Last December, our friends in Brooklyn band Madam West recognized an opportunity: Because so many bands are busy making the pilgrimage to Austin for SXSW this time of year, if you happen to be a band staying put in New York in March, there are loads of amazing venues with big chunks of their normally-swamped booking calendar wide open. (This kind of eye for opportunity is precisely why you should generally listen to what Madam West’s Sophie Chernin has to say!) Over beers at the Soundfly holiday party, Sophie announced she was going to throw a music festival.
The inaugural Melt Fest, a spring DIY music festival is happening this Sunday, March 20th at Baby’s All Right and C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn. Recognizing that one person throwing a festival would be both insane and punishing, Sophie started exploring her network and found partners — blogs Indie Bushwick and Elevtrtrax, events site DoNYC, and us — to help organize, curate, promote, and sponsor the festival.
Having never attempted to throw my own DIY music festival, I had no clue how the Melt Fest team even got started. So I sat down with Jhaye James (Indie Bushwick), Nadeem Salaam (Elevtrtrax), and Sophie Chernin (Madam West) recently to find out how they managed to turn an idea for a show into a full, multi-venue, one-day music festival.
Where did the idea to start your own festival come from?
Jhaye: Originally, Sophie reached out to Indie Bushwick and Elevtrtrax about putting together a show. We all sat down to brainstorm for the show and the idea to have a day-long mini-music festival came about very organically.
Sophie: I’m a creature of envy. I’ve seen a few festivals and showcases presented by local blogs with other bands, and thought, “Why’d they choose those bands, but not mine?’’ I realized the best way to go about it (instead of festering in my own jealous juice) was to figure out what contacts I had and homebrew a festival of my own.
Nadeem: I’ve been booking my own bands since 2001, but interning for Make Music NY was my first experience in the local festival circuit. I used to book the corner of Bowery and Houston under the rotating mural (soon to be gone) and provide artist coverage for MMNY events on my site. I drew upon those skills when I was asked to join Sophie and Jhaye.
How are you setting your festival apart? What are you doing to make it unique?
J: Melt Fest is unique because it’s a completely DIY effort by artists for artists. The festival is driven by a love of music and a desire to create an outlet for the local music community.
S: All of the bands playing at Melt Fest are amazing, but the festival is the same weekend as SXSW. Our artists don’t necessarily have the touring budget or the industry contacts yet to play SXSW. It’s that exact tier of driven but under-recognized musicians the festival aims to promote and serve.
N: One of my goals for Elevtrtrax has been to provide short documentaries for local bands with stories to tell. As part of show promotion, we worked with most of the bands participating and filmed them in their native environments. It’s a great chance for an audience to step into an apartment or rehearsal room and learn about bands’ origins firsthand, while creating compelling online content for the bands themselves.
What was your approach to finding artists, venues, and sponsors?
J: We reached out to venues and artists that we liked and thought would be a great fit for the festival. It was easy finding the artists for the show — they’re all local bands that we love. That’s one of the best parts about putting a show together.
S: I wanted to include C’mon Everybody in the festival because it’s a venue that gets some big names coming through, but isn’t above giving unknowns a chance to shine. In the middle of Brooklyn, you should see more inclusive spaces that incorporate genres as diverse as the borough itself, and yet there are still so many exclusive spaces that seem cater-made to white college rock bands. C’mon Everybody exists outside of that sphere, and I knew all of the bands on the bill would feel great playing there.
Baby’s All Right has amazing sound and a beautiful space, a great reputation, and a convenient location. I wanted a venue that made the artists feel special and taken care of the same way playing a grand festival stage with thousands of fans will (hopefully) feel some day.
How are you curating the event — is there anything musically that ties your artists together?
J: The lineup is a progressive and alternative mix; a fusion of electronic, pop, and rock. I think it’s a great representation of the diversity in NYC music. The artists are all trying new things and thinking outside of the box.
S: It’s definitely a hodgepodge, but all of the bands on both bills are pretty fearless in terms of experimentation with their sound, genre-bending, and out-there performances. Still, it’s not a noise festival — there’s some element of pop, rock, and roots influence that makes each band accessible to a wide audience.
N: As a filmmaker viewing the process from the outside in, I realized that Sophie’s involvement with the Brooklyn music scene and Jhaye’s experience as an avid concertgoer/curator was exposing me to great new acts. Behind the music, there are subtle forces that tie everyone together, despite the disparate genres. Most of the bands knew or spoke highly of each other; it’s kind of a natural byproduct of contributing to an artistic community.
What sort of audience are you hoping to bring out to the show? Who is this festival for?
J: Our audience is made up of music lovers who appreciate and want to support local talent.
S: Brooklyn locals and tourists who just want to have some fun and try something new on a Sunday afternoon, and adventurous music listeners who are into multiple genres. Other musicians, artists, and creators supporting their friends or looking to meet a new group of makers.
N: For the first annual Melt Fest, I imagine a crowd of party people and artistic types who aren’t quite ready for Monday. Next year, hopefully we can bring out more working-class musicians and artists like us who aren’t working in finance… Or maybe they will work on Wall Street! Who knows? I’m not alienating anyone, although I’d take it as a sign of success if the internet caused them to show up in the flesh.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in starting their own music event?
J: Just do it! If you have an idea in your head, get the tools you need and make it happen.
S: Build a strong team. Make a list of everyone you know who might be good collaborators — it could be a booker, a band, a friend who interns at a magazine part-time, someone with a basement big enough to throw a show in… You probably have a bigger network than you think! And if you can’t think of anyone, get yourself out to more shows and meet some new people.
N: I lean hard towards Sophie’s mindset on this one because it echoes my own story and journey. Go out and show love, then work with the people that show it back. Chances are, they’re talented, decent human beings, and are exactly who and what you need to build something. Because nothing is built alone.