Any music festival rubs up against scores of obstacles that burrow, like parasites, into the organization's skin. Running a specialized event, then, breeds another set of possible plagues: The potential audience is smaller. The at-large interest is lighter. The sponsorship opportunities are tighter.
Signal, Chapel Hill's electronic music festival, bolted out of the gate with ambition in its first year. Now in its fourth, one of its chief architects, Uzoma Nwosu, says the organizers continue to shape the festival from experience and, this year, carve a bit of it away due to the dwindling economy's effects on the music industry.
"We're doing a few less events compared to last year, monitoring our expenses and enforcing cost ceilings," says Nwosu. "We're not a huge festival as is, so we were already watching our finances before the economic troubles. We've done everything to cut corners and keep door prices reasonable."
Organizers are, however, chipping away at some of their ongoing goals to expand Signal beyond an annual festival and into an educational organization, promoting the music's history, artistry and advancement. Last year, Signal became a state-sanctioned nonprofit corporation (federal approval is still pending). Signal's applied for federal and state grants, too, to assist with the educational arm of the organization, says Nwosu: "Some of the workshops that we would like to have would take resources that we simply cannot get from door sales alone." It's one of the perils of being a small, compact festival in a genre whose mainstream is dominated by big-name business. The annual Winter Music Conference, held in Miami just last month, brings in big-ticket international artists and a field of industry sponsors, for instance. That's not Signal's priority.
In Nwosu's view, tightening the purse strings hasn't affected the spirit that runs through this festival; the spark that keeps this event more than just partying. "Because in the end, what brought us to electronic music is the same thing that brings people to any other genre: local parties and passionate local artists," he says. "And ultimately, Signal is just one of the larger local events. On the national scene, it's a business. On the local scene, it's magic."
Single event tickets for Signal range from $10-$20, and full festival admission costs $40. Many events are free. For a full schedule and more information, visit www.signalfest.com. Signal also hosts several educational workshops this weekend, including a production seminar with The Foreign Exchange's Nicolay at 3 p.m. Friday, April 17, at Talulla's.