I have a couple of friends who produce a show called the Promo Only Artist Showcase held during the DJ Expo. This is a showcase for up and coming DJs and dance music acts, and sometimes to launch an artist’s comeback. It’s held in Atlantic City at the House of Blues venue in the Show Boat Casino. I know, it already sounds like a ridiculously abject failure, right?
However, this showcase helped launch the career of Lady Gaga.
This year, the show featured 22 acts in 5 hours. Luckily there are no live bands to deal with, but plenty of tracks and DJ gear to shuffle around. Beyond that, the politics of dealing with artists and their managers is probably the trickiest bit.
Even though Taylor Dayne and Sean Paul were part of the lineup, they had to understand that between them all there were only 2 dressing rooms to share. And everyone had to eat the same sweaty cold cuts off the buffet table.
The art of fighting for position in the show starts months ahead of time as both invited guests and paying artists (some people pay to play) campaign to be in the best slots. Favors and relationships are surely put to the test in the lead up to the show. Everyone wants to be in a key slot – or as close to the headliner as possible. In response to the landslide of appeals for a prime spot, my pal Michael Goldman, who produces the show, has these choice words; “In 2008 Lady Gaga was the opening act. She did her set and didn’t complain one bit. So tell me this… are you bigger than Lady Gaga?” And that tends to shut down the conversation.
The other friend of mine who works the show is Greg Fox. Greg loves to tell stories about how they have to communicate with the artists to explain that there is one stage, rotating dressing rooms, five hours and 20-plus performers… so some compromises will have to be made. The artists have to share equipment, one sound guy does all the mixes, and there is no individual catering.
The artists do not need a guest list as attendance is free of charge. Backstage access is limited to essential personnel only – if you could imagine, just 4 or 5 “friends” from each performer would result in nearly one hundred extra bodies backstage!
As is the norm with productions of this type, there are always late changes. In fact, this year, one act was supposed to go on in about the middle of the show. However, the day before, word came that she would be shooting on a set in LA during the day and would fly out to Atlantic City via private plane to make the show. However, she was going to need a later slot. So the rundown got reworked yet again as the kid gloves came off to handle the slightly ruffled egos.
Having worked enough live events to totally get all of this, I tried to separate myself from the fray enough to be in a position to just enjoy the night and check out some acts I had never heard of or had heard very little about.
At the top of my list I have to give a nod to a duo called Breathe Carolina. David Schmitt and Kyle Even look like they’d be more at home in a punk band but they turned out a sick set of catchy electro-pop tunes, which, as usual hit you much harder in person than the studio recordings. I predict you’ll see these guys blow up the charts – if not as an act – then definitely as writer/producers. Their Blackout video is riotous fun.
The other thrill of the night goes to Taylor Dayne. Yes, the same woman who had the hits, Tell it to My Heart and Love Will Lead You Back. While I normally would have turned my nose up at someone like her performing, it has to be said that she can still belt out a tune – in tune. Beyond the cheezy videos from the early MTV era (or is that the ONLY video era at MTV?) and the 80’s track production, it’s clear that Taylor actually has some real vocal talent. She’d actually be qualified to be a top-notch judge or coach on any of the myriad music competition shows on TV these days. Or she could rock the charts with the right producer.
In what seemed like a blur of singers, dancers, DJs, photographers, announcers, etc., the Promo Only Artist Showcase held during the DJ Expo is a strange and fascinating showcase of some talent that just one day might cause you to get up and dance.