As I walked through the vacant downstairs lobby at Thalia Mara Hall, my immediate reaction was “Uh-oh.” Other than City of Jackson Marketing Specialist Brad “Kamikaze” Franklin, who pointed me toward the side entrance and the elevator that took attendees up to the main floor, there was no one around the venue to suggest an event was happening.
After all, the “Do the Knowledge” panel, which took place Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 5:30 p.m., was one of the first major events of Jackson Indie Music Week and placed some of the city’s industry heavy-hitters—attorney and Terminal Recording Studio manager Kamel King, show promoter Arden Barnett, music manager Donyale Walls and public-relations specialist and blogger Jessica Simien.
In the middle of the room, the JIMW organizers had placed a large round table with a massive plant as its centerpiece, wrapped in a gold fabric. The table broke up the 50 or so chairs, all empty at first, save one that Lee Ingram, drummer for Oxford progressive-metal group Carlos Danger, occupied. He had a notepad and writing utensil ready and looked quite studious.
While the missing panelists—rapper Tito Lopez, music manager Chris Cajoleas and other promised speakers were absent—weren’t positives, I did see about the purest embodiment of JIMW, as Caleb Rowe, owner of newer downtown venue Big Sleepy’s, and Barnett chatted about jovially about the business of booking. Rowe even asked Barnett to keep him in mind any time he had shows that might be a better fit for a smaller space like Big Sleepy’s.
About a dozen more people strolled into the room just as host and moderator Maranda Joiner beckoned the panelists to take their places and explained the goal of “Do the Knowledge”—sharing the dos and don’ts of the independent music scene for those interested in making it as a musician, manager, journalist or label owner. Thankfully, by the end of the panel, the audience grew to about 30 people, and it became clear that there was at least one attendee identifying with each of those interests.
Joiner launched the panel with “the big one”: What does it take to make it in the music world? Barnett was the first to field it with, as would become his trademark for the evening, a pragmatic and to-the-point answer.
“I think, first of all, (it’s being in) the right place at the right time, and it’s who you know,” he said. “And then, like everything else in life, it’s fate. You’ve got to have your s*** together, and you’ve got to be good, or it’s not going to happen.”
Walls was the second to jump in on the subject, and her answer was a precursor to several of the biggest talking points for the entire panel discussion: making a strategy through consistent, careful branding, researching your desired audience and building a devoted team.
She said: “I think it’s knowing what you want to do exactly, knowing what type of artist you want to be, meaning do you want to be an independent artist and deal with what comes with that, or do you want to go mainstream, because those things have an impact on the actual work that you do.”
As with most industry panels, the importance of social media was a hot-button topic. While several speakers had differing levels of proclivity to it—both Barnett and King admitted to battling their own feelings toward social media—all agreed that it does make a difference in everything from getting gigs to receiving coverage from media outlets.
King also shared one of the most useful suggestions of “Do the Knowledge” before Joiner led a brief Q&A session then dismissed the audience to network with one another: If you don’t know how to do something, find someone that is already successful at it and learn.