Katherine Sage has had Saturday, May 13th, circled on her calendar for months. Since February, the project manager of the Memphis chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (aka the Grammy folks) has made hundreds of phone calls, booked conference and performance space, and begun promoting the Indie Impact Seminar & Showcase at full tilt.
"The Recording Academy field offices are here to create educational opportunities for music professionals, and it's my job to help local musicians get in touch with and have access to the type of industry people we're bringing in," says Sage, listing CD Baby operations veep Lindsey Collins, eMusic label rep Rick Reed, Tape Op magazine editor Larry Crane, and Sub Pop marketing director Steve Manning among the panelists slated to appear at the seminar this weekend.
Also on the roster: a who's who of the hip-hop industry, including Swisha House Records CEO Michael Watts, XXL editor Vanessa Satton, Rap Coalition founder Wendy Day, and Mouth of the South manager Peppa Williams.
A strong local contingency -- including recording engineers Jeff Powell and Ralph Sutton, studio reps Cameron Mann (Young Avenue Sound) and Jody Stephens (Ardent), concert promoter Jim Green, Memphis International label owners David Less and Bob Merlis, and promoter David Fleishman -- have also signed on for the day-long seminar.
The Secret Service, Black Sunday, Chess Club, Brad Postlethwaite, Men-Nefer, Lutenant G, Kinfolk Kia Shine, The Delta Groove Revolution, and Erica Chambers will perform at the accompanying showcase, scheduled for The Warehouse in the South Main Arts District Saturday night.
But if NARAS builds it, will "they" -- the local players who might benefit from crash courses in financial management, marketing and promoting panels, and discussions about intellectual property and the digital domain -- come?
"I don't know if the general public understands the networking and educational opportunities offered," Sage admits. "There truly is an independent spirit here -- and unfortunately, I think they see the academy as a bunch of old fogies.
"We're providing access to people who actually know how the independent music structure works," Sage says, "and if people snuff it because it has a Grammy logo on it, that's a very clear example of how independent artists can hurt themselves. Choosing not to attend for that reason is like shooting yourself in the foot."
For Sub Pop's Manning, this trip to Memphis -- his first -- should provide ample opportunity to check out the local talent.
"It's always interesting to go to other cities and find such a regional vibe you can't experience anyplace else," notes the Seattle native.
"But," he cautions, "if [local musicians] aren't gonna leave town, they're probably not gonna have much of a chance. They're gonna hit a ceiling. The most successful musicians I know have had to put life on hold, get in a van, and play as many shows as possible.
"When Sub Pop signed the Shins, we saw them play in front of 35 people, but we knew it was a special moment," he recalls. "Five years later, they're playing to 7,000 people. That never would have happened if they'd stayed in Albuquerque and kept their record-store jobs."
The sensation of forging a connection with an audience at a live show is irreplaceable, Manning says, even for legendary groups like Mudhoney, who rode the grunge tidal wave to massive success in the early 1990s. "This is a band that was a trailblazer for a lot of other artists, and because they've got day jobs and kids and they're not touring, it's harder to keep their profile high."
Acknowledging rising gas costs and shrinking club guarantees, he suggests countering touring expenses with an extensive merch table loaded with homemade tapes, T-shirts, and limited-edition posters.
"Anything you can do to generate revenue," Manning notes. "As hard and scary as it is on the road right now, the next time you go back [to a certain town], there might be twice as many people there."
The Indie Impact Seminar is Saturday, May 13th, noon to 6 p.m. at Bridges, 477 N. 5th Street. The Indie Impact Showcase starts at 9 p.m. that night at the Warehouse, 36 G.E. Patterson. Admission to both events is $25 for academy members, $40 for nonmembers. A four-piece band can attend for $99. For more info, go to Grammy.com/Recording_Academy/Chapters/Memphis/.