*Absent from the conference circuit for five years, the popular Urban Network Amalgamation Magazine hosted a music entertainment Summit themed “Back To Basics” 2014 in San Diego the weekend of May 1st through May 4th.
It was an unforgettable event with people coming from as far away as Australia, Japan, London, Barbados and all across the United States.
It all started last year when Urban Network Digital President Arthur Mitchell, and Amalgamated Magazine Publisher David Mitchell discussed the idea of bringing the conference back.
They in turn discussed it with former Urban Network President Miller London (who is also a former Motown VP), and Urban Network Vice President Tosha Thomas – and the wheels were set in motion.
Initially called the PowerJam Conference, the Urban Network Conference began in the early 1990’s, and is widely known for quality, credibility, and its broad spectrum – something for everyone. The experience was much more than I and others expected. The goal of the conference is to bring together people from all facets of the music industry – artists, broadcasters, A&Rs, publishers, managers, attorneys and others. This year was unique in that it brought in a younger generation nurtured on the social media and digital technologies that have exploded since the last conference in 2009.
Panel discussion: Is R&B still relevant?
So there was a very eclectic blend of people (young and old) with differing approaches to the music business which made for some interesting and exciting but balanced debates during panel discussions which were scheduled throughout the Summit. One such panel – “The State of R&B Music 2014: Is the Genre Still Relevant?” – was moderated by Gail Mitchell, Sr. Editor, Urban Music, Billboard Magazine. The panel included many heavyweights including world-renowned legendary Music Producer Kashif, and Sr. Director of Music Supervision, BET Networks, Kelly G (Griffin). The panel agreed that R&B has always been under the mainstream radar but what got through was great talent and great songs. They also agreed that in America, in our culture, we don’t honor our seniors as do other cultures. It was brought out that a whole generation of Hip-Hop and Rap artists heavily sampled artists like James Brown and rarely acknowledged them and their contributions to R&B, so the continuum was lost.
When asked about artistic control, another panelist, Producer/Songwriter Harmony Samuels said, “Ray Charles had something Atlantic wanted…he wrote songs that cut through and he did not compromise.” The challenge: What do you have that will cause record labels to come after you? Gone are the days when labels like Motown invested in artist development. Kashif offered that it goes back to basics when it comes to learning and mastering your craft. He said, I studied [all the greats], listened to all kinds of music, and practiced because I wanted to become a great piano player.” Kelly G said, “It comes down to purpose; a person has to bring out what’s in them, what’s unique about them…we don’t need another Beyoncé or Usher.” On another panel Aundrae Russell, Program Director for radio station KJLH said of their “Radio Free” format which was conceived by owner Stevie Wonder, “We try and air four or five new releases every week, but some weeks we get nothing outstanding, so we continue with the current playlist.”
During the four-day Summit many stars were on hand including veterans like Charles “Express Yourself” Wright, Producer/Artist Reggie Calloway, Recording Artist Steven Harts (of Troop), Norman Connors, Kim Waters, and James Morrison former member of The Platters.
Many young hopefuls were there promoting their product by handing out copies of their CD’s. Their presentation and materials were impressive.
Awards and acknowledgements went to a list of deserving people – Ethiopian Habtemariam (President Motown Records); Fuzzy Fantabulous (Beats Music); Kelly G; Kevin Hall (Executive VP Rondor Music); King Trick (San Diego Recording Artist/Producer); Larry Blackwell (VP, GM Motown Gospel); Miller London; Leo Rodgers (CEO Street Scholar Music/Sr. VP Bungalo Records); Norman “You Are My Starship” Connors; Sonya Love (Syndicated Radio Host); and Tayari Howard (San Diego Radio Vet/Founder Tayari Media Group).
Featured performances by various artists – too many to mention in one article – were scheduled day and night over the four-day weekend. Saturday’s Award Ceremony included outstanding performances by world-class harpist Mariea Antoinette; a hot girl group to watch, Elevé; CJ Hilton who had I not heard it for myself would not believe anyone could sound so much like Marvin Gaye; Sheléa whose single “Love The Way You Love Me” is sweeping across the nation; Steven Harts performing his many hits recorded with Troop; and showstoppers Tony! Toni! Toné! The show was emceed by San Diego radio vet Walt Love, and Kevin Fleming, Editor, The Urban Buzz. Sunday’s brunch featured stellar performances by Norman Connors and Kim Waters. D’wayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Toné! joined Connors and his fantastic band for a jam session out of this world!
“What a remarkable turn-out for an event that’s been on a five year hiatus,” said David Mitchell. “It just goes to show that the industry still needs events like ours. Artists, managers, labels, radio professionals and the like need a place where we can all come together and exchange ideas, discuss the issues specifically important to us, and do business. We’re already in the process of planning for next year.”
Arthur said, “There were at least 500 people and 70 acts that came out and supported us. I am extremely pleased and overwhelmed with the response from industry people…early on when I asked Kelly G to support us he said “I’m down…I’ll be there.”
It is yet to be decided whether the location of the 2015 Summit will be in San Diego, Los Angeles, or Palm Springs but according to Arthur “It will be in California…like the Oscars are to Hollywood, Urban Network Conferences are to California.”
He expressed gratitude and appreciation for all the media and sponsorship partners, and special thanks to the Four Points Sheraton hotel staff for their seamless accommodation and partnering in conjunction with the Urban Network staff. I’d like to personally thank Arthur’s niece Kitazia – a sweet, bubbly and enthusiastic young lady – for her assistance.
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