Plans are in the works for the CMJ Music Marathon to return this fall for the first time since 2015. Yes, you read that right: Somebody is trying to bring back that beleaguered festival in this beleaguered year.
As Billboard reports, the somebody in question is Amazing Radio. The UK-based company has emerged as the mystery buyer that began touting CMJ’s 2020 return last December. “This is a revolution for American emerging artists; the opportunity to be played on the radio, increase their popularity through listener engagement, have the chance to play CMJ and grow their careers, all backed up by audience support and exert advice,” Amazing Radio chairman Bill Hein said in a statement. “We’re still planning to bring CMJ back to New York in October, come hell or coronavirus. But we’re here to help musicians, now, anyway.”
Before everything fell apart, CMJ was a cherished underground institution. It began in the the late ’70s as College Media Journal, a trade magazine for college radio programmers, eventually rebranding as CMJ New Music Report and adding the public-facing CMJ New Music Monthly, which famously came packaged with a sampler CD each month. (I actually discovered the great Doves album that turned 20 last week because “Catch The Sun” appeared on one of those CDs.)
In addition to their publishing empire, CMJ also ran a SXSW-like citywide festival and music industry conference called CMJ Music Marathon in New York every autumn from 1980 to 2015. But in 2016, the annual CMJ event just… didn’t happen. Little to explanation was provided. This followed years of financial trouble, a sale, and a whole mess of funny business involving shell companies and such. A lot of employees ended up not getting paid. The brand had become toxic, and now it was dead.
Now Amazing Radio intends to resurrect it. The company is touting the revived CMJ as a synergistic moneymaker for struggling bands, a lifeline in a time when COVID-19 containment measures have halted touring worldwide. Supposedly CMJ will soon offer a platform for paid virtual concerts. Artists can also upload their music to be streamed on CMJ stations, and fans can pledge money directly to artists, with 100% of profits going directly to the musicians. “It’s the perfect fit,” founder Paul Campbell said in a statement. “With gigs canceled and venues shuttered, the world’s next generation of musicians need help to keep working… We plan to breathe new life into CMJ and revive its influence and presence for the benefit of musicians and music. Its heritage is immense — but we intend to make sure CMJ’s best days are ahead of it by combining it with Amazing Radio.”
Good luck to anyone who believes they’re going to launch a live music event in 2020 — especially an event with this much PR baggage. As for the rest of the reboot, turning CMJ into an actual moneymaker for independent artists would be as amazing as the name implies. But hey, let’s see how it goes!