Coming to Raleigh was a good financial decision for IBMA, but not all of the news has been good.
Revenues are up, hand-in-hand with attendance at the end of week music festival. And the association’s overall membership numbers have grown significantly in the two years since the World of Bluegrass conference pulled out of Nashville.
But IBMA Chairman Jon Weisberger notes, “Virtually all of the growth in membership has come in the grassroots category” — the reduced-rate category for fans and supporters who don’t get to vote on awards or enjoy other benefits.
Professional memberships, especially for individuals, have not rebounded, Weisberger told the handful of members attending an early morning town hall meeting.
In 2007, IBMA had 1,892 professional members — 1,447 individuals and 388 organizations. This year, the chairman said, there are 1,718 professional members, just 20 more than in 2013.
“We’re still down from where we were seven or eight years ago,” Weisberger said, “but we have stopped the decline.”
Some of the fall off is easily explainable. In 2008, the U.S. began the steepest economic decline since the Great Depression.
The drop in professional memberships is also reflected in the number of full-time registrations for the business conference. There were close to 1,000 full registrations in 2006 and 2007. “Now we’re struggling to get half of that,” Weisberger acknowledged. Last year, IBMA’s first in Raleigh, there were fewer than 400 full registrations.
The big questions, according to the chairman: “What’s the issue, and how do we get more people to the conference?”
The answers won’t be easy, but they will be important to IBMA’s ability to stabilize and grow.