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IBMA - International Bluegrass Music Association

It was a telegram from respected talent agent Lance LeRoy (now a rightly honored Hall of Fame member), circulated in 1985 to a small cadre of influential leaders that was the spark for a meeting to form a trade organization for bluegrass. Knowing the folks who were on the list, at least some of the responses to the call would have been, “Why do we need a trade organization?”

It’s a question we regularly encounter at IBMA. Don’t trade organizations traditionally represent the interests of “industries” and organize a variety of services for people in the “trade”?

A message received recently from an IBMA member confessed that he initially wondered why Bluegrass needed a trade organization. But after his first time accessing a wealth of connections from our database that contributed to his success he finally understood part of what IBMA does.

And finding connections is just one of the benefits.

So…What Is It That IBMA Does?

One of the basic tenets behind a trade organization is that IBMA members are better off working together than they otherwise would be by doing the same work separately.

IBMA's members speak of our world more as a “community” than an “industry,” but regardless of the characterization, IBMA has similarities with our counterparts in the manufacturing world. And the purposes of it's seemingly disparate trade associations have parallels. IBMA's product (though they hate calling it a “product”) is born through a creative process, needs to be protected and exploited, requires tools (instruments, voices, sound equipment, marketing, leadership) in its production, involves an ensemble and team approach to be successful and has to be exposed, promoted and recognized to find public acceptance.

And even within it's own community, IBMA represents a diverse array of professions. Members each specialize in different arenas of our own world, but the many constituencies in bluegrass (artists, event producers, labels, broadcasters, luthiers, etc.) have a subject of common interest – their music.

The foundation for success in music is built on the ability to motivate talent, acquire knowledge and make connections. At the core of what IBMA “does” is a community-wide approach to fostering the ingredients to that success.

Since 1985, they have built an impressive framework of benefits for our members and the music (both collectively and individually). IBMA has made tangible contributions to the careers of artists and the success of events, labels, agents, broadcasters, merchandisers and every other facet of the music. Some can be directly attributed to IBMA and many are often times indirect and lift up the entire genre. A complete list might be fun but their point here isn’t to boast about every contribution, but to point out the value of the institution they’ve built for our future.

That value of IBMA is largely derived from five broad categories of benefits:

  • knowledge
  • relationships
  • visibility
  • encouragement
  • a way to give back.


Knowledge

IBMA has heightened the knowledge base within the industry through hundreds of live seminars, webinars, workshops, panel discussions, mentor sessions, crash courses and leadership programs. Throughout each year, information you can use to help reach your goals is also here on IBMA's website and delivered in e-blasts to keep you informed about opportunities and developments. And not to be overlooked, there’s the informal sharing that happens between members who wouldn’t have known each other had it not been for a meeting facilitated by an IBMA event or program. "Sharing information is the bridge to new relationships and better opportunities."

Relationships

Relationships are critical, and fostering them runs a close second to talent as a required ingredient for success in music. "IBMA organizes more ways to connect and keep in touch on a day-to-day basis than anyone", while the annual World of Bluegrass week is the premiere meeting ground for people interested in our music. And IBMA is party to hundreds of phone calls, meetings and emails each year with outside interests who want to make a connection with it's music.

And what spurs relationships like well planned promotions and visibility with the decision makers you need to reach?

Visibility

The World of Bluegrass conference heightens the visibility of every facet of the industry through showcases, festival appearances, private functions, special events and exhibit opportunities. Those benefits may seem to center on artists, but there are also sponsor relations that spring from the week, broadcasters and media who use the week as a platform and labels that foster their products and build sales, to name just a few angles used for promotions.

IBMA doesn’t serve as the marketing team for any one artist, event or company, but it is the one worldwide organization working for the greater appreciation for our music. "Members have consistently made it one of our highest priorities to assure IBMA’s resources open doors for the music with new broadcast outlets (radio, television, internet), with concert and festival promoters, at retail outlets and in the mainstream press. " IBMA has showcased talent at other industry conventions, put significant resources to work in campaigns to radio, communicated regularly with television outlets and producers, built relations and special programs with music retailers and provided volumes of research to members for sponsorship development needs. Again, to quantify them would be of great interest, but the point is that by working together and pooling resources we’re all stronger and the better for it.

Encouragement

IBMA has labeled one of the primary benefits of having created IBMA as “encouragement,” which may be confusing. It uses that word to wrap it's arms around the purpose of one of the most visible things it does, which is to honor its own through organized recognition each year. There’s undeniably a promotional angle to awards and value in opening doors with events, retail and the media.

But equally – if not more - important is that honors and awards can be a great boost to confidence, they elevate self-esteem, motivate them to continue to work hard and lift up our pride. In short, they encourage them.

And you would think it might be just the recipients that benefit, but they're confident "the people offering encouragement get as much or more than those receiving it." " We, as an industry, are better ourselves when we honor – with integrity and genuine gratitude – those who have made great contributions." And in the eyes of the world beyond our own, they certainly do their music a great favor when they uplift their own.

IBMA's Future

The future of bluegrass is at once both ominous and exciting.

But what other community is as open when it comes to sharing information and advice, pitching in even when they have nothing to gain, and is just as happy to see others get the credit they deserve as to receive it themselves? And musical talent…have they got it or what?

A colleague from another music industry trade organization recently complimented IBMA saying how he envied the genuine community spirit they've fostered and the integrity and professionalism the organization has fostered for the music it serves. They very often hear the same from within their own ranks. If that’s a fair summary, then it’s hard not to be both proud and optimistic.