New York’s Mondo.NYC Sits At Intersection of Music and Technology

Jake Allen
Tanya Parks
– Jake Allen
Jake Allen performs at New York’s The Delancey on Oct. 17, 2019, as part of that year’s Mondo.NYC, which, in some ways, is the successor to CMJ.

The pandemic permanently changed how music fans consume music, from the apps they use to discover artists to the platforms they watch them perform on to the technologies they use at concert venues.

For that reason, Mondo.NYC, the New York City industry conference and music showcase that will stage its sixth annual event Oct. 12-15 and bears the tagline “Igniting Music & Technology,” has never been more vital.

“The last year and a half, more than ever, we’ve seen this inextricable link get even closer, if that was possible,” says Mondo co-founder and managing director Bobby Haber, who co-founded New York’s CMJ and ran that annual music conference for 34 years, until it closed up shop in 2014. Haber rattles off the panel topics that’ll be featured at Mondo 2021, including financial rights, emerging global markets, live music and production.

“Every single one of those really brings the creation of art together with technological channels to help create it, distribute it, monetize it and so on and so forth to, ultimately, the end user,” he says. “There’s just a stellar array of really passionate and super smart people who really just try to use this event as a place to not necessarily find answers – there’s no easy answers to any of this – but to at least bring people together and try to make some sense of things and at least try to identify some pathways to address what are huge challenges in the business.”

– Mondo.NYC

In presenting Mondo’s 2021 edition, however, Haber and managing director Joanne Abbot Green had to first overcome a challenge of their own: how to stage the conference as New York City and the world at large continue to navigate putting on events in the pandemic’s wake.

After a successful 2019 event, Haber explains, Mondo had already started exploring livestreaming and virtual events – “Mini Mondos, if you will,” he says – as a way to deepen engagement with its audience. In fact, by February 2020, Mondo already had both physical and virtual events planned. When the pandemic hit, the transition to the virtual sphere came easier to Mondo than it did for some others. Soon, Mondo was putting on business-oriented Zooms and it staged the fifth Mondo proper as a virtual event, too.

“We all had to learn how to communicate with each other, and it seemed a little overwhelming at first,” says Green, who executive produces Mondo. “It was a year ago in March when we had our first Mondo Zoom, and you gather information and you learn from each of those. By the time our dates arrived for Mondo [2020], we were able to build on the foundation we created.”

The format also expanded the possibilities of what Mondo could be.

“The showcase piece of what Mondo did, and to a lesser extent, the conference, was able to welcome so many more people, so many more artists that, frankly, could never have attended an event in New York,” Haber says. “By enabling them to provide us with video content, it simply opened up an entire world of territories and artists that had never been involved before.”

That helps to explain why, despite the resumption of in-person live events in New York City, this year’s Mondo will have a substantial virtual component, with in-person events supplementing a robust slate of streamed panels and performances. According to Haber, the Mondo team asked itself, “How do we take the best of both worlds?”

The festival’s headquarters, Drom, a 300-capacity performance space in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood, proves instructive. The venue will host many Mondo panels, and will provide an intimate space for in-person attendees. But Drom is also equipped with several 4K cameras, which will transmit panels to remote audiences. Streamed panels also enable experts to participate from far-flung locations. Booked speakers include management guru Adam Leber, NIVA board president Dayna Frank, Roblox global head of music Jon Vlassopulos, RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier, WME co-head of music Lucy Dickins and many other industry luminaries.

“There are very few other organizations that really have the intersection of tech and music,” Green says.

The tech element, Haber notes, sets Mondo apart from his and Green’s work at CMJ.

“This was never intended to be – and happily didn’t turn out to be – CMJ 2.0,” he says.

On the performance side, Mondo’s hybrid format is somewhat similar to its panel approach. Of the roughly 75 artists performing at Mondo 2021, Haber estimates “only about 20% will be live-live.” Those shows won’t be streamed – they’re “meant to be something that you’re in the room” across four different Manhattan and Brooklyn venues, he says – but the rest, mostly pre-recorded, will be.

As Haber notes, “mondo” is Italian for “world,” and he calls Drom “New York City’s center for world music.” So, while many Mondo artists hail from the U.S., a slew of other countries, including Japan, Italy, Sweden, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Poland, Nigeria, and Brazil, are also represented.

“We have more countries – not only more countries, but we also have a broader diversity of territories, from Uganda to the Philippines to North Macedonia to Indonesia,” Haber says. “We love how different and diverse this particular group of performances will be.”

Of course, this wide-ranging group shares a common interest – a strong and resurgent live industry – and this year’s Mondo will emphasize that corner of the music biz. In addition to Frank and Dickins, speakers hail from First Avenue, Mercury Lounge, The UC Theatre, Brooklyn Bowl, The Hideout, See Tickets, NYIVA, NYC Nightlife United and more.

“Whether it’s livestreams, whether it is digital currency, whether it’s data, all of what goes on for those four days will be touching on, to a lesser or greater extent, the challenges and the opportunities in the live space,” Haber says.