On this breezy January afternoon, the Doubletree Surfcomber Hotel hardly looks like the future home of the inaugural Miami Music Multimedia Summit. The hotel entrance leads to a long outside corridor that is infamous around South Beach for being confusing and difficult to navigate; it leads to a pool area overrun by patio chairs, small children running around in bathing suits, and vacationers lounging by the edge of the water. Farther down lies a vacant lot that leads to the beach. But it is at two tables positioned near the upper corner of the area where several members of the M3 Summit team sit; this is the first in a series of business meetings that will last through the weekend, geared to solidify the event's sundry details.
No one is dressed in a suit and tie, opting instead for shorts and T-shirts (hey, it's Miami). In fact one woman's arm is covered in tattoos that are as striking as the grungy T-shirt she's wearing. But all of them represent high-powered interests. The woman in question is Vickie Starr, co-founder of Girlie Action, a publicity and marketing firm that works with artists such as the White Stripes and the Strokes. There's a representative from Motorola, one of the event's co-sponsors, and Jonathan Rudnick, promoter and founder of one of New York's most treasured dance parties, Giant Step. At the center of them all is David J. Prince, notorious music journalist for magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone and a fifteen-year veteran of the U.S. dance scene.
In all this group radiates a blend of cool savoir-faire and business savvy that has caught the international music industry's attention. Some of its members are even opining that their forthcoming summit, which is scheduled to take place March 5 through 9, will offer strong competition against the more established Winter Music Conference (taking place from March 6-10) during a countywide party week that last year drew tens of thousands of revelers from around the world and generated about $15 million in revenue, according to the group. "Nobody knows for sure," says Prince.
For the past thirteen years, that week has been synonymous with WMC, even as the number of events unaffiliated with the conference has multiplied. Thanks to this group's disparate talents, however, the M3 Summit is the first real threat to the conference's control over the circuslike bazaar that occurs here every March. But today at least, WMC is like the elephant in the room: No one wants to talk about it.
"WMC is the reason everybody comes down here," says Prince, who says he's been going to conference week for the past eight years. "It's changed my life." He redirects attention toward his upcoming summit, which originated five years ago when he first assembled a list of WMC showcases for his friends and distributed it to several industry insiders through his Spin e-mail account. The list quickly grew in popularity as it trickled down from the hundreds of DJs, label owners, and journalists who attend the conference to the thousands of party people who travel here to crash the free parties and talent-heavy club events, until it became the de facto guide to the week's happenings.
Last year Prince's efforts attracted financial backers eager to exploit the list's subscription base, such as Heineken, which co-sponsored the Website for the newly christened Miami Master List (www.miamimasterlist.com). Sascha Lewis, a creator of cool urban e-mail newsletters such as www.earplug.cc and www.flavorpill.net, partnered with him to design a user-friendly site. But other industry friends encouraged him to have bigger plans.
"Everybody who comes for conference week looks to the list to be a guide for what we want to do during the week," says Starr. "We had really been bugging David about that, like, 'You've really got to build on that. There's so much more that can be done here."
After WMC concluded last year, Prince formed a coalition with several people who were transforming WMC week from a staid record industry conference into a sprawling, hedonistic music festival. In addition to the aforementioned Girlie Action, Giant Step, and Lewis's Flavorpill Productions, there was Carolyn Clerkson, who organized the Maxim/Fila Beach Basketball Court tournament last year; and others with experience handling large advertising and marketing accounts for mainstream companies like Motorola and Absolut vodka. "I can't take full credit" for M3, says Prince. "The reason all of those people are a part of the team is because at some point they had put the idea in my head."
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Prince says that the M3 Summit's financial goals are modest: around 1500 badges at $285 a pass this year. It's scheduled to kick off with several panel discussions at the Surfcomber Hotel and the Hotel Nash, including a seminar on digital content distribution systems led by Wired magazine senior editor Robert Levine and a panel discussion on the international market led by frequent New Times contributor Philip Sherburne. There will be around four events a night that badgeholders can get into for free, along with a number of other events they can access for half-price. The group says it is still working out the music schedule, but promises that it will encompass DJ sets and live performances by nontraditional dance music acts such as hip-hop groups and rock bands.
The group says it is hosting the M3 Summit in order to provide a place for people in the music business to meet. "I think that, in addition to everything that happens during conference week, we really needed to have some business meetings," says Starr. In recent years these meetings have often taken place in rooms, nearby pools, and on verandas at hotels along Washington and Collins avenues -- and far away from WMC headquarters at the Fontainebleau Hotel. (This year's WMC will be at the Wyndham Resort.) "Rather than trying to do it one-on-one and scheduling individual meetings with all these different groups and people, we said, 'Let's get them all together in a room and talk about all of this stuff,'" she says. Of course WMC also bills itself as an industry conference; consciously or not, Starr is implying that WMC has been ineffective in providing a place for music industry professionals to get business done.
Which leads back to the question: Does the M3 Summit want to supplant WMC as the conference of choice for the music industry? Starr cagily responds, "We're not trying to take over Miami." Stay tuned.