Look at those Imagine Dragons go. “Believer,” which tops three different Billboard rock charts, also brought the Vegas-raised band its first No. 1 on the Adult Pop chart. And it’s still just the first single from June LP Evolve, which gave the Dragons a hat trick—three albums, three No. 1 debuts on the Top Rock and Alternative Albums charts. The group is about to embark on its biggest tour yet later this month, including its first proper show on a new home court—T-Mobile Arena on the Strip—on September 29.
It’s hard to believe this band used to gig around the smallest of Vegas venues, like Fremont East’s Beauty Bar and the original O’Sheas Casino. But it happened.
“As a young band in Las Vegas we were really scrounging for every single thing we could do to get our band to another level, to find resources to grow and play as much as possible so we could create a living doing what we love,” frontman Dan Reynolds says. “It was difficult. There were a lot of bands out there fighting for the same things and very few conferences and festivals you could get into. We struggled.”
That struggle is a big reason why Imagine Dragons are heavily involved in the inaugural Emerge Music + Impact Conference, which will showcase 100 up-and-coming musical acts in Las Vegas in November with performances and events at venues on and near the Strip.
Another reason the Dragons got involved: Emerge isn’t just giving its performers a stage; it’s setting them up to succeed, thanks to an unmatched list of curators who are doing a lot more than picking bands they love. “If you look at the level of organization and expertise behind this conference, everyone has been involved in this industry for many years, and they know the pitfalls,” Reynolds says. “They know how to make this thing strong and help the artists—as well as those who are coming to listen—have an incredible experience. This is something that has been needed for a long time, and Vegas is the place for it.”
The Dragons are curators, as are The Killers, Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance and world-beating DJ Kaskade, among many other top music-industry names. “We’ve got [Brooklyn Bowl owner] Peter Shapiro, one of the top promoters on the planet, and Phil Quist from CAA [Creative Artists Agency] who discovered The Chainsmokers,” Emerge founder Rehan Choudhry says. “There’s Corrie Christopher Martin from Paradigm Talent Agency; Kirk Sommer, who manages Adele; and Tom Windish, who’s universally known as the emerging music curator, who started the Windish Agency and is a senior partner at Paradigm.
“It seems like it happened in an instant, but we took two years building a program in Las Vegas that is the collective creative power of the most influential people in the music industry, and that’s never happened before anywhere on the planet.”
It wasn’t easy to assemble this Avengers-like team of curators, but once everyone understood Emerge’s mission and why it will stand apart from other music industry gatherings, everything began to fall into place.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to start a band, but there are a number of glass ceilings you hit, and more often than not they destroy great careers and artists,” Emerge organizer and talent buyer Mike Henry says. “We trying to solve that and take artists we believe need to be impactful and help clear the path for them. Once the curators see that’s what we’re trying to do, we start to get these very personal connections. The process changed from us asking them how we can get their artists involved to them asking us, ‘How can we get them to you?’”
Curators aren’t just curating. Many will also speak during Emerge’s three-day run, and there will be closed-doors sessions between execs and artists to hone in on development. “The vast majority will be attending and lending support to the bands they’ve recommended, and probably 60 percent will be speaking,” Choudhry says. “There will be panels where a band can go into a room by themselves and learn what they need to be doing from these major players in the industry. And you’ll see the curators showing up in some other interesting ways. You can’t put all these people together and not have some surprises and magic happen.”
One of the biggest names involved isn’t a band or a music exec, but is definitely one of the biggest tastemakers in the game: Spotify.
“We got lucky when the No. 1 streaming company in the world came onboard,” Choudhry says. “It means that all the bands we select via the committee get sent to them for review; they pump them through their data system and can give us a sense of what the trajectory is for those artists and recommend other artists on top of those.
“To have a company of that size is unbelievable, so we feel like the little engine that could. We’re a new event, but we’re getting pulled along by these massive names. Our two headliners are really the 100 emerging artists and Spotify. It’s really interesting.”
And there’s a lot more to come—Emerge will announce the rest of its artist roster along with additional curators and speakers in the coming weeks and months.