attendees at the Kent Theatre, which was largely empty at both major events. The tables from the earlier panels, covered in pink, dollar store tablecloths, had been pushed to the side to make way for a crowd to form in front of the stage, but people held back, crowding the bar or the tables instead.

Urban East Conference

Some might consider the low turnout a failure, but festival organizer Dwayne Marcial disagrees.

“At the end of the day, for me, it was all about the artists, and all of the delegates and panel members being able to network,” Marcial, owner of Muzik is the Motive Entertainment, told Civilized. “It’s all about networking. And that’s really the one big thing that i hope everybody takes away from this.”

And he has a point. While the turnout for the showcases might have been disappointing, the events themselves were largely successful.

The Business of Music

During the afternoons, artists sat down and took notes as groups of panelists, including big names in the urban music industry, shared some of what they knew about the business.

Bob Celestin, a music attorney based out of New York City, spoke on two of the four panels: licensing and publishing, and marketing your music.

“I’m an arts advocate, and part of what I do as an attorney is represent the interests of artists,” he said. “So any opportunity to share what I’ve learned with up-and-coming artists, I look forward to doing it.”

He added that most people who get into music don’t realize how important the business aspect of it is. That message was echoed by Cash Dough, a Toronto-based rapper who says he attends these events regularly because they provide essential connections and information.

“I’m trying to be social in the industry, that’s the whole point of it,” he said. “If you can meet these guys in real life and shake hands and high five with them, it goes a long way.”

Cash Dough

Cash Dough rocks the Saturday showcase.

He was also happy to be back in Saint John, a place where he’s toured many times before.

“I love Saint John, I love Saint Jiggy,” he said. “I’ve done probably a solid eight or nine shows out of Saint John. It’s always love in Saint John.”

Leonty, a synth-pop singer from St. George, New Brunswick also took a lot away from the conference, which she heard about from Marcial, who manages her.

“I was like, ‘there’s some good people here, I’m gonna come down to crash the party’, so I’ve crashed the party,” she said.

Leonty attended every panel and every showcase except for one, and she took extensive notes throughout the process, even though her genre of music isn't considered urban. But she believes a lot of industry information can be applied to all genres of music.

“It’s so much more about authenticity than it’s ever been,” she said. “If you’re not yourself, you’re not going to find your audiences. If you’re not yourself, you’re not going to connect to your audience.”

“I’d never heard of this place”

The conference’s keynote speaker was Rel Carter, A&R coordinator for RocNation, a popular DJ and music manager who also happens to be Jay Z’s nephew. Carter was a little surprised to learn that he was headed to Saint John, New Brunswick.

“The whole time, I thought I was going to Toronto,” he said. “I swear to God, I’d never heard of this place....Then, after I found out the news that I was coming to New Brunswick, because we have a New Brunswick in New Jersey, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re going to Jersey. But nope. Came to this cold-ass place.”

Rel Carter and Big Heff

Rel Carter (left) and Big Heff deliver the keynote address

But once he’d arrived, Carter settled in nicely, and he stuck around for the evening to watch the showcase and connect with a number of the artists.

“I feel like every place has the challenge of getting the people from your city to support you,” he said. “I’d never heard of this place, so I don’t know how many people in the world have ever heard of this place, but that’s the challenge when you are in the music industry.”

“First year bumps”

Organizer Dwayne Marcial is not discouraged by the weekend's setbacks since this was the very first Urban East conference.

“I took notes all weekend,” he said. “You know, I want to find those ways to make it better.”

A few of the "first year bumps," as Marcial calls them, will be easier to foresee next year. For example, the first panels were delayed hours because they were too early in the afternoon following the opening night of the conference. He also said the venue they chose was too big. If they had used a smaller space, it wouldn’t have looked so sparse.

But while there were definitely a few areas for improvement, Marcial considers the event overall a success.

“It’s the first year,” Marcial said. “I’m happy that we actually pulled it off and got it done, because there were a lot of people who didn’t think we could actually do it.”

Urban East panelists and organizers2

Urban East organizers and panelists


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