CMJ Founders Launch New Festival (That Sounds an Awful Lot Like CMJ)

NYU graduates in Washington Square Park
David Handschuh/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Graduates fill Washington Square Park during the New York University commencement ceremony.  

Mondo.NYC will precede CMJ by about a month.

A new festival is coming to New York City this fall with the express purpose of "empowering artists and innovators... at the epicenter for emerging music, technology and media." That's the tag line for Mondo.NYC -- which bills itself as a music festival, business summit and community -- that will take place this Sept. 14-18 with panels and discussions held at NYU during the day and a slew of live performances in the evenings at venues across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Using descriptors like "groundbreaking," "revolutionizing" and "pioneering," a press release for the inaugural edition emphasizes a three-word mantra: "Create. Disrupt. Innovate."

Sound familiar? The founders of Mondo.NYC are Bobby Haber and Joanne Abbot Green, the former minds behind CMJ, which is held annually each October in New York and is, functionally, the blueprint upon which Mondo.NYC is based. Haber founded CMJ in 1978 as a trade magazine for college radio stations before starting CMJ Music Marathon in 1980. But the company eventually ran into financial issues and fading returns at the turn of the century, and Haber sold the company in 2012.

CMJ's New Owner Has Big Plans for the Beleaguered Brand

That sale, however, led to its own set of headaches. In May 2013, New York-based Metropolitan Entertainment sued Haber, Green and CMJ Holdings Corp. over $600,000 in unpaid loans, totaling nearly $1 million with interest, that it had lent the company between 2009 and 2010, alleging that Metropolitan had agreed to purchase CMJ, and that when it was sold to another company, those loans and interest payments were not included as part of CMJ's assets. The new company refused to honor those loans; the new owners moved CMJ from its longtime home at NYU to the Dream Hotel for last year's 35th edition.

That's part of what makes Mondo.NYC's first edition, to be held at NYU, feel so familiar. But the ideologies of the two festivals are almost identical as well. "At this pivotal moment in the evolution of music, pop culture, technology and communications, there has never been a more crucial time for veterans and pioneers alike to convene, connect, disrupt and collaborate with one another," Haber writes in Mondo's press release, which emphasizes its panels focused on music, tech, business and the convergence of the three. Broadly speaking, those are similar topics that CMJ covers each year in October.

Of course, Haber is right: the music industry is at a pivotal moment in its transition from physical to digital, and from sales to streams. There is plenty to discuss about the status and future of the business, even if it often begins to sound like the proverbial broken record. But if Mondo.NYC can help start to advance ideas rather than just provide another platform for people to talk in circles about them, it will be a welcome addition to a city experiencing something akin to a festival gold rush. The effect it may have on CMJ by encroaching on its turf -- not too different from Panorama's debut this summer coming just six weeks after the established Governors Ball -- remains to be seen.

Correction (10:47 a.m. June 10): This article originally stated that the case between Metropolitan Entertainment and CMJ Holdings was dismissed. After the publication of this article, attorneys for Metropolitan Entertainment CEO John Scher contacted Billboard to clarify that though Haber, Green and CMJ Holdings Corp. tried to get the case dismissed in 2014, a judge ultimately decided the case could proceed to a jury trial, which will be held later this year or early next.