Posted: August 17, 2006
By Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen
Martin Folkman is a founding member of Music Resource Group (MRG), publisher of The Musician's Atlas and director of the Independent Music Awards (IMA). Comprised of music industry professionals, MRG creates resources, programs and interactive tools for all members of the independent music community. By focusing on the current music scene and music business trends, MRG through products like The Musician's Atlas, the interactive AtlasOnlline and programs like the Independent Music Awards, helps artists, music business entrepreneurs and other industry professionals to make, market and sell music more successfully.
Music Resource Group began the Independent Music Awards in 2000 as a way to gain more recognition for independent artists whose music was flying under the radar of commercial promotion, marketing and distribution channels, explains Martin. "Borders Books & Music has been an IMA sponsor since the program's second year," says Martin. "The chain leverages its current 9 million customer email database and its weekly Shortlist eNewsletter to promote the IMA Winners Jukebox that includes songs by of every IMA winner."
In addition to the Borders relationship, MRG has formed a strategic partnership with radio promotion company The Planetary Group, which promotes the IMA Winners CD to 600 North American colleges, public and AAA radio stations. "And radio tracking firm Mediaguide provides annual memberships to IMA winners so that they can track radio airplay to know which stations around the country are playing their music," Martin says. "Winners also receive a print copy of our Musician's Atlas and an annual subscription to the AtlasOnline interactive edition. So in addition to delivering promotional opportunities to indie bands and artists, we provide them with tools that help them manage their careers and market their music more effectively."
Over the years, the program has grown to include album categories for all genres that the program covers. And because MRG advocates the continued use of graphic design and photography to advance album and band images, MRG also added IMA Design Categories for album packaging, album photography, website design, gig poster art and swag.
IMA Album & Song categories include: Pop/Rock, Hard Rock/Metal, Rap/Hip-Hop, Jam, Blues, R&B, Folk/Singer-Songwriter, Country, Americana, Dance/Electronica, Jazz, Latin, Contemporary Christian, Gospel, World (Traditional), World (Fusion) and New Age. There is also an Album category for Live Performance, a new "Sing Out For Social Action" song category and category for songs used in film, TV or multimedia productions. IMA Design categories include: Artist/Band Website, Indie Record Label Website, Album Packaging, Album Art Photography, Band/Venue Poster and Swag.
The Independent Music Awards is now in its sixth year and is accepting submissions through August 25. Over the years, the program has spotlighted a wide variety of artists, who in the time since they participated in the IMA awards program, have advanced to greater prominence. Previous winners include: Mary Gauthier, Paris Combo, Richard Julian, Phil Roy, Johnny Society, Lacuna Coil, Chris Whitley, The Mooney Suzuki, Sugarcult, Darrell Scott, and Girlyman, among others. MRG archives present and past IMA Jukeboxes at: Jukebox Here, visitors can listen to and learn about past program winners and finalists.
Prior to forming MRG in 1997, Martin was president of The KITA Group, a public relations firm that specialized in music and new media technology promotion and marketing campaigns. KITA Group clients included: Warner Music Group, Warner Advanced Media Operations, Denon Advanced Media, McDonnell Douglas Information Systems, the Entertainment Packaging Council and the Ban The Box campaign, a program created by The KITA Group to encourage the U.S. music industry to dispense with disposable compact disc longbox packaging used at the time CDs first entered the marketplace.
"While working as an account supervisor for a multinational public relations firm, I started doing a freelance project over the weekend for a friend of a friend who owned a store that sold high-end Murphy Beds to the go-go yuppie crowd in the mid '80s," Martin explains. "The KITA Group--KITA is an acronym for Kick In The Ass--emerged from the soup-to-nuts satisfaction that came from overseeing all aspects of the business from programming to staging to following through campaigns."
"Kita's not currently active. The process of running a public relations firm actually encouraged a desire to become the client by building a product or a service to market and promote," he continues. "The promise of the Internet in the mid '90s as an avenue for artists to make, market and sell their music established the perfect climate for a business whose mission is to deliver professional resource tools and opportunities to independent artists."
Martin is a regular speaker at music industry conventions and conferences, such as: NEMO, Folk Alliance, Americana Music Conference and the upcoming CMJ Conference.
MRG is now preparing a new version of the AtlasOnline that will launch in the 4th quarter of 2006. The new version will feature a new graphic interface, new interactive tools and many features planned to automate, simplify and facilitate daily tasks.
How have the categories grown over the years if at all?
In its first year, the IMA program focused only on song categories. We were so impressed with the quality of the first year submissions that we added an Album Of The Year category in the second year. As the program gained recognition over the next several years, the quantity and variety of albums being submitted for Album Of The Year made it extremely difficult for our judging panels to identify top contenders among the wide variety of genres submitted by both artists and labels. This encouraged us to expand the program to its current profile and allows us the pleasure of doubling the number of winning artists and releases the program is able to spotlight each year. In response to the current political, social and cultural climate, this year we added the "Sing Out For Social Action" song category to provide a platform for issues. Over the years, the Design categories have increased to include achievements in Web Design for bands and labels.
Who is eligible?
The IMA program accepts indie music submissions from every corner of the globe. All independent artists and independent record label releases are eligible. It's important to note that the program accepts submissions from indie artists and indie labels that are distributed by both indie distributors and major label distributors.
How is one nominated?
All submissions are reviewed by a team of music journalists, musicians, radio programmers, record label A&R and other industry professionals. This group identifies the five finalists in all categories.
Do the judges really listen to all the submissions?
We ask judges to sign all the evaluation forms to confirm that they've listed to and reviewed all the submissions they receive.
How are the judges determined?
Our goal is to include judging panelists whose combined work covers as many IMA categories as possible. Each year the program has featured a different group of celebrity artists and industry professionals who've graciously helped identify indie artists and releases they believe deserve greater recognition.
This year's artist judging panelists include: Peter Gabriel, Wynonna, Ozzy Osbourne, McCoy Tyner, Paul Oakenfold, Suzanne Vega, Cyndi Lauper, Marc Ribot, Buddy Guy, David Grisman, Beenie Man, Howard Tate, Bebel Gilberto, Rob Wasserman, Patty Loveless, Tom Pagnotta (Sugarcult), Afrika Bambaataa, Bill Frisell and Fatboy Slim. Industry judging panelists include: ATO Records President Michael McDonald, Americian Association of Independent Music (A2IM) President Don Rose, Folk Alliance Executive Director Louis Meyers, Performing Songwriter Music Editor Abby White, U.S. Music Management Forum President Barry Bergman, Billboard West Coast Bureau Chief Melinda Newman, and MerleFest Artistic Director Claire Armbruster.
Past judges have included: Tom Waits, Aimee Mann, Melissa Etheridge, Bill Wyman, Norah Jones, Ray Davies, George Clinton, Lou Reed, Amy Ray, Steve Vai, Joe Perry, Chris Thile, Erykah Badu, Ricky Skaggs, John Medeski, Kelly Willis, Mavis Staples, Paquito D'Rivera, Mickey Hart, Tina Weymouth, Mitchell Froom, Charlie Hunter, Yolanda Adams, Joshua Redman, Rosanne Cash, Ben Folds, Hubert Sumlin, Jose Feliciano, William Ackerman, Jonatha Brooke, Me'shell Ndegeocello, Don Byron, Robbie Fulks, Joe Henry and many others.
Where and when are the awards given out?
The program focus is on supporting IMA winners through marketing, promotion and airplay initiatives. The program does have a physical award that's traditionally mailed to all of the winners. Winners and finalists receive framed certificates that identify the program year, their status--winner/finalist, their category and the album or song name that was recognized by the judges. We also provide winners and finalists with stickers for their CDs and logos for their site, etc. However, we're in the early stages of planning a live awards ceremony and subsequent IMA showcases in New York in Spring 2007.
First concert attended
Peter, Paul & Mary, 1970, Garden State Arts Center (now PNC Arts Center), Holmdel, NJ.
First concert worked
Queen at the Music Hall in Boston in 1976. I was an usher.
First industry job
The Kita Group, Public Relations, NYC. We handled music business, music packaging and related industry accounts.
It's always a thrill when readers and subscribers go out of their way to contact us to report how helpful and essential The Atlas and AtlasOnline are to their careers. Notifying IMA winners and finalists of their achievement is a reward in itself. And from The KITA Group days, it was a charge to create and organize the successful Ban The Box campaign that encouraged the recording industry to eliminate wasteful longbox CD packaging. Program elicited support of artists, bands and labels including U2, REM, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Gabriel, Grateful Dead, David Byrne, Rykodisc, Island Records, Rhino Records, etc.
Will have to give this some thought.
To adapt and keep pace with all the prolific technology, business and marketing changes that occur daily in the music industry.
Best business decision
To pursue a career path that's in step with a passion for music and musicians.
Best advice you received
Focus. Question. Simplify.
Best advice to offer
Getting discouraged is counterproductive to getting things done.
Most memorable industry experience
Receiving an award given by Earth Communications Office (ECO), a Los Angeles-based group formed to promote environmental awareness through mass communication channels, alongside Bonnie Raitt, The Beach Boys and Rykodisc co-founder Rob Simonds for promoting environmental responsibility within the music business.
Pele had 360-degree vision giving him the ability to know where every member of his team was at any given moment and the skill to pass the ball with precision accuracy. He embodied all the attributes of a great team leader and team player.
No one favorite. I try to find out-of-the-way, local spots that aren't trendy nor tourist destinations.
Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles
What friends would be surprised to learn about you
I used to wear saddle shoes and argyle vests.
Industry pet peeve
That the continuing shift toward digital downloads may signal the demise of album art and music packaging in the years to come.
Album packaging and gig poster art books.
If I wasn't doing this, I would be...
...working toward earning a spot on Iron Chef America.
Though I've never met him, Ahmet Ertegun was fortunate to have a career that put him in touch with nearly every facet of both the music making process and music business.
Martin can be reached at: 973-509-9898; e-mail: email@example.com