“This year we’re doing 16 panel discussions, we have three keynote speakers, and then at night, we have the music fest.” Kevin Hellman is the organizer of the San Diego Music Thing. “I look at this as an indie Street Scene. It’s not that we have huge names,” he says. “But what it is are the bands that five years from now will be playing those big events.”
The Music Thing bills itself as a music-industry conference/festival. As many as 7000 people are expected to filter through the various showcase gigs, talks, and panel discussions. “Five years ago, when we started it, Al Guerra — who works at Viejas now and used to work at Rock 105.3 and 91X — he and I were both board members of the Music Foundation. It seemed like every day we’d get 20 calls from musicians asking, ‘Hey, how do I do this?’ or ‘Can you help me with that?’ And we wound up saying, Why not have some of our connections come down from Los Angeles and speak to everybody?”
The first such event was a free series of panel discussions. “We had such great response, we decided to make it one entire weekend.” Hellman called it North by North Park, in homage, perhaps, to South by Southwest, the long-running music-industry showcase in Austin. SXSW promoters were not amused. Legal action was threatened.
“I still don’t believe we would have gotten in trouble legally. It’s not like we’re stealing a brand name. But, there was no reason to fight the big guy. They have attorney fees,” Hellman says, “and we have none. We’re raising money for a charity.” The name was changed to San Diego Music Thing. “We’ll never ever be South by Southwest. Don’t want to.”
Hellman is a maven of local music and charity events. He produces the San Diego Music Awards and cofounded the San Diego Music Foundation, a nonprofit that puts musical instruments in area schools. His tenure dates back to a sales gig at the North County Entertainer, where he learned the ropes by helping work that paper’s annual music-awards show.
Why does the New Orleans native keep his finger in so many local-music-biz pies? He says he enjoys producing events. “It keeps me involved in music. And, I work for a newspaper [he is the publisher of CityBeat] that puts the program together, so the newspaper makes a little money from it.” Kevin Hellman, too? “Personally? No, I don’t.” He keeps the Music Foundation apart from the newspaper. “We have separate books, separate offices. We try to avoid conflicts wherever humanly possible.”
This year’s Music Thing is September 14 and 15 and features 150 bands on 13 stages, two days of music-industry panel discussions, and celebrity keynote speakers, including Public Enemy’s Chuck D and MC5 founder Wayne Kramer.