Winter Music Conference

Is Winter Music Conference Dead?

"Whatever" is exactly how today's Miami Music Week attendee feels about Winter Music Conference.
"Whatever" is exactly how today's Miami Music Week attendee feels about Winter Music Conference. Photo by Karli Evans
If you visit Winter Music Conference's website, you'll notice something is off. Miami Music Week is only a few weeks away, yet the site is still thanking last year's attendees "for making WMC 2017 a big success." Notably absent is any information about how to register this year, while its social channels don't make any mention of whether Miami's groundbreaking EDM conference will return.

Over the weekend, several music blogs reported the conference's possible quiet demise.

New Times reached out to WMC cofounder Bill Kelly to find out what's up with the conference's 2018 edition. He responded that a "major announcement" was forthcoming but wouldn't elaborate on what the news might be.

For more than three decades, WMC has brought EDM tastemakers to South Beach. As New Times noted in 2010, the conference started very early in the electronic music scene's growth:
The event began in 1985, when Louis Possenti and Bill Kelly decided to invite the electronic music industry to take a break from cold weather and fly down to South Florida to network, exchange music, and, most important, party. The first incarnation, held at a Marriott hotel in Fort Lauderdale, attracted 90 people. But as electronic music professionals became more organized, and dance music began to infiltrate the mainstream, Possenti and Kelly's conference grew.
But WMC struggled to capitalize on dance music's growth in America and often overlapped with the more prestigious South by Southwest, which began introducing more dance-music-centric panels in recent years. Insomniac, the promoter of the popular Electric Daisy Carnaval in Las Vegas, tried holding a similar event called EDMbiz, but the last year it was held was 2016.

WMC's struggles began in 2010, when its symbiotic relationship with Ultra Music Festival came to a halt. The conference had announced that in 2011 its event would happen at the beginning of March, while Ultra decided to take place at the end of the month. For years, Ultra and WMC coincided, with the festival acting as a closing party of sorts for the conference. In addition, WMC attendees had enjoyed exclusive perks that came with the conference's badge: exclusive parties, reduced or free admission to local nightclubs, and, the best of all, free admission to Ultra.

What exactly happened to sour the relationship is unclear. During that time, each organization blamed the other, with Louis Puig, who at the time owned Club Space, writing a scathing letter that accused the festival of aggressiveness and greed.

Ultra indeed owed much of its success to WMC. The fledgling festival had its pick of DJs and electronic acts who were already in town for the conference. And the global reach of WMC attendees also helped spread the word about America's only European-style dance music festival at the time.

However, by 2010, Ultra's popularity had eclipsed WMC's. Though music industry insiders continued referring to the week as "Conference," spring breakers from across the globe were heading to Miami for one thing: Ultra.

That's because WMC wasn't designed for the average partygoer. The conference was always meant to be an industry event where professionals — artists, producers, composers, record labels, etc. — could come together and exchange ideas. The parties that surrounded it were just a bonus the public could enjoy — and enjoy they did. Locals especially were able to catch DJs that would rarely stop in Miami. How rare? To this day, people still talk about the time in 1999 when Daft Punk spun at Crobar. The duo appeared again during WMC four years later after the release of the now-classic Discovery.

Those sort of things don't happen much anymore. Ultra and the surrounding nightclubs need to sell tickets, and in order to do that, big names — not undiscovered talent — need to be on the bill. "Discovering" new music in Miami during March is a thing of the past. Today, what Miami has been left with is essentially a spring-break bacchanal that happens to include EDM.
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Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran