As 1,300 musicians and 120,000 music fans converge on 75 New York area venues this week, there's no question what the focus of the 29th CMJ Music Marathon is.
However, with the music industry's well-documented struggles continuing, organizers are attempting to widen the annual festival's appeal to musicians and fans from other countries, as well as to those interested in things other than music.
"When you've been doing this for as long as we have, you continue to try to reinvent the wheel," says Robert Haber, CMJ Network founder and chief executive. "We now have a more international focus and have grown as a worldwide destination. Our work with the embassies and trade groups has really put CMJ on their radar."
That means in addition to current Latin dance sensation Pitbull and multiplatinum Uniondale native Busta Rhymes lighting up the marathon's bigger venues, the slate of newcomers - which Haber says is becoming more difficult to pick, as applications to perform at the festival are up 10 percent this year - has an increasingly international flavor. This year's edition of CMJ is packed with young British acts, especially those with a bit of a dance bent, looking to make a splash on this side of the pond. New new-wavers, including the haunting The xx and the playful Golden Silvers, will likely generate some buzz, along with the latest "next Amy Winehouse" contender V.V. Brown and orchestral indie-popsters Fanfarlo.
Joanne Abbott Green, founder and executive producer of the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival, says the festival continues to expand in order to broaden visitors' New York experience.
CMJ will feature the premieres of "The Messenger" - including a question-and-answer session with the wartime drama's star, Woody Harrelson - and the new George Clooney movie, "The Men Who Stare at Goats." It also will continue its alliance with Broadway, started last year with "Spring Awakening," by featuring a panel session with the cast of "Hair," as well as a performance. This year, CMJ has expanded its partnership with businesses in lower Manhattan to give festivalgoers special offers at retailers and restaurants.
"Our focus is not just CMJ," Green says, "but CMJ and New York."
In a way, CMJ's strategy mirrors the rest of the music industry, which continues to look for new outlets and business models now that its traditional moneymaker, album sales, seems to be drying up. Instead of its previous plan of connecting American musicians, major labels and influential tastemakers, CMJ is widening its view, turning to international markets and more casual music and pop culture fans to keep its attendance figures growing.
However, Haber and Green, Long Island natives who still live in Old Westbury, say music will always remain at the heart of the festival.
"The business is in such chaos and CMJ tends to be an oasis out there," says Haber. "We try to address the question of 'Where is this business going?' in different programs. We also want to be a place where people share their war stories."
More important, Haber says, CMJ's main goal is to help people discover new music.
"We want to keep looking at new music as new music, whether it's Southern Rap, whether it's metal, whether it's Prog rock," says Haber, adding that although there is a larger major-label contingent this year, about 65 percent of the acts would still be classified as alternative. "As the music business flattens and broadens and becomes much more micro-genre specific, it becomes important for CMJ not to be left out in any of those genres."
WHAT CMJ Music Marathon
WHEN | WHERE Tuesday, Oct. 20 through Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009, at venues across New York.
INFO $495 for entire festival, prices vary for individual events; cmj.com