Emerge's Hybrid Festival-Conference Puts New Talent Center Stage

Scott Schmidt
Mike Henry

For young musicians, securing a slot at a high-profile music festival and gaining access to industry professionals isn’t exactly simple (or cheap). Truth be told, most fans going to Coachella and Lollapalooza are there to see the headliners, and discovering smaller talent is a bonus.

But the Emerge Impact + Music Conference, created by Life Is Beautiful festival founder Rehan Choudhry and Talent Buyer Mike Henry, is filling a gap in the market that exposes newer artists to the fans and industry they deserve.

“It all came out of us looking at emerging artists and looking at bands playing small-mid cap rooms,” Henry explains. “There are a lot of challenges for these bands. We started thinking, how can we help? How can we change the game for these guys?”

After conversations with industry friends about how some of the platforms for smaller artists can be enhanced, Henry realized that there was room to create a different experience that would drive value for new talent. And with that came the idea for the Emerge Impact + Music Conference, which was organized over the course of two years. “The idea was to create something laser-focused on emerging artists,” says Henry, “and create a one-stop shopping experience for the music industry, put everyone together in a unique and highly-curated format and take the barriers away between these artists and the industry.”

This November, Emerge will take place across Las Vegas venues, including Brooklyn Bowl, VINYL, The Joint, Harrah’s Showroom and The Linq Theater. For the Emerge team, location was integral to making the conference happen.

“Our secret weapon is Las Vegas,” Henry explains. “There’s no place in the world like this in terms of the venues and the experience.” Close relationships with the city’s largest venues and stakeholders allow Emerge to optimize a festival for rising talent by putting artists in the same places and stages as marquee names and Cirque du Soleil.

Henry describes the three-day event as a bit of a “unicorn.” “It’s not quite a conference and not quite a festival,” he notes. “We tried to take the best parts of both experiences and solve for the problems present in each of them.” The event breaks a traditional programming model, blending speaking engagements and live music. “Every showcase we have will have music content and impact content,” he adds. “You’ll never go to one [area] that doesn’t have both.” The conference caters to the idea that people want a more diverse experience to interact with music and ideas, and do it in the same place. “You should be learning and dancing in the same room,” Henry believes.

But the real secret sauce of Emerge is the curation. An advisory panel of 25 people across the music industry was enlisted to submit artists across all genres that they think will impact the music industry in the next year. The curation panel not only includes talent buyers and agents, but artists like The Killers, Imagine Dragons, Kaskade and Spoon’s Britt Daniel. Then, the company presents data analysis based on their own proprietary algorithm.

“We take that [data] into Spotify, and Spotify gives us some feedback,” Henry explains. By the time the artist data gets back to Henry and his team, there’s an even more focused pool of artists. “What we’ve tried to do is set ourselves up with the best 100 artists that truly have the artistic talent and market readiness credibility to be one one of the best and most unique lineups,” Henry says.

The goal is to put music discovery at the forefront, and this year attendees can catch performances from emerging artists like Beach Slang, Billie Eilish, CYN and Grace Mitchell alongside speakers like My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, Henry Rollins, Jill Sobule and more. And while live music and panels will be a large part of the conference, the Emerge creators know how hard networking can be in the music industry, so they’ve made it a priority at the event.

“There are going to be a lot of points during the day that there’s going to be only artists and industry reps, so they can meet each other and form connections that will help their careers,” Henry notes. “We want to set them up with the best chance for success that we can.”

Essentially, Emerge is trying to give budding new artists a chance while prioritizing the future of the music industry. “We put together this experience where people can discover their next favorite band,” Henry says.  “It’s not about the stuff you know now -- it’s about the stuff you’ll know next.”