When we spoke with Matt McDonald, the showcase director for the CMJ Music Marathon, it was the day before the five-day extravaganza kicked into gear. As many as 1,400 artists will play for roughly 100,000 fans crammed into the city's biggest and smallest venues, and McDonald has a big say in who plays when and where.
METRO: Are you running around like a madman today?
McDonald: I will be fairly soon, but right now it’s relatively quiet.
Is it like mid-April for an H&R Block employee?
Huh? No. Oh, wait, now I get the analogy. Yeah, that’s exactly how it is.
Of all the showcases that you put together, what are you most excited about?
On the smaller, sort of up and coming side, I’m curious to see Panama Wedding. It’s their first five shows but there’s a lot of talk about the band and the couple of songs I’ve heard have led me to believe that they could be one of the big buzz acts this year. ASTR and Wet are both on that list as well. Wet are very new. They’re sort of in the same electronic pop, murky R&B world that’s kind of a trendy sound. I like what I’ve heard online, but I have no idea what the live show is going to be like.
As far as the clubs go, Pianos will have a couple great bills this year. The French Kicks showcase on Thursday looks good. There’s a daytime party on Wednesday that looks good [Kanine Records and SESAC’s Trick or Treat Party). It’s got Joanna Gruesome, Beach Day. Santos on Thursday has a great bill from top to bottom with Haerts, Little Daylight and the Griswolds. Actually, Panama Wedding and Wet are both playing that show as well. And the Head and the Heart are playing on Thursday at the Music Hall, and their record comes out this week, and I think that’s going to be a big one.
It’s interesting how every year that I’ve gone to CMJ I will always spend time checking out the acts at the little venues, but I usually steel myself for at least one of the bigger venue shows. Last year it was the Walkmen.
Yeah, you kind of have to do that. I kind of do that too. I’m probably going to see Dismemberment Plan.
We have an interview with them that’s pegged to that show, and they haven’t done CMJ in a while, huh?
I think they last played CMJ in the late '90s. They might have even done a CMJ show when I was booking the Knitting Factory, which was in 1998 and 1999. And Savages coming back after a year is one of the interesting stories, just thinking about how they did Mercury Lounge last year and now they’re doing Terminal 5.
That’s another artist we profiled this year, and I was blown away by them last year. They only had one single out last year at the time, I believe.
Yeah, they were brand new.
How do you know when it’s a band who have such limited music that they’ve put out into the world? Does it have to do with who their agent is? With who is doing their PR? What do you go on when you’re looking for that spark? The music itself?
A lot of it does have to do with the team they have in place, whether that’s management, booking agent or label publicists. Sometimes it’s too soon for a band to have that. But generally the ones that have that serious buzz, there is some strong management or agent behind them to help them navigate the waters. So paying attention to that is important.
Sometimes you just don’t know though. Sometimes it’s only a couple of weeks beforehand when a band that’s already been in the mix for several months will all of a sudden take off online, and then a band that we liked back in May that we didn’t have any special expectations for are the band that everybody’s talking about.
That’s kind of like Sleigh Bells a few years ago. Who is this year’s version of that?
The industry buzz for Panama Wedding is big. They’re kind of the insider’s pick, but there’s not much out there from them. But in terms of awareness, I think somebody like ASTR will get a lot of attention, assuming the performance is good.
Do you ever have that where you book somebody with a great demo but they’re horrible live?
The famous one that we are kind of known for is Black Kids, back in 2008, I think. They really had great tunes but they hadn’t played very many shows live. Everybody had heard these songs, everybody was talking about them and there was all this interest in seeing them live, but if they had it to do over again maybe they wouldn’t have been quite so ready to play CMJ, just because it was such a public display. And I think it’s unfair because there was one kind of off performance, but they had other shows that were good.
What's some sage advice you can offer for somebody who has a pass for the CMJ Music Marathon?
Keeping an open mind is important for anybody who's going to shows. If you can't get into [a packed show], then check out something elsewhere that you may not know.