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Harrisburg event shows how to be a pro musician

The conference offers education for aspiring musicians and live music for fans

John Harris launched the Millennium Music Conference 20 years ago when, as a music promoter and manager, he was constantly besieged with people asking for help in breaking into the business.

"I was sick and tired of people coming up to me and saying, 'You need to help me,'" Harris said.

So Harris started the conference as a way for anyone -- from aspiring musician to producer, manager or publicist -- to make connections and jump-start their career in music.

"If you're a young band or a singer-songwriter, this will help you make it in the business," he said.

The conference, held Feb. 19-21 in Harrisburg, features business sessions, lectures and workshops and of course, tons of live music, most for free and some open to all ages, Harris said.

Here's what you can expect from the conference:

For the fans

The conference is a mecca of music for those who enjoy it live, especially in small, intimate venues by talent that is trying to scratch and claw its way to the top, Harris said.

Grammy-winning rock band Halestorm, which began in Red Lion, has appeared at the conference, he said.

"Halestorm was here when they were 13, 14 years old, when they were kids," he said.

As with past conferences, many of this year's bands are from Pennsylvania, but some hail from Europe, like  Akaba, a pop/avante garde group from Stockholm, Sweden, and Finnish pop/rock singer-songwriter Karel Ullner. There's even an acoustic duo from Honolulu, Hawaii, called Sweet Corn & Peanut.

Other bands to look for this year include Spiritual Rez, Laura Stevenson and Midnight Mob.

"Ninety percent are free," Harris said of the shows. "There's a few all-ages" venues as well.

Learn to make it as an artist

Harris said successful artists approach music like a business.

"This event is about music education first, and a music showcase second," he said. "This is school -- music business school."

Back in the day, in order to be a success, bands and singer-songwriters had to get signed by a major record label.

"Now, it's do-it-yourself," Harris said.

To that end, Harris has scheduled workshops with titles such as "New Revenue Streams For DIY Musicians," "Branding & Marketing for Independent Artists," and "Your Music As a Business."

Another key to success is for an artist to consider different paths, if performing is not for them. He used the example of an artist that doesn't "look good on stage" but can write songs that sell.

"Some big star picks it (your song) up -- you'll be getting royalty checks for the rest of your life," he said.

Explore other opportunities in the music industry

When people think music, they might immediately imagine a band on stage, rockin' a crowd. But that is a very small minority of those who work in music, Harris said.

"For every person on stage, there's a hundred people behind them," he said.

On the conference website, one session, titled simply, "Careers in Music Industry," is designed to help those who want a career in music, but maybe are not the next Eddie Van Halen or Eddie Vedder.

"There are plenty of ways to have a job in music at all levels of the industry without being a musician — jobs you may have never even known existed!," the website states. "A panel of respected industry professionals will open your minds to the seemingly limitless possibilities that exist."

If you go

What: 20th annual Millennium Music Conference and Showcase

When: Feb. 19-21.

Where: The Central Hotel & Conference Center at Best Western Premier, 800 East Park Drive Harrisburg, Pa., and numerous venues in the Harrisburg area.