Mayhem Festival to musically educate the Bay

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In its second year, Mayhem Festival (formerly Oaktown Music Festival) is still searching for the best music coming out of Oakland right now. A juried music video and song contest culminating with a two-night festival that features contest winners, Mayhem Festival exists to celebrate and encourage Oakland’s music scene. Through an online nomination process, the public and a diverse jury of 23 music industry experts — executives at Bandcamp and Pandora, recording studio managers, sound engineers, the executive and artistic director of Oakland School for the Arts — will choose winners in seven categories. Prizes include recording studio time, local music festival slots, photo shoots, flyer printing and custom design work.

Last year, Mayhem Festival garnered huge participation from the community, engaging more than 2,300 community members and about 300 local bands and artists. The two-night festival held at Awaken Cafe in Oakland proved the most successful weekend of 2013 for the business. With a new image, a revamped nomination platform for the contest and a clearer mission, Mayhem Festival is set to surpass its previous numbers. The Daily Californian had a chance to speak with co-creators of the event, UC Berkeley graduate Cortt Dunlap of Awaken Cafe and Sarah Sexton of Oaktown Indie Mayhem, about Mayhem Festival 2014 and what has changed in a year.

The Daily Californian: Looking at the Mayhem Festival website, it seems that the event is evolving. What’s new this year?

Sarah Sexton: One of the big changes this year is our reworked platform for nominating songs and videos. First, our new nomination form allows us to verify email addresses and prevent ballot box stuffing. Second, we require that nominated songs and videos appear on specific platforms.

Cortt Dunlap: With the new nomination requirements, we’re forcing artists to get themselves on platforms that are professional: YouTube, Vimeo, Bandcamp, SoundCloud. If you’re a musician trying to get your stuff out there and you’re not on these platforms, it’s about time. And this is your opportunity.

SS: Hopefully, it’s a wake up call. One song or video can completely represent a band or artist. I don’t mean that one song epitomizes a band or artist — it’s more about branding yourself. If you don’t have a clear vision of how you want people to see you, they’re not going to have a clear vision of what you are or what you’re creating. This is our way of saying, “Alright, Oakland musicians — step up your game. Figure out your brand. Figure out how you want people to see you.” This is a way to motivate local musicians to take it to the next level.

DC: You’ve also added two new categories: Best Song by a Solo Artist or Band Under 18 Years Old and Best Song by a Solo Artist or Band from the San Francisco Bay Area (not Oakland).

CD: The new categories came out of demand. Last year, for example, a lot of people from the San Francisco Bay Area outside of Oakland contacted us, asking to participate. We’d love to get artists from San Francisco and Berkeley and all over the Bay involved, but we want to keep the spotlight on Oakland artists.

SS: There’s a lot of tension — specifically in the music scene — between Oakland and San Francisco right now. We can let this competition become a point of animosity or we can work together to create a sense of camaraderie. We chose to open the door to artists from all over the area.

DC: With these more technical changes to the event, have your goals for Mayhem Festival changed as well?

SS: Last year, we thought about Mayhem as a celebration of Oakland. We’re still celebrating Oakland … but it’s bigger than that now. We’re trying to help create a solid music industry here. I’m sick and tired of all these great Oakland artists going to L.A. and New York and other places. With our prize packages we’re showing musicians what resources they have available to them; Oakland can offer the same advantages as L.A. and New York. With our new nomination requirements we’re showing musicians what people expect; you’re not going to get very far if you’re not using social media. You’re not going to get very far if people can’t find a working link to your music. You’re not going to get very far if you don’t real-world network with other musicians and producers and sound engineers.

CD: This is an educational endeavor. We want to provide musicians with the opportunity to learn the skills they need to get the word out and to learn about the resources available to them. Then, it’s also an education for the public. People pay 50 or 60 bucks to see a national act at the Fox, but there might be a small show down the street they would enjoy even more from a local band — one that doesn’t disappear after the gig. Most people around here are already into supporting local businesses and products. That attitude can be applied to music too. Mayhem Festival is about celebrating local music, educating people in a fun way, bringing the community together and making big acts.

SS: People in Oakland want to support one another in great movements. If you put something great in front of them, they’ll support it!

Mayhem Festival 2014 is accepting song and video nominations through its website until September 30. Contest winners will perform at Awaken Cafe on the nights of November 14 and 15. Advanced tickets and festival passes will soon be available for purchase through the Mayhem Festival site.

Contact Eliot Claasen at [email protected].