3 Fresh Findings from SXSW to Inspire Your Next Creative Project 1340 words · 7 minute read

One week later, we can definitely affirm that this year’s South-by-Southwest was a success, and we’ve got the awkward tan-lines, hangovers, and pages of notes to prove it.

Here’s a taste of what our SXSW dispatch has to say about their Austin adventures.

Listen while you read: The 2016 SXSW Playlist >>

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality has recently ascended to the most interesting medium for storytellers of any industry, from film studios to brand boardrooms. According to Statista, revenue from virtual reality displays is expected to grow from 685 million U.S. dollars in 2015 to 3.89 billion U.S. dollars in 2018.

Virtual Reality is now, well, a virtual reality for storytellers looking to create an immersive experience for audiences like never before, and with its burgeoning begs the question: What about the music?

It was comforting to hear our colleagues at SXSW echo what we’ve been saying for a while to our clients in the VR space. Here are the biggest takeaways from this mounting discussion. Note that this is just the tip of the iceberg, friends. As our Senior Creative/Music Supervisor Jessie Labelle said excitedly: “This is going to be a game changer.”

  • The process to license music for virtual reality will likely resemble the contemporary model for licensing music, so virtual reality storytellers shouldn’t expect any roadblocks in that regard. However, more stems and cues may be required than normal, so this might affect the cost for studio fees.

  • The biggest hurdle will be how the music is mixed. As the VR game Land’s End shows, the role of positional and 3D audio plays as important of a role (if not more) than non-positional 2D layers in virtual reality. Basically, that means audio programmers and music supervisors will be spending LOTS of time together in the studio to create the perfect sonic environment.

  • User’s complete autonomy in VR is going to radically affect how the music is synced to the story. We’ll see the continuance of trends set by video games like Sunset Overdrive in which individual music stems from songs are layered into the game’s mix to allow the music to be more interactive with the experience. In layman’s terms, the key difference between VR and mediums like TV or film is interactivity. Dynamic audio can’t just be synced in post-production because each experience will be different for each use case. So, except for static background sound or audio that isn’t spatial, music will have to be factored and integrated into the development earlier rather than later.

  • The immersion of the senses inherent in VR is totally breaking down the barriers between diegetic and non-diegetic music—music heard by the character vs. music heard by the viewer—so making the soundscape seamless with the environment will be central to maintaining that immersive experience.

  • A major help in creating these immersive experiences will be in the music. Authentic music that reacts to users’ behavior will help them suspend their disbelief and really sink into the story. So, the music should be recorded in a unique way to optimize that audio experience. For example, instead of choosing reverberant spaces, artists could record in more neutral spaces, limit the stereo positioning of their instruments, and apply a bit more compression for extra warmth. Nicholas Ward-Foxton, audio programmer for Sony, spoke at length about this during last year’s Game Developers Conference 1.

“Tied in with Interactive, music usage in VR was a buzzing topic! Advertisers will be using music for ads to create VR experiences for brands. Ideas include how to make a music experience in VR world, immersive music experiences such as being on stage as a performer looking out onto audiences, being ‘inside’ of a music video, 360 surround music in games … It’s a whole new world out there!” – Jessie Labelle

Brand Activations

One of the things we love most about SXSW is that it represents everything we tout daily, and is a clear indication that there is a strong relationship between the brand and music industries.
Brands aren’t just sponsoring a concert by hanging a poster behind a performing artist. Instead, they’re curating emerging talent to attract SXSW attendees to their showcase and creating brand activations that are better than most parties people will ever get a chance to go to.

Here are a few of our favorite brand activations from SXSW:

The Fader Fort
The FADER FORT Presented by Converse is an annual music showcase that has been a proud staple of SXSW. This year, the six-day activation also included an all-new event, The Toyota Prius Presents The Arcade at The FADER FORT, which celebrated some of the most innovative minds, artists, and brands that intersect music and technology.

“Most of the major brands were really interested in playing the music discovery space—putting lesser known bands on stage.” – Sam Parvin, Major Account Director

The House of Vans
Back at it again, Vans! You can’t help but feel at home when you enter the beloved Mohawk in Austin, and we felt no differently this year during the week-long pop-up edition of Vans’ cultural hub, House of Vans. The brand acknowledged its longstanding motto of “Off the Wall” by booking a wide array of musical talent. Additionally, Vans VP and General Manager of North America, Doug Palladini moderated a discussion on authenticity and growth with guest panelists Nate Mendel of the Foo Fighters and Mish Way of White Lung.

YouTube Artist Lounge
If there’s one thing any artist can agree on, it’s that touring can really take its physical toll (OK, that and nothing beats a free drink). Well, YouTube set out to heal both pain points for the artists of SXSW and hosted an Artist Lounge for official performers to receive a haircut, makeup, food, booze, and even massages – all for free! How’s that for a pick-me-up?

“There was just an overwhelming amount of activity going on down there. It was a great display of how we can offer creative strategy for brands at all levels.” – Tarjas White, Licensing & Business Development Manager


From roots-rock to post-punk and from alt-rap to trap-step, SXSW featured music of all varieties and blends, proving above all else that genres are only going to get more muddied and less important.

Fans aren’t seeking stars in any one style of music anymore; they’re seeking talent, and they’ll give anyone a listen so long as they’re good. Our south-by team ventured from stage to stage seeking the best up-and-coming artists whose sound eclipses any genre specifics.

Here’s a few of our favorite acts from SXSW 2016:

Ra Ra Riot http://www.rarariot.com/
Smino https://soundcloud.com/sminoworld
Joey Purp https://soundcloud.com/joey-purp
Towkio http://www.musicdealers.com/#!/artist/towkio
Twin Limb http://twinlimb.com/
Jade Jackson http://www.jadejackson.com/
Jocelyn & Chris Arndt http://www.jocelynarndt.com/
Nikki’s Wives http://nikkiswives.com/
Mick Jenkins https://soundcloud.com/mickjenkinsmusic

Wondering what takeaways the heads of a global music agency’s A&R arm might have gleaned from SXSW? We need more signs.

“Please have signage at your show! We saw an awesome London-based act but had to run to another show, and we couldn’t find who they were. …A simple sign with the artist name and social links would have avoided this.” – Rob Lindquist and Zachary Lyons, Artist Services

Virtual reality, free massages, and newly discovered talent to add to our catalog . These are just a few of the highlights from our team’s visit to SXSW. Once again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to learn more about music licensing in virtual reality, music strategy for brand activations, or expert tips, give us a shout at sales@musicdealers.com.

Because just like the cats at South-by-Southwest are always saying, collaboration is the key to innovation.

Photos from Music Dealers’ 2016 SXSW

Music Dealers on the ground in ATX for #SXSW2016. Check in to see SX from the MD eye....cool events, awesome indie bands and a whole lotta fun!

Posted by Music Dealers on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

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