recap: sxsw 2010
  • WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24, 2010

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The multi-faceted festival just might be the most important combination of music and multimedia in our current festival calender. If Kevin Drew really thinks the internet is killing music, he came to the wrong party. SXSW has become the destination to celebrate the marriage of the two, for better or for worse.

This is an important event for music. So, here are some of my thoughts (briefly, I promise):

We missed most of the tech portion but a healthy dose of Digital Music News kept me up to date on the happenings, including Vevo president and Sith lord candidate Rio Caraeff stating that the music industry is not in the business of selling recorded music. An interesting thought, and one that ruminated in my brain as we drank ourselves silly and wandered around the South Congress area... does anyone want to own this stuff anymore? There were clearly hundreds of bands that are fun to see (and many shows were free), but have no hit record in their future.

Of course SXSW is about live music more than anything, so let's pump the brakes for a second and talk about the experience. South By Southwest is a huge ordeal, spanning hundreds of venues with thousands of bands. The unofficial events almost outnumber the legit ones, transcending the organization and branching into a cultural zeitgeist like-status: SXSW means you made it, even if you didn't go anywhere afterwards. People drove thousands of miles to busk. That's dedication. But did anyone get a deal this year? My friends Dinosaur Feathers were into some talks as far as I heard (details withheld), and I'm sure tons of talent was scouted. You just don't really hear about it anymore. It isn't a big deal at SXSW.

That is what I like about the festival, the live, party sense that the music industry has always embodied solidifies and shines for a glorious week of drinking, eating barbecue, stumbling into some great music, and seeing some you already know and love. This is not a mullet festival: business in the front, sure, but party in the back... this is party in front and back AT ALL TIMES. Going for the first time was like my first trip to Disney World (age 6). What do you mean we start seeing bands and drinking at 11 AM? If there is a heaven, and I go there, I hope it is South By Southwest, forever, with free Lonestar (the national beer of Texas, ha!). Remember, any other beer would be treason.

But the festival is changing, with online scheduling, and tweeting, etc. Not to mention in a scene usually plagued with free samples, I only got one CD. I don't know if this is normal at SXSW, seeing as this was my first real trip there. At CMJ (another discussion for another time) I got tons of samplers from everyone, regardless of if they knew what I did for a living. Is that because everyone is giving so much away online that printing is superfluous? What were the goodie bags like for badge holders, I wonder? Leave any insight in the comments.

The relationship between bands and social media was also a kind of fascinating study, one that was actually analyzed and discussed by the blog-world. Mashable has been using a charting system called Next Big Sound for a while, and they compiled a top ten of bands that gained the most new fans (by percentage change) the week of the festival. Of course number one was the buzzy Fang Island, but who are some of these other guys?

1). Fang Island
2). Neon Trees
3). XV
4). Oddisee
5). Jonna Lee
6). Matthew Mayfield
7). Evergreen Terrace
8). The Antlers
9). Phantogram
10). GZA

The preponderance of smaller bands on this list is due to the fact that it shows biggest percent change in buzz, meaning that a band that went from zero to thousands of fans during SXSW week would rank pretty high on the list.

Oh.

The Fang and their chart of new fans:


Take a look at the bands at the fest with the largest fanbases:

1). NeverShoutNever
2). The xx
3). Wale
4). Broken Bells
5). Sum 41
6). Blair
7). The Temper Trap
8). Miike Snow
9). Local Natives
10). We are Scientists

Ugh, emo. None of them really sell a ton of records, either, not in these days. Think of how you first heard about the buzz bands here, Local Natives, Temper Trap, Broken Bells, Wale... product placement, or free MP3's (or both). Selling the record almost seems like an afterthought from the consumer's point of view.

So maybe Darth Caraeff was right, and the music industry is selling a package deal of coolness, videos, and commercial appeal... more than just a record. And SXSW certainly supports that theory by clearly stating the internet is a big part of the product, dissemination, and a fruitful music career. Videos seem more and more important to helping a band's buzz... an act like Yeasayer, for example, get's more bang for their buck when their great record Odd Blood has two highly regarded videos attached to it. It is working for Lady Gaga (but so is everything). And Vevo isn't really dealing with indie bands (that is our job)... the segment who really thrive on the idea that the internet holds more options than just putting out a record and praying. Anyways, that is my two cents, take it, leave it, or make a commemorative coin out of it.

Final thought: what should we expect from CMJ? Whereas SXSW is bigger than its ever been, with tons of surprise guests and respectable buzz acts, it's often-compared-to New York cousin has some catching up to do. Neither fest boasts modest pricing for entry, but CMJ is far cheaper, and has not been growing at the rate of it's southern counterpart. I'm interested to see how CMJ 2010 stacks up in the grand scheme of things... if it still stacks. -joe puglisi


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