Tomorrow (Sept. 14) marks the official launch of the inaugural Mondo.NYC, a five day music industry conference and indie artist showcase that will blanket lower Manhattan and Brooklyn with concerts, panels and events through Sunday night (Sept. 18). And most attendees can be forgiven if it feels a little familiar; Mondo is the brain child of Bobby Haber and Joanne Abbot Green, the founders of CMJ and its annual Music Marathon, respectively, who ran the similarly-minded event in New York City for 34 years before departing the company in mid-2014. It will even be headquartered at NYU, CMJ’s long-term base of operations before moving to the Dream Hotel for its 35th edition last year.
But Mondo, Haber insists in a conversation with Billboard ahead of its debut, will be different than CMJ has been in the past, or other industry conferences such as SXSW or the New Music Seminar, for instance. “It’s more in the area of convergence, of where technology and innovation meet music,” Haber says. “There are a lot of events that focus on a lot of the broad aspects of startup technology, and I think where we come in is, when you look at pop culture, communications, media, obviously social communications, for the most part where they overlap is in music and media.”
Regardless, Haber and Green have pulled together a wide-ranging offering of panels and speakers, including a keynote Q&A with Glassnote Entertainment founder Daniel Glass interviewed by NPR’s Bob Boilen; a presentation on music streaming from the director of NYU’s music business program Larry Miller; various live sessions and “Under the Hood” deep dives on companies like Vevo and TuneCore; and panel discussions on publishing, touring, copyright, brands, streaming, apps and plenty more from across the industry. Combined with the fact that the reality of the CMJ Music Marathon in 2016 is up in the air — despite his long history with the brand, Haber declined to speak about CMJ’s current status or future — Mondo is attempting to position itself as the next generation of industry showcase. Whether it can fill that role remains to be seen.
So, on the eve of Mondo’s first foray into the festival world, Bobby Haber speaks to Billboard about his vision for his latest endeavor.
Why did you want to create Mondo in the first place?
Bobby Haber: For myself and my partner Joanne Abbot Green, it’s really the event we’ve always wanted to do. One which truly focuses on New York as the world capital of music, which we’re very bullish on; one which integrated music, technology, content and media under one roof; one which really attracted a global audience of artists, and music business executives and really, broadly, music genre-wise. It’s the event that we always wanted to build, and it’s also something that’s really exciting to build as a startup. I’ve been at this for a good chunk of years, and I’ve really been channeling everything I’ve learned over those years from the ground up. The nicest thing is building a new staff, of course. Joanne has been the master of production for all these years; I’m more involved in strategy; our founding partner Gary Fortune has really invented global marketing music as a cultural export, and our team is really excellent. So just from a business and personal, professional perspective, it was what we always wanted to do.
What will set Mondo apart from other industry conventions?
From my perspective, an event like Mondo does not exist. At least in the United States, and certainly in New York, where we’ve got C-Suite executives from record companies, from major streaming companies, from publishing companies and PROs, to sitting U.S. Congressmen, but together with indie artists and managers and app developers and really, again, under one roof, and especially when that roof is NYU, which is to me one of the most important institutions of learning, not just here in New York, but really NYU identifies what a global institution is in 2016. So I think there are a lot of aspects of Mondo that don’t exist in the nation, and don’t exist in New York.
What are those aspects more specifically?
It’s more in the area of convergence, of where technology and innovation meet music. There are a lot of events that focus on a lot of the broad aspects of startup technology, and I think where we come in is, when you look at pop culture, communications, media, obviously social communications, for the most part where they overlap is in music and media.
What were some of the challenges you faced pulling this together?
You know, it really is interesting. Some people would argue we almost took too long to set the foundation up. But we really felt that before we came out of the box we wanted to be able to identify partners like the RIAA, like the Music Business Association, like A2IM, IDG.TV. And I think getting those elements together, getting the right staff together and making sure we had the right team, we didn’t actually announce Mondo until June 2. And at that point we were 90 days out. If I had to do it over again I probably would have started a year earlier, but we probably started Mondo about July 2015, and even with that amount of time, frankly it wasn’t enough.
Why didn’t you wait a year?
You know, I think I’m an impatient guy a little bit. But I don’t have to tell you what kind of chaos our wonderful industry is in, and it feels to me like a bit of a watershed moment right now. And that’s not to suggest that in 2017 everything that’s fluid is going to be solidified, but I can’t tell you how many people have come out of the woodwork — not just people I worked with and known for years, but people I hadn’t spoken with in years — have said, “This is an important event to have right now.” Look, we’re not naive enough to think that we’re going to find answers to things, but what we’re trying to do is get the right people under one roof and at least begin to talk to one another and look at some pathways where some questions are potentially answered.
There have been a few stories recently that criticized how obscure the artists on your lineup are. Was that a particular focus?
You know, honestly, I never thought I’d be accused of being too indie. [Laughs] But I’ve seen some of that, and it was very much by design. We’ve got a couple bigger names there, but for the most part we wanted to go out and reach… and we have partnered with Music Glue, which is a great British portal to look at some international acts. And what I was amazed at is that when you look at our Spotify playlist, it’s just great music. So yes, it was by design to go a little bit beyond the buzz bands. But the hope is that we can find one or two or three of these acts where a year from now people can say, “They started at Mondo.”
At the time of the announcement, some publications — Billboard included — drew the connection between Mondo and CMJ. How do you feel like they’re separate?
From our perspective, it was really not trying to look at any one event. There are a lot of events that have been around for years, but we didn’t look at any one event and say that we wanted to be different, we want to be the same. We just literally went to the blank white board and drew an event from scratch. So inevitably, we’re here in New York and cover a large part of music, so to that extent there could be parallels. But I think when it’s all said and done, this is an event that will be unlike any event that’s been held in New York for quite some time.
And we’ve also tried to do things like try to keep the price of the badges down, come up with one-day rates, come up with student rates, to really make sure that whomever comes is going to get great value. But we really tried to look at making sure that anybody who has anything to do with it really walks away saying that not only they got a great value, but that it was something new and different. That really was our charge from the beginning: do something that hasn’t been done, do it well, but more importantly to do it better next year and on and on.
Having produced something like CMJ for 30 years, what had you learned that you’ve been able to apply to starting something like this from the ground up?
That’s a great question. I know this sounds rote, but you bring with you your entire body of work and your history and your relationships. You really need to think out of the box. You really need to be flexible. We’re in a business where the aesthetic is really important, so we’re looking at not the biggest or brand name or most-well-known buzz act — or, for that matter, the panelist or moderator — but really try to identify somebody who is going to be the next big thing or who is a veteran who really has something to say. It sounds kind of hokey, but from our end, it’s back to the white board. Obviously, we’ve had a couple of decades of experience; learn from that, but don’t allow that to control you. Think out of the box. Change your partners as much as you can. And don’t be afraid to take chances.