Lesko | Image by City Paper Digi-Cam
Last year, I attended the first Making the Right Moves Entertainment Conference, where I was invited to serve as a panelist. And though its execution was sometimes flawed, it felt like its organizer, Milestone Media, was onto a good thing with the event, which offered a number of opportunities for aspiring musicians to network and learn about show business. So I was optimistic about returning this year's conference, which showed signs of getting bigger and better. Like last year, the venue was the Baltimore Convention Center, but where it was previously held in a few smaller conference rooms on the upper level, the event now occupied one of the building's larger halls on the ground floor. And the decision to cut the conference down from two days to one appeared to be a smart idea, focusing everything on Saturday instead of spreading it out.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the scale and turnout of this year's conference was similar to last year's, but felt much smaller in the larger setting. The various booths, stages, chairs, and displays took up less than half of the cavernous room, and since many people came and went for a fraction of the event's daylong span, the seats were never close to full. And the full title of this year's event, the Making the Right Moves Entertainment Conference and Free Music Expo, highlighted a new emphasis on one of its biggest weaknesses: performances in the worst possible atmosphere, indoors in the middle of the day, with an audience primarily of other musicians and industry folks who are too concerned with their own careers to pay attention or applaud.

Of course, a less than ideal atmosphere for the performances wouldn't have mattered much if more of the performers were any good. Instead, many of the same amateurs we witnessed at Charm City Community Block Fest last month performed, including the teen rapper J Butts, whose music was even worse than his name, and Karron Johnson, a promising R&B singer hampered by a schizophrenic range of cover material, swinging wildly from John Legend's stuffy "So High" to The-Dream's sleazy "Falsetto." Still, there were some highlights later in the evening, including a brief performance by rapper Little Clayway, and a great set by R&B songstress Bree, who exuded so much personality and charisma with every vocal run and playful bit of banter that it felt like there was at least one potential superstar in the house that day.

The biggest problem with the music expo element of the event, though, is that it almost destroyed the component that defined the conference last year: topical discussion panels. The stage for the panels was set up in the back of the room, opposite from the performance stage, with a cloth partition surrounding it, so that both performances and panels could take place at the same time. The only problem was, they were still in the same room, and the very loud concert going on a couple hundred feet away made it pretty much impossible for people to hear themselves or each other at the panels, even with microphones; it was a bit like trying to carry on a meaningful conversation in the back of a noisy nightclub. Only two discussions went off without a hitch--local blogger and event promoter C. Love's panel about independent book publishing and Maryland-based infomercial huckster Matthew Lesko's spiel about getting free money from the government to fund your own business. Meanwhile, most of the other panels, including one I was scheduled to host, went up in smoke as many of the panelists showed up late or failed to show up at all.

Thankfully, the Making the Right Moves folks saw what was going awry and salvaged one last megapanel by throwing those of us that did show up onto the big performance stage to get a bigger audience. The moderator of this final panel was set to be Terrence J, a VJ on BET's countdown show 106 and Park, who recently made waves for taunting his co-host and rumored girlfriend, Rocsi, until she stormed off the set in the middle of a show. Terrence showed up and gave a brief speech, but apparently had something to do before the discussion began and split. So the organizers threw me onstage to host the remainder of the panel. Though I had to toss out the whole spiel I'd prepared for the panel I was originally scheduled to moderate, and was too nervous to contribute much, the discussion, titled "Industry Power Moves," featured great contributions from the other panelists, including The Baltimore Sun critic Rashod D. Ollison, entertainment lawyer Paul Gardner, and Indie Planet TV creator Shadeed Eleazer, among others.

After that one successful panel, however, it was back to the hit-and-miss performances, and as more and more people began to leave, what excitement had been raised during the day quickly wound down. Even a few artists who were scheduled to perform in the evening saw the turnout and decided it wasn't worth it. For what it's worth, I do feel bad to point out the shortcomings of the conference--one of the people who asked me to be there, Howard Perkins, appeared to be more frazzled and exasperated by various logistical breakdowns every time I saw him throughout the day. But I sincerely hope he and the other organizers learn from the trials they encountered this year and apply those lessons to Making the Right Moves 2009, which, if executed right, could be a worthwhile experience.