SXSW 2015: 6 Lessons We Learned 1650 words · 8 minute read

The rains soaked through this year’s SXSW, leaving a soggy throng of hipsters, innovators, creatives, techies, and music lovers in its wake. Yet, no amount of precipitation could dampen the magnificent experience of this year’s festival.

We sent five Dealers down to Austin, each responsible for executing a particular mission. What they left with were a collection of industry insights worth sharing with the rest of us.

Tarjas White, Biz Dev Manager on the NY team, headed out to this year’s event in Austin, gleaning the following:

1) “In a predominantly digital age there is still nothing that can replace actual human interaction.”Tarjas White

“My biggest takeaway from SXSW was the importance of new artists being connected to their fans. I went to a plethora of shows/events featuring indie artists as well as major artists and the energy was electric.” Tarjas

As the influence of technology increases in our daily lives, we embrace it, replacing actual human interactions with digital ones. Despite the convenience, there is no replacement of the human connection developed between artist and fan.

That means occasionally disconnecting yourself from Spotify’s matrix to attend a live show, smell the aroma of a hundred hipsters and PBR’s, feel the earthquake bass jiggle your beer belly, or become infected by the kinetic energy transferred from performer to crowd. As content creators and marketers, it’s about harnessing that bond made between an artist and a fanthe reason why associating yourself “with the real” is the only option.

Clay Johnson, Music Dealers VP of Tech, represented the MD team as sponsor for this year’s SXSW Music Hackathon Championship.

2) Technology continues to remove any barriers for music. Winners will stay ahead of the role of music in our lives.

“At the hackathon, there was a clear focus on technology informing or enhancing your music consumption. A couple projects leveraged fitness tracking to generate playlists to adjust your current pace (real-time) or to plan a playlist to replicate a previous workout.”Clay

The role that music tech is playing in our lives is at an unprecedented level. Who would imagine an application that would, in real time, generate a playlist to match the pace of your jogging? Now what if you’re a fitness brand or an agency representing a brand who could capitalize on technology of this sort?

“A handful of projects focused on leveraging location and artist data to provide context to your location by providing music from around you, either from artists that originated from the area or artists that are playing in the area.”Clay

We’ll never be able to anticipate the genius of the people who will dream up the music-fueled engagement of the future. But, those of you who remain open-minded, who stay ahead of the curve by respecting music’s role in our content and technology, will find themselves running the victory lap in the race for engagement.

The Music Dealers A&R team, led by Rob Lindquist and Zachary Lyons, stormed Austin with the goal of scouting and recruiting the next wave of superstars.

3) Authentic emotion and live shows are still king.

“Emotion is something that can really be lost through recording… Working behind a computer and listening to music online can easily make you forget how powerful a live show without a huge budget can be.”Rob

Rob reminds us of today’s digital trap: with many of our daily music experiences confined to compressed bytes of 1’s and 0’s fired from the ? inch jack of our laptops, it’s easy to lose sight of the power of real, live music.

“Overall, SXSW was a breath of fresh air. I know that there are plenty of talented up and coming artists, but SXSW let me know that the live show element of the music industry is stronger than ever. No need for crazy lights, smoke, million dollar backdrops - just great music, emotion, and talent.

The best bands killed it - you could tell that they felt the lyrics they sung, which really struck a chord with me and made it much more enjoyable to sit through a performance of 5-10 songs. Not only did these bands give the impression that they their music, it looked like they were having a lot of fun while doing it…”Rob

As an artist, being unable or unwilling to drive the emotion and passion for your art through to your audience reduces the experience of the people who come to see you live. Then, as you make your way into the music licensing, “going through the motions” can translate into poor authenticity and brand partnerships.

Make your passion and emotion obvious; show the world that music is the only option on the planet for youyou’ll find success, whether among the fans in the crowd or the consumers of the brand.

Rob’s SXSW highlights: “My favorite performance (I had to go see them twice) was Hydrogen Child, a pop band from Louisiana. Another one that I had to see twice was a fellow Chicago band, AyOH. They filled the venue with rock pop sounds and the lead singer was having more fun on stage than I’ve seen in a long time.”Rob

Zach’s SXSW highlights: “Hydrogen Child may have the most license-friendly material, but I am also excited about Moongiant, Moneypenny, Electric Strawberry, Wandering Monks, and Shelby Britton.

The highlight of my week was probably the performance from the LA-based rock band Satellite Sky. They are a brother / sister duo, originally hailing from northern Australia. Their chemistry is second to none and their passion is honestly jaw-dropping.”Zach

Rob and Zach are working on securing these acts as Music Dealers artists so you can harness a bit of their Austin experience.

Jordyn Benjamin, a Music Dealers executive assistant, travelled to SXSW to represent both Music Dealers and a student-run indie label.

“Although SXSW was overflowing with music industry knowledge, there were two major points that stuck with me:

4) Everyone is looking for what the ‘new industry model’ is going to be, but there is no single model anymore.”Jordyn Benjamin

Jordyn gathered that people are feverishly searching for the newest version of the perfect plan, the all encompassing map that reveals the hidden route to success in the music industry. Well, there ain’t no map. With the shiny newness of all the tools and trends in the music industry, it’s up to the brave and the ingenious to hack a path out of the forest and show everyone behind what it looks like.

“Nowadays, what works for one artist might not work for another. As an artist, you need to figure out the best way for you. Artists need to do what they can to bring in new forms of revenue. ‘Diversifying their portfolios’ and licensing should most definitely be a part of this strategy. In doing so, it is imperative to make sure that the partnerships that are made are the rights ones for you, the brand, and your music.

The second thing I took away from my time in Austin is to…

5) Never be afraid of failure.”Jordyn Benjamin

“Multiple people throughout the conference (including Uncle Snoop) preached that if you believe in yourself and what you are doing and work your ass off, despite what anyone else says, you will eventually find success in the music industry.” Jordyn

Whatever it is we hope to become, whether a successful artist, entrepreneur, or an award-winning creative, we tend to confine our ability to achieve to the external: how many Facebook likes I can accumulate, how much money I can raise, how many people I can network with? While important, we all must first examine how we communicate with ourselveshow we’re able to waltz with our own fears. If not properly caged, they will eventually come with a vengeance to dismantle the hard work we’ve committed to building our social media followings, networks, and our company coffers.

Jordyn’s highlights:

“I can’t forget to mention the other highlights of seeing Incubus play to less than 1000 people and meeting the Hanson brothers, ultimately making my childhood dreams come true.”

Music Dealers President and founder Eric Sheinkop hit SXSW like a booming kick drum, diving into hosting events, moderating panels, and signing copies of his book, while extracting what the industry has in store for us all.

6) “Brand partnerships and licensing continue to be the leading source of revenue.”Eric Sheinkop

“How are people going to monetize music? What are the avenues?

At first they thought it would be streaming. It’s not… Digital downloads are down. Physical sales are down. What are the ways artists are going to create art and get paid for it?

There continues to be growth in music services for consumers - little that monetizes music for the artists. New apps are pulling from Spotify and other platforms to create a better discovery, listening, and sharing experience for consumers but again, they don’t generate revenue for the artists.”Eric

Eric’s experience quickly called out an enormous pink elephant standing in the middle of SXSW: while the industry evolves with technology as the engine, the most basic principle, artists being able to support themselves, is not moving forward with everyone else.

“Every panel at SXSW that featured ad agencies or brands was standing room only. People wanted to hear what these execs had to say and artists wanted to see how they could get involved. I heard artists talk about being open to writing jingles and creating custom music, and figuring out what they can do with their talent so they can make money in other ways and give their album out as promotion.”

“An album these days is a transportation vehicle to make money in other ways.”Eric Sheinkop

Eric’s SXSW experience represents a powerful shift and validates the importance of the work we’re all involved in: providing artists with options to make money in one of these “other ways.”

By: Christopher Rucks, Music Dealers