If you've noticed that the streets of Manhattan have been packed with an abundance of young, skinny, pale youths the last couple days, you have the annual
CMJ Music Marathon to thank.
However, there's more to this prestigious industry festival besides tight jeans, ironic T-shirts and bad haircuts.
The CMJ Music Marathon, which began Halloween night and runs through Nov. 4, has been showcasing emerging artists in clubs all over New York City for the past 25 years.
Each autumn, thousands of artists worldwide pack up the tour van and converge on the Big Apple with the hope of getting noticed for their music talent and explosive live performances.
Included on the Marathon's long list of successful alumni are Johnny Cash, the Beastie Boys, Radiohead, REM, David Bowie, Willie Nelson, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LL Cool J, Patti Smith, Rage Against the Machine, Annie Lennox, Brian Wilson and Cheap Trick.
The Marathon is indeed a great chance to see established music superstars flex their muscles on intimate stages throughout the city: The 2006 festival features funk icon George Clinton performing at Crash Mansion, a tiny venue on the Lower East Side.
However, the CMJ Music Marathon revolves more around the smaller acts about to break out, such as this year's performers Forget Cassettes (Nashville, Tenn.), O'Death (New York City, N.Y.) and Snowden (Atlanta, Ga.). (Full disclosure: my band, Morning Theft, has its own CMJ showcase this year, so I'll be in the trenches with the rest of them.)
However, many have adopted the stance that it's all about finding the next Nirvana or the next big act to save rock and roll.
Behind the Music
College Music Journal
, or CMJ, is an ideal curator for the festival: It was the first consumer magazine to feature a CD sampler, connecting music fans to the best new music first. It also publishes weekly top-30 lists, submitted by radio stations across the country, which subscribe to the service for a few hundred dollars a year.
"Every year or so, there are one or two bands that emerge from CMJ," says Bill Werde, deputy editor at
magazine. Werde was formerly an editor at CMJ from 1998 until 2000, and he has seen his fair share of Music Marathons. "That's where the idea that bands can be broken on this stage
As mainstream radio airplay was stripped of its credibility following New York State Attorney Eliot Spitzer's payola investigation, fans seeking novel music have become bitter and jaded.
The major-label dinosaurs have been dying out as illegal downloads rise and CD profits slip; they now rely almost solely on proven artists who push out one bland radio single after another.
But smaller record labels are still scooping up talented bands and building impressive rosters of previously unknown bands. These independent labels are opening up their collective wallets to snag the latest buzz bands, while major labels have put a leash on spending.
"The independent market share trapped by Nielsen SoundScan shows that numbers are growing," Werde says. "Independent (or indie) labels are being empowered by the Internet. The problem is if you're in a garage rock band, and you're not savvy about the mechanisms that will help you spread the word."
That's where a venue such as the CMJ Music Marathon comes in.
Music fans can trek throughout the city and are guaranteed to find multiple haunts, sometimes one on top of another, packed with more music than their iPods can even hold.
Furthermore, the advent of music and MP3 blogs helps break these relatively unheard-of artists to a whole audience -- fans and indie labels alike -- which is foaming at the mouth for something new.
"There's been more buzz and more excitement this year than in recent years," Werde continues. "There may be something about labels looking to new bands to revitalize the industry. Any A&R
artist and repertoire guy will be at an event like the CMJ Marathon that promises to deliver."
Leading up to the actual performances, buzz swirls in the industry about which band is the must-see during the weeklong sprint from club to club.
For the most passionate music fans, the real thrill is catching an artist close up in one of the city's unique venues. Rather than seeing an act from afar in a stadium setting, CMJ attendees are treated to smaller shows at the cozy Mercury Lounge or intimate Bowery Ballroom.
From this platform, some bands go on to tour clubs around the world. Others, however, are left to toil in smaller bars, still trying to hone their skills.
There are thousands of bands performing, notes Werde, but he also warns that "most of the bands that really break out have already established a good amount of buzz, through the Internet and music blogs primarily. That's usually what draws people to the club to see them. It's obviously really tough to stand out of the crowd if you're an undiscovered band."
However, all hope isn't lost for the smaller acts looking to get a foothold and make their presence known. "It's a good developing platform," Werde says. "It's not like these bands are going from zero to 60 in one step."
"The experience was great," says Bryan Bruchman, guitarist for the Brooklyn-based
Man In Gray, who played a CMJ showcase Wednesday night at the Knitting Factory. "A huge group of people were going nuts and singing along to every song. I didn't think that could happen in New York. It was great to see people stick around, check out new bands and new music, and be genuinely excited about it all."
Want to catch a few shows?
You have a few options: purchasing a CMJ badge, which allows access to any show for the duration of the festival ($495, $295 for students); purchasing tickets online, through
Ticketweb; or contacting the individual venues directly -- see the complete schedule
Keep in mind, tickets to the hottest shows are usually snatched up quickly; make sure to check before heading to the venue for ticket availability.
Notable upcoming performances include:
Thursday, Nov. 2
The Shins @ Bowery Ballroom
Nicole Atkins & The Sea @ The Mercury Lounge
Bling Kong @ Fontana's
Earlimart @ Northsix
Forward Russia! @ The Mercury Lounge
Silversun Pickups @ Pianos
Aloha @ Europa
Sam Champion @ Southpaw
Shade @ The Delancey
Hot Chip @ Webster Hall
Friday, Nov. 3
The Big Sleep @ Pianos
George Clinton @ Crash Mansion
Pela @ Sin-E
The Decemberists @ Hammerstein Ballroom
Mary Timony @ Hiro Ballroom
The Secret Machines @ The Warsaw
O' Death @ The Delancey
Chin Up Chin Up @ The Knitting Factory (Tap Bar)
Jesse Malin @ The Living Room
Saturday, Nov. 4
Cody Chesnutt @ Canal Room
Shooter Jennings @ Irving Plaza
The Fall @ Hiro Ballroom
Morning Theft @ Maxwell's
Margot & The Nuclear So & So's @ Rebel
Army Of Me @ The Annex
French Kicks @ The Mercury Lounge
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