Commentary: Why IBMA Matters

IBMAAs regular readers of Bluegrass Today may remember, I am not always full of praise when I write about IBMA, some of its actions and some of its leaders.

But I don’t think resigning from the organization or deciding not to attend World of Bluegrass activities, as some have done, is necessary. So I come today to praise IBMA, and to explain why I am a lifetime member.

Actually, it’s pretty easy. I am a card-carrying member of the International Bluegrass Music Association because the contacts and friendships I have developed while attending WOB since 2010 – first in Nashville, more recently in Raleigh – are worth far more than the money I have spent in dues, conference registration, travel and lodging.

At my first IBMA conference, three things happened that have had a profound impact on my journalism and my songwriting. On the journalism side, I was invited by John Lawless to write about the conference for what was then The Bluegrass Blog. I might have attended the conference without that affiliation, but his offer sealed the deal.

The second was attending a songwriter mentoring session with Claire Lynch and Irene Kelley. They encouraged me to be open to co-writing, which I hadn’t tried at the time. Since then, I have used a co-writer on nearly every song I have written, and on all of the cuts that have been released or are due for release in the upcoming months.

The third is that I met Dawn Kenney at an IBMA song circle. Dawn played and sang beautiful original songs that night and we became fast friends. Though it took a couple of years to happen, we finally got together to write, and when we did, it was magical. We’ve had cuts and this year, with Mitch Matthews, who was in that same song circle, we won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest.

As co-writers, we are stronger together than we are individually. The same thing can be said about IBMA. We are stronger as a group than we are standing on our own.

IBMA, of course, is not just for songwriters. It has value no matter what part of bluegrass you come from. Artists can meet DJs. Promoters can spot new acts that come in to play showcases. Fans can soak it all in. And, of course, World of Bluegrass is just a part of IBMA’s value. The directory alone is worth the cost of dues in my book.

Now, I’ve heard some established artists and longtime songwriters say they don’t see the value in IBMA membership or in the cost and time of attending the annual conference in Raleigh. But I also hear some of these same folks complaining that they’re not getting bookings or cuts.

To me, there’s a clear connection. I’ll quote Dawn here. You must be present to win. The annual gathering in Raleigh is the best and largest networking opportunity you will find. Anywhere. Period. It’s one-stop shopping for all things bluegrass. Not to mention that the end of the week brings in tens of thousands of fans ready to hear great music and not afraid to spend money on merchandise. That’s more potential customers than many bands run across all year.

Yes, the music business has changed. There are serious challenges that make it harder and harder to earn a living as a musician. But they way I see it, we can sit at home and mope or we can come together in Raleigh and work together on possible solutions.

It’ll take some effort and it will cost some time and money. Yes, there will be some frustrations. No one will be pleased with every single thing IBMA does, but that’s the same for any group.

I see IBMA as a worthwhile investment in my musical future. It can be the same thing for others, too.

But it won’t just happen.

You must be present to win.

(Information about joining IBMA and registering for Raleigh can be found on IBMA’s website).

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.