What music conference panels need in 2020.

So Music Biz has put out a call for panel ideas for next year’s Music Biz conference. I hope Music Biz’s 2020 conference will have the a full slate of incredible panels.

As I wrote earlier in the year, I believe a good conference panel has four ingredients: Experience, knowledge, familiarity and a timely topic.

That panel was A Playlist is NOT a Marketing Plan, an excellent conversation curated by Jay Gilbert of Label Logic. Jay has enough years under his belt and enough relationships to wrangle for his panel Larry Mattera, GM, EVP Commerce & Marketing at Warner Bros. Records; Lloyd Hummel, SVP of Global Sales Strategy at Ingrooves Music Group; and Phillip Bailey, a longtime veteran in artist development. Jeff Moskow, Jay’s partner at Label Logic, also took part. The conversation was free-flowing. The panelists were not guarded or coached (at least they didn’t come off that way). Instead, they provided the kind of insight and advice that’s rarely heard.

In this note, I’ll list a few things that characterize a good and a bad panel.

First, stay away from the overly coached executive who sticks to a list of talking points crafted in conjunction with their communications team. It’s great to have a higher-up executive speak on a panel. But my rule of thumb is the higher up the org chart, the less the executive actually says. Once somebody gets to CEO, they tend to talk a great deal without saying anything much of substance. Get the biggest names possible but work with them to keep the panel’s conversation genuine and interesting.

Second, go way up the org chart.

Here’s a call to leaders throughout the music business: either pitch a panel or accept an invitation to appear on a panel. This goes for executives at record labels and publishers, managers, agents, artists, songwriters, promoters, marketers, executives from digital services, heads of trade associations …anybody among the top in their field. Consider it your way of giving back to the business that’s treated you well. Chances are early in their careers you attended panels and wanted to hear from the best, most experience and most insightful people in the industry. You gained their wisdom; now pass along your wisdom. C-level executives, don’t shy away from panels in favor of one-on-one keynote talks. Yes, it’s a numbers game. In spite of heavy demand, there are only so many time slots for one-on-one talks. So share your wisdom on a panel. If you’re feeling brave, agree to moderate a panel—that almost never happens.

Now, I understand many executives attend Music Biz and other conferences without the intention of taking part in panel discussions. People have wall-to-wall meetings, then a business dinner, then a party in the evening, then repeat the next day, and perhaps the day after that. If they’re lucky they’ll get some time to sit at the bar and chat with friends. It’s non-stop work. But they should consider taking a couple hours out of a day to share their expertise.

To people putting together panels: get the most experienced, most interesting people. Talk to companies’ heads of communications and get their buy-in. Requests often go through them. If you can ask the person of interest, get an answer and then go to the communications department. After the panel is set, implore the panelists not to talk in bullet-point fashion. During the panel, don’t let them sound overly coached. And don’t let anybody dominate the conversation. Keep your panel to three people, four if there’s a good chance one of them will drop out.

To publicists putting together panels for clients, balance the needs of your client with the mission of the conference. The conference aims to educate people while being thought-provoking and memorable. It might help to have your clients’ top executive(s) reach out to other executives—yes, basically do your job for you—and ask for their participation.

Finally, try to make panels practical and specific. I have nothing against thoughtful, intelligent conversations with 30,000-foot overviews. But I think audiences get the most out of panels when they get practical advice. (Some of the panels with the best attendance feature lawyers who disburse free legal advice to artists and managers during the Q&A session.) Every few minutes during Playlists are NOT a Marketing Plan, I’d glance over my shoulder and scan the room. People were taking notes (or writing emails, but I’d wager they were taking notes) because panelists gave practical advice and helpful insights.

Best of luck in 2020, panelists.

I write. I do numbers. Usually about the music business.

I write. I do numbers. Usually about the music business.